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Friday, October 26, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"For the Bible Tells Me So" | Christian families come to terms with gay children

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

"For the Bible Tells Me So," a documentary directed by Daniel Karslake. 97 minutes. Not rated. Varsity, through Thursday.

Daniel Karslake's remarkable documentary boldly takes on a loaded topic — Christianity and homosexuality — and examines it both intellectually and emotionally; the result may well leave you blinking away a few tears.

The film deftly interweaves discussion of the Bible's statements on homosexuality and interviews with five Christian families about their gay children. Their journeys are bravely shared; their strength and love shines in the camera's eye. Karslake's point of view is clear: His film is a rallying cry for acceptance, and an often inspiring one. It won the audience award for best documentary at the Seattle International Film Festival last summer.

The Bible-study portion of the film employs a number of members of the clergy and religious scholars (among them the Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa), calmly rebutting literalist interpretations of Scripture, mostly notably the Leviticus verse that describes homosexuality as "an abomination." "There's nothing wrong with a fifth-grader's understanding of God, as long as you're in fifth grade," says the Rev. Dr. Laurence C. Keene, noting that he has a soft spot for literalists because he used to be one himself.

But the Bible, he and the other scholars explain, must be read within the context of its original culture. (The Rev. Stephen Kindle points out that, in Leviticus, eating shrimp is also labeled an abomination.) They speak respectfully and reasonably, in contrast to some fire-and-brimstone footage shown of conservative preachers, meticulously underscoring the film's point of view.

The heart of this film, though, is the real-life families within it. Some are well-known, such as that of former member of Congress Richard Gephardt, whose daughter Chrissy came out a year after her marriage. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopalian bishop, opens his life to the camera; his parents and ex-wife (who proudly watched his ordination) speak of their love for him.

Mary Lou Wallner, whose lesbian daughter Anna committed suicide not long after Wallner wrote to her with strongly worded disapproval of homosexuality, tells in a soft voice of how the tragedy changed her. Now an activist for acceptance of gay people within the Christian community, she says simply, "I now have hundreds of surrogate gay and lesbian Annas, and I love and accept them just as they are."

By contrast, the Poteats of North Carolina are working their way through their feelings toward daughter Tonia's lesbianism. Both preachers, the parents bravely share their uncertainties; saying they can't yet approve and celebrate, even as they love their daughter and want to see her happy. Determined not to reject her, they seem to be tentatively finding a loving middle ground.

Karslake's most moving story is that of the Reitans, a "Lutheran by way of Scandinavia" family living in Eden Prairie, Minn. When teenage son Jake came out, his very traditional parents were shocked. But soon they came to join him in activism, horrified by the anti-homosexuality attitudes of organizations such as James Dobson's Focus on the Family. In a peaceful demonstration outside Focus on the Family's headquarters, tall Jake stands with his arms around his parents, a tight unit of three. "This is what it means to be a family!" he shouts, determined to be heard. Like much of this film, it's a picture of love.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725

or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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