Monday, 4 October 2010

"For the Bible Tells Me So" (2007)

Thanks to my friend Ellen Buddle for reminding me of this incredibly powerful documentary.

For the Bible Tells Me So is an absolutely terrifying and devastating insight into the world of Christian fundamentalism, particularly that of the hard-line evangelical movement, which unfortunately has come to dominate the world's largest religion in the last half-century.

By savagely critiquing fundamentalists' claims that homophobia and Christianity are inextricably linked, For the Bible Tells Me So manages the unique task of being respectful and even, in the end, hopeful, without being sensationalist or cruel. It combines "hellfire and whimsy." What gives this documentary its punch is that it does not interview men like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens - men for whom the issue of gay rights is of secondary concern to their determination to concede that no good came of religion, ever. The welfare of gay men, gay women, their friends and families is for them nothing more than a convenient float to ride on - or so it has always seemed to me. Instead, For the Bible Tells Me So interviews men and women of the Christian faith from right across the boundaries of opinion and it shows that - as ever - Christianity is very much a broad church, in the truest sense of the word.

I should like to say that my own opinions on homosexuality and Christianity are perhaps known to regular readers. It is baffling to me that some educated persons still consider homosexuality to be a "choice." As if anyone would voluntarily chose a lifestyle which involves an often humiliating "coming out" or the fact that in about 85% of the world you can't do something as simple as walk down the street holding the hand of the person you have fallen in love with, without fear of jeering, humiliation or worse. It is beyond idiotic to assert that anyone "chooses" homosexuality.

The sheer venom and cruelty of fundamentalist homophobia is - as For the Bible Tells Me So points out -  something truly mesmerising and horrifying in its intensity.

Before linking to the trailer, however, I should like to say that although my own views of homosexuality are well-known, there are many men and women of good faith and good conscience who do not agree with homosexuality. I do not agree with them, but I do not dislike them for it. For some, it is simply a belief that the creation and sustenance of human life must properly lie at the root of any fulfilling human sexual or romantic relationship. For others, it is simply the case that the arguments explaining the context of Leviticus and Romans' criticism of same-sex relationships are not convincing enough to explain away their teachings. And, for others, it is based on the feeling that things are changing too much, too fast. Obviously, it is no secret that I disagree; equally, it is no secret that I also think they have every right to hold those opinions. I do not agree that they have the right to legislatively enforce their lifestyle choices on other people, but that is another argument. What we can hope for - indeed, praise - is something which has already happened on the comment sections of this blog - namely a polite and respectful exchange of ideas amongst educated people.

The world that For the Bible Tells Me So is a million miles removed from this kind of atmosphere. It is a disgusting, abhorrent and revolting world, which is happily opposed by men and women of great courage and conviction.

The trailer can be viewed here. 


  1. You have described the film as an exposé of the disturbing homophobia of so-called fundamentalist Churches in the US. For people not from the States, I think it depicts these Churches and their beliefs quite effectively, but to me it was more about speaking directly to the members of those Churches - asking them to treat their children and loved ones with the love, charity and compassion that is at the heart of Christian teaching. This intention comes across particularly clearly in the description of the background to the film at

    In fact, I thought that one of the most inspiring things about "For the Bible Tells Me So" was that, despite their best efforts, so many films with political or social commentaries struggle to preach to anyone but the converted, and because of this can become patronising, or even distasteful or contemptuous freakshow depictions of communities and lifestyles different from our own. On the other hand, this film has apparently become a valuable tool in the coming out process of many young American teens who relate to the families presented.

    It is also inspiring that, as you have said, they take a respectful and, indeed, theological approach to dealing with homosexuality and its treatment (or lack thereof) in the Bible. Having said that, you can also see from their lengthy discussion of Leviticus and Romans and their historical context just how hard it is to separate the literal reading of these pieces of text with what is ACTUALLY being said - especially when it is the literal reading that has been drummed into your head all your life. As history students, of course we are used to looking at text in this way, but most people do not work on the assumption that more can be gleaned from understanding the context of a text than purely from reading what is actually written.

    In the spirit of the film, I would also add to your statement that those who oppose homosexuality on whatever grounds grounds do not only not "have the right to legislatively enforce their lifestyle choices on other people", but they also do not have the right to subject their friends, family or members of their community to rejection, humiliation or isolation because of a sexuality that, on a personal level, they cannot reconcile themselves with.

    I thought that the story of the Poteat family was particularly pertinent to this point. Tonia's parents still cannot feel comfortable with their daughter's sexuality, but at the same time have come to the conclusion that a loving relationship with her is far more important than making any ideological judgement on her personal life. And while they still balk at the thought of her being in a long-term romantic relationship with another woman, they have decided to be happy that Tonia has found a valuable "friend" that makes her happy. This conclusion is, as you have said, "hopeful" even while it is not perfect, and I think it is possibly the most important story to be included in the film.

  2. It is a shame and should be unacceptable that fear and hatred should hijack any religion. Those who truly follow Christ's example practice love, tolerance and acceptance to everyone, especially those who are put down by society. I will never understand why people spend so much energy worrying about what anyone else is doing. They should look inside for the real problem.

  3. I haven’t seen this film, but thank you Gareth for your insightful and earnest critique.

    If only more people felt like you do.


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