"We have very perversely used difference to justify cruelty of the most vicious sort. I equate homophobia to the injustice of apartheid, and it is contrary to the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ."
--Bishop Desmond Tutu
Today, I watched a very good documentary called "For The Bible Tells Me So," which is about how churches today and throughout the 20th century have taught that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination, and the real-world effects that this teaching has had on people and families.
The film follows four Christian families, each of which has a gay son or daughter. Each family deals with this revelation in different ways. A common reaction is fear and rejection. One of the daughters ends up committing suicide, which is not uncommon for homosexuals. Suicide rates for homosexuals are three to seven times higher than for those of heterosexuals, precisely because of the fear and hostility they face, often from their own families. Other stories in the film are less tragic. One couple does not reject their son, but seeks to understand and love him, despite their fear of what other people in their church might think of them. Having grown up in a church myself, I know the tremendous pressure that exists to appear "normal" and "godly." This family ends up becoming activists against the homophobic policies of the American Lutheran Church. They do not reject their faith or their church, but seek to reform it.
The film also explores the social and cultural contexts of passages in the Bible that are often used to "prove" that homosexuality is a sin. The passage in Leviticus which calls it an abomination for a man to lay with another man is sandwiched by equally stern commandments against eating shrimp and planting two seeds in the same hole. The passage in Romans where Paul apparently condemns men and women for "abandoning natural relations" etc must be interpreted in the context of the Greek cultural notion of homosexuality in the first century, which was very different how we think about it today. I'm no Bible scholar, but I have read the Bible cover to cover, and read enough textual criticism to know that a reasonable understanding of the Bible must take into consideration the cultural and historic context. Simply quoting a verse out of context is a recipe for misunderstanding.
The film also explores the power of Christian figures like James Dobson, who has no theological training, over public views of homosexuality. It explores programs like Focus on the Family's "Love Won Out" which treats homosexuality as a mental or emotional disorder, despite the fact that the American Psychological Association does not classify it as such.
In my view, gay rights is the civil rights issue of our generation. Those who oppose gay rights are usually well-meaning, good-hearted Christians who have simply accepted what they have been told about homosexuality without serious inquiry. The film "The Bible Tells Me So" forces the viewer to think deeply about this issue. It is available on Netflix instant watch.