I just finished watching "For the Bible Tells Me So," which is a documentary about how the Bible is used to justify prejudice against gay and lesbian Americans. I expected a mildly interesting, dry, same old story and got a penetrating emotional experience instead. I may someday regret not having paused to think, digest, marinate--instead using the tools of the digital age to communicate to any eyes that may linger on my little slice of the public domain--but this film has helped me see that I am constantly self-editing and "sleeping on it" would ultimately be yet another variation on the same theme.
The movie traces the history of several families with gay children, and how the Church influenced the parental response. These family's narratives are threaded between hundreds of video clips of televangelists denouncing homosexuality, protesters holding signs that say things like "God hates fags" and "Die Faggit" [sic], as well as interviews with Biblical scholars, professors, clergy, and the lovable Bishop Desmond Tutu. Together, the movie is arresting, provocative, and devastating. I can't recall the last time I was so shaken by a film--artistry at its best.
I cried throughout the movie. I cried for the parents who tried desperately to understand their children, and to reinterpret the text that they held for decades as the one truth of their lives, only to find that ultimately a literal interpretation created an effect that was incongruous with the content. I cried for the mother whose daughter's suicide finally compelled this reinterpretation. I cried for Gene Richardson, the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church, who had to wear a bullet proof vest under his vestments on the day of his ordination, and who received a letter with a photo of him and his partner and this message: "I have two bullets one for each of your heads when you least expect it." I cried for the family who was arrested while trying to deliver a letter to Dr. James Dobson, whose message encouraging rejection of gay children has divided so many families. And I cried because I have such loving family and friends, some of whom were accepting from the beginning, and some who've made tremendous and commendable efforts to reconsider strongly held religious and cultural beliefs to love me as I am.
I am left with several thoughts, the first of which borrows a line from my friend Sarah Kelley: I can do better. I never attend Pride and rarely join in marches or even campaigns for my own rights. Occasionally when my temper is inflamed I find time to write letters to the editor of various papers that publish hate filled propaganda masquerading as news. I marched against Prop 8 and joined the Students for a Hate Free Daily, but really, these are pretty minimal efforts. I know some of my reluctance to participate fully in supporting gay communities is due to exhaustion. It can be really tiring to fight and when you feel like the battle can't be won (soon), and sometimes bowing out is the only way to preserve your sanity. But I'm done with self-preservation. (Take that Darwin!) I really need to do more to combat prejudice and support people who are marginalized.
The film also left me thinking about how my lack of participation in activism or other shows of support for gays and lesbians serves another darker purpose; it keeps me from being identified too strongly with them. Let me demonstrate: This is an loosing battle = I don't have time to be a good gay = I'm not really that gay = I'm not one of THOSE people = I'm not that different from you and so you don't need to get your feathers all ruffled = Now that everybody is happy, and I can live in peace. But that is not true, I can't live in peace while also living in fear of rejection.
This is getting long, so I'll try to land the plane here. My last reflection is on needless suffering. Tonight I was flooded with memories of all the counselors, therapists, pastors and priests I sought out in my young adulthood, and the multiple baptisms I underwent trying so desperately to change. I thought of the rejection, hate, and needless suffering I experienced. On a global scale my suffering is minor, but in the local scale of my life it isn't; it led me to feel physically ill, mentally defective, alienated, and worthless. I can't be convinced that this is God's intention. So, if you attend church or synagogue I highly recommend you watch the film, preferably at your place of worship. Afterward, give time to thinking about how people are marginalized by the thing that gives you so much meaning, and ask yourself how these people perceive your God through your actions?
I struggle even now to set foot in a church because my wounds are still healing, but I'm trying to see beyond prejudice to the fear that lurks beneath. This perspective makes me more patient and tolerant. And while the Church and the country debate the legitimacy of my love for Rachel, it only grows stronger.