for the BIBLE tells me so

Apologia, etc.
Critical Review
By Hendrik van der Breggen

For the Bible Tells Me So, produced & directed by David Karslake (New York: First Run Features, 2007)

Recently I watched For the Bible Tells Me So, a documentary about religion and homosexuality in the U.S. The film well depicts the suffering some gays face and the struggles some Christian families encounter when a family member is gay, and thus the film presents some truly legitimate concerns. In fact, several of the concerns are heart-wrenching injustices. The abuse of homosexuals and the hate-mongering directed toward homosexuals are unjust—and all the more so when done in the name of Christ. Surely, followers of Christ should show genuine love to all persons, including persons who self-identify as gay or lesbian. Injustices done in the name of Christ hurt people whom Christ loves dearly. I, and no doubt many other Christians, find such injustices deeply troubling.

Having said this—and without making light of this at all—I wish to note that the film also has serious shortcomings. The documentary is misleading in at least four significant ways, which, as a Christian who is an academic, I find deeply troubling too.

First, the film poorly reports the science relevant to homosexuality. For example, the twin studies the film presents are dubious. According to the film, when one identical twin is gay the other is gay “up to 70% of the time,” thereby (allegedly) demonstrating the role of genes in determining homosexuality. But, it turns out, more recent and more careful scientific investigation tells us that the actual percentage is somewhere between 11 and 20%. (For substantiation of this point, see my first recommended reading by Yarhouse below.) If science is to be taken seriously, it should be presented accurately.

(Ironically, in communicating its exaggerated report of the twin studies the film employs a cartoon featuring a character named “Christian” who displays a negative attitude toward science.)

Second, by using a cartoon the film unfairly represents those persons who successfully leave homosexuality: “We’re still gay,” whispers a lesbian cartoon character standing on a conveyor belt after coming out of an Ex-Gay Ministry machine. But, the careful viewer should ask: Where are the live interviews with people from ex-gay ministries such as Exodus International and National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH)? Where is the respected (if not infamous) Spitzer report concerning persons who have changed their orientation to a significant degree? Is the film suppressing the voices of ex-gays?

If one doubts the existence of ex-gays, one should see (for starters) the cover story of World magazine, December 17, 2011. This story features Alan Chambers, a long time ex-gay who is presently president of Exodus International. Joe Dallas, a previous president of Exodus International and author of The Gay Gospel? (Harvest House, 1996/2007), is another ex-gay who should be considered. Apparently, there are many ex-gays whose voices the film ignores.

(Are ex-gays rejected twice—first because of their homosexuality, and again because they are no longer gay? If the first is an injustice, then the second would seem to be an injustice too.)

Third, the film mistakenly suggests that all persons who are not pro-gay are homophobic. To be sure, some people are homophobic, that is, some people have an irrational fear of, or hatred for, homosexuals. But, it needs to be emphasized, many people who are not pro-gay are not homophobic. Why? Because they have reasonable concerns.

Some reasonable concerns about same-sex sexual behaviour stem from findings in the health sciences. For evidence, see the medical section of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations’ statement on homosexuality (scroll to bottom for references). (CMDA is a Christian group, but the studies to which they appeal come from various secular scientific sources.) See too NARTH’s medical issues page.

Moreover, some reasonable concerns stem from principled moral positions having to do with gay-related social issues such as same-sex marriage.

For evidence, take at look at the arguments of Margaret Somerville, professor of law at McGill University. See Somerville’s essay, “What about the Children?”, in Daniel Cere and Douglas Farrow, editors, Divorcing Marriage: Unveiling the Dangers in Canada’s New Social Experiment (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004); and see Somerville’s essay, “The other ‘rights question’ in same-sex marriage” at the Institute for the Study of Marriage, Law and Culture.

By ignoring such reasonable concerns, the film gives the impression that disagreement on same-sex issues is fueled only by homophobia, not sober-minded rational concern. This impression is neither true, nor fair to critics, nor does it contribute positively to informed discussion.

Fourth, the film weakly and unfairly presents the hermeneutical/ interpretive issues involved in reading the Bible carefully. The film suggests that those persons who disagree with gay revisionists should be dismissed as “biblical literalists” or as having merely a “5th grade understanding.” In fact, however, many who disagree with gay revisionist interpretations of Scripture do not always take texts literally and are highly educated.

Why didn’t the film interview experts in Biblical scholarship pertaining to homosexuality who strongly disagree with gay revisionism, are not “biblical literalists,” and have high academic credentials? I’m thinking here of Harvard and Princeton educated Robert A. J. Gagnon, PhD, author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Abingdon, 2001). Another important scholar is Andrews University’s Richard M. Davidson, PhD, author of Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Hendrickson, 2007). The film is supposed to be taking the Bible seriously, isn’t it?

There are more than four problems with the documentary, but these are sufficient for illustrating the grounds for my concern.

Where For the Bible Tells Me So is good, which is in many places, especially its depiction of the struggles of gay individuals in their Christian family contexts, it is really good; but where it is bad, which is in many places too, such as those I’ve presented above, it is really bad. The danger in this film is that the emotionally-charged good parts will probably jam (block, interfere with) those bad parts where careful thinking and background information are required, thereby letting poor reasoning and falsehoods slip by unchecked. As summary descriptors of the film, the words “propaganda” and “manipulation” come to mind, though these words are too strong. Probably a better word is “unbalanced.”

My recommendation: See the film, take the good parts of its message to heart, but think very very carefully as you do—and maybe even do some research first.

P.S. A helpful, more-detailed review of For the Bible Tells Me So can be found at psychologist Mark Yarhouse’s blog Limning the PsycheA helpful resource for Christians dealing with gay issues on a more personal level can be found in Mark Yarhouse’s book, Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends (Bethany House, 2010).

P.P.S. Here are some additional Apologia columns that address homosexuality:
1. Homophobia, bigotry, intolerance?
2. It’s all society’s fault?
3. Born gay?
4. The ad hominem fallacy

UPDATE: Exodus International has closed its doors and Robert Spitzer, the author of the Spitzer report, has changed his mind. For further insight into these events, see my January 14, 2014, Apologia column: Three clarifications concerning 2013’s news.

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