I recently watched two documentary films on the relationship between Christians and homosexuality in our 21st century context; the two films are Fish Out of Water: A Documentary that Explores the Impassioned Relationship Between Homosexuality and the Bible, and For The Bible Tells Me So which has won multiple film awards (this one came out in 2007). This issue, like many ethical dilemmas today is undergoing a sea-change in the Christian church today; as ethical normative relativism seeps further and further into the Christian church we are presented with the reality that all is up for grabs so to speak. Before I get into this further, here are the trailers to each of these documentaries. The first trailer is for ‘Fish Out of Water’ and then the second is ‘For The Bible Tells Me So’.
Ky Dickens, the producer of the ‘Fish Out of Water’ documentary realized that she was a Lesbian while attending Vanderbilt University. She grew up as a conservative Christian, and was a part of a Bible Study group while attending Vanderbilt. Once she realized that she was a Lesbian, she began a search that sought to illuminate her sexual orientation; a search that involved dispelling the way she had been taught to view homosexuality as a sin all of her conservative Christian life. So her documentary takes shape by dealing with the 7 purported passages used against homosexuals by conservative Christians. She surveys various pastors and “scholars”, one of whom, and who is prominent, is Bishop Shelby Spong—not the most reputable guy to gain sound exegetical insight from.
The second film, ‘For The Bible Tells Me So’ looks at various Christian people who turned out to be gay. The tact used for this film, as its organizing principle, is to highlight the relationship between children who turn out to be gay, and the these children’s parents; all of people looked at in these stories are Christian people. This film looks at some high profile people like the openly gay bishop (retired now) Gene Robinson in the Episcopal church in America, and Dick Gephardt’s daughter who also turns out to be gay; there are other people featured in this film, one is a young guy who lets his conservative Lutheran parents know he is gay when he is 16. His parent’s, after much research, understand his situation and become vocal advocates in the gay rights movement; especially among Christians. They take their most prominent stand at a rally and protest held in Colorado Springs in front of James Dobson’s headquarter, Focus on the Family. Most of the parents in this film change their views over time, as they accept the idea that their children are gay, and still Christian.
I take the traditional position of the church; that is, that homosexuality in fact sinful; just as heterosexual relationships that involve un-married sexual intercourse are sinful. I don’t have the time to, in detail, engage with all of the arguments made by ‘Fish Out of Water’ (from now on FOW) and ‘For the Bible Tells Me So’ (from now on FBTMS); but I wanted to highlight a few things in response to these films.
1) Both of these films frame this as an issue of civil rights and crimes against humanity. One of the films goes so far as to relate the treatment of homosexuals by the church with the way Hitler treated the Jews. There is a post hoc argument made that simply because so called conservative Christians interpret the pertinent passages of scripture in a way that argues that homosexual behavior is sinful, that this then of necessity leads to crimes against humanity and uncivil treatment of homosexuals. This does not follow though. All framing it this way does is to rhetorically make it ‘appear’ that these two are related. As Christians we recognize at a basic level that we are all sinners, saved sinners, or pace Luther, simultaneously justified and a sinner. If something is inherently discordant from the kind of order that God set in motion in creation, then it is not loving to ignore this discordance when we see it happening among our brethren and sistren. Anyone who would use the scriptures that explicitly assert that homosexuality is sinful as a justification for mistreatment of homosexuals would only be condemning themselves; since they too are just as sinful as the homosexual in whatever their chosen discordant behavior and heart is. Anyway, this is a fallacious argument, and both films use it as a basic premise for rhetorically marginalizing the traditional interpretation of the texts that purportedly are used to denigrate the homosexual (and they are sometimes, but if they are used in an unloving ungracious way, then they are being misused).
2) Both films appeal to the ‘hospitality’ argument when it comes to the Sodom and Gomorrah story. The argument is, is that God judged Sodom and Gomorrah not for homosexual and deviant sexual immorality; but instead, God judged Sodom and Gomorrah because they did not show the proper kind of hospitality to strangers in their midst (it gets more developed than my little synopsis here). Homosexual Christians argue that this passage of scripture in Genesis has nothing to do with homosexuality, and thus cannot be uses as a normative text that speaks against the homosexual lifestyle. Of course one of the problems with this argument is that the word used can be used to refer to sexual immorality of the kind traditionally understood; and if Paul’s arguments in the New Testament attest to this kind of reading, then it is more prudent to follow his impulses than the impulses of modern day homosexual exegesis.
3) Both films seek to relativize the New Testament passages (all Pauline texts) that speak against homosexuality. The basic argument is to simply annex the value of these NT texts to their original and particular first century Graeco-Roman contexts. In so doing, the modern day homosexual exegete sees force to these passages, but only in regard to their original and particular referent; they don’t see these texts, then, having a universal and perduring relevance. For example, one of those making an argument, begins to argue that the Apostle Paul would not have had any idea of 21st century monogamous homosexual relationships, all Paul would have known of in the Graeco-Roman period would have been orgiastic homosexual relations that betoken the kind of rebuke that Paul gives it in Romans 1—but since, as the argument goes, Paul didn’t or couldn’t have understood our context, then he could not have been indicting the kind of Christian homosexual relationships that are under discussion today. But how does one engage in Christian homosexual behavior and not violate other uncontested passages of scripture on sexual immorality in general (i.e. like sex is only viable within the boundaries of a marital relationship).
The question, as I see it, has to do with how one views scripture and its authority. Most of the arguments made from ‘For the Bible Tells Me So’ appeal to emotional argument, and not solid exegetical consideration. Most of the argument made by ‘Fish Out of Water’, while more explicitly dealing with the texts, again, run from existential appeals to modern day sexuality, and then taking that psychology to the text of scripture and making the text of scripture fit into those norms instead of the contextual norms laid out by the text of scripture itself. It seems to me that as progressive as these people think their arguments are, they end up being just as wooden literal and fundamentalist as the fundamentalist interpretations they are arguing against. In the end, as far as I can see, the homosexual attempt to justify their lifestyles from scripture just does not cohere with normative ways of interpreting scripture (and I might say ‘Traditional’ ways).
Anyway, I know this is a hot-bed topic. But I thought I would chime in.