This is probably not an appropriate forum in which to share this story, but it’s relevant to the review, and I pay the goddamn hosting fees, so what the hell: Back in Arkansas, when I was 17, my Pops had two jobs: He began his paper route (no shit) every morning at 1 a.m., and after a quick trip home in the morning to rouse my siblings and I from bed, drove back out to his crappy minimum wage job at a lens factory. He worked that goddamn paper route 365 days a year, and never missed a day at his 9-5 job until one day in November of 1992 when he failed to show up for his paper route, failed to come home between jobs, and never showed up at the factory. My siblings and I nevertheless ambled our way to school and came home that night to discover that our father was still missing. We made all the expected calls — the police, the hospital, his work place, etc. — but we couldn’t track the man. And we sat around all night expecting the worst: That he’d taken a header into the Arkansas River.
Late that night, however, he finally did show up, blood stains smeared on his shirt and a huge bandage over his eye and forehead. He told us that he’d been roughed up during a gang initiation rite — a man, he said, had taken a coke bottle and beat him over the head with it, nearly costing him an eye. It was three years later — once he’d finally come out of the closet — when he came clean and admitted what had actually happened: A redneck fuck outside of a gay bar had found my father canoodling with another man and beat the holy living shit out of him. Why? Because my father was gay, of course. Did my father file a police report? Absolutely not: Why invite more shame, humiliation, and — in all likelihood — more beatings?
That’s the way it went in the Bible belt, and though I don’t frequent the South much anymore, I suspect there’s still pockets of hatred festering in Redneckia. And that’s the subject of The Bible Tells Me So, an enlightening, hard-to-watch documentary about how the religious right has used the Bible to screw over the gay community. The documentary focuses primarily on the stories of five families who have dealt with children coming out of the closet, most notably the stories of Chrissy Gephardt (Dick’s lesbian daughter) and Gene Robinson, the first gay bishop in America. I can’t do justice to how inspiring their stories are, particularly in contrast to what the rest of the movie explores: the obstacles of hate that James Dobson and the rest of those religio-wackjobs have erected in their paths.
For the Bible Tells Me So (now in DVD) does not speak ill of religion; on the contrary, it uses the Bible — and an abundance of ministers and Biblical scholars — to attempt correct the record. Yes: Leviticus does say that one man laying down with another man is an “abomination,” but it also says, very near that passage, that eating shrimp is an “abomination,” that eating rabbit is an “abomination,” that planting two seeds in the same hole or wearing clothing with two types of material is an “abomination” (and here, For the Bible Tells Me So borrows a scene from Josiah Bartlett):
According to the scholars, the Bible is referring to “ritual wrongs” (like eating pork) in the context of the period in which it was written, not things that are “innately immoral.” To call homosexuality an “abomination,” they argue, is really just selective reading of the Bible, yet it is that buzz word — abomination, abomination, abomination — that has been repeated so many times by religious conservatives that it’s become, to many people, a permanently planted truism, while the abominable act of eating shrimp is simply a…uh…BBQism. It’s the church, the movie argues, not the Bible and not God, who have created this discriminatory fervor against homosexuality; in fact, this aspect of Biblical literalism is fairly modern, originating in the 20th century.
But what does the church have to gain by it? This is a question that’s always bugged the hell out of me: What Christian agenda does anti-homosexual discrimination serve? Writer/director Daniel Karslake looks into the origins of homophobia for that answer: Homophobia, the documentary posits is, in essence, just another form of misogyny — it stems from a hatred of women. The church doesn’t want men sleeping with other men because it emasculates them, which flies in the face of our patriarchal society, which I suppose threatens church leaders’ right to have a meal on the table when they get home(?) So, instead, the church has created an environment of intolerance, which — in a decidedly non-Christian twist — has not only fostered violence against gays and lesbians, it legitimizes it — empowering cruelty and hostility (thanks Reverend Falwell! You fuck).
But what I find almost worse than the violence and, indeed, what is more psychologically damaging is the guilt and the shame that mainstream Christian ideology has cultivated: Did you know, for instance, that every five hours, an LGBT teenager takes his or her own life (and the suicide attempts are even 10 times greater)? And it’s not just religious homosexuals who suffer — the mindset spills over into the secular world, as well. My dumbass father, for instance, listened to Rush Limbaugh’s radio show every goddamn night during that paper route of his, and it was the shame and guilt and self-loathing that that man (along with people like James Dobson - who compares gays to Nazis - and Jimmy Swaggert) engendered that eventually drove my father … well, let’s say it’s not just gay teenagers who suffer. And between the religious right and Hollywood stereotypes, it’s fucking amazing to me that the LGBT community, through resilience and unbelievable determination, has come as far as it has.
Lookit: I don’t know shit about religion, though I do have an incredible amount of respect for religious folks (at least the tolerant ones). But here’s what I think: It’s hard enough for anyone to find love, you know? And though my knowledge of Christianity is limited, common sense and decency suggest that the last place you’d expect to be throwing up obstacles toward happiness is the goddamn church. Wouldn’t you think? How can the Christian church create so many outcasts, when the religion was founded on the teachings of history’s greatest outcast? It’s a remarkable paradox, isn’t it?
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.
For the Bible Tells Me So / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | February 21, 2008 | Comments ()