For The Bible Tells Me So | Notes & Review

Posted on October 3, 2010

2 [NR]

There’s something about doing justice with your [gay] son that is so empowering.

New Interview with Bishop Gene Robinson and Director Dan Karslake

[After a program aired which featured a lesbian street theologian,] I got an email from a kid in Iowa which ultimately drove me to make this film:

Last week I bought the gun. Yesterday I wrote the note. Last night I happen to see your show on PBS, and just knowing that someday, somewhere, I might be able to go back into a church with my head held high, I dropped the gun in the river. My mom never has to know.

There is nothing more pro-family than this film – Gene Robinson

There is no doubt in my mind that God was in this film from the beginning. … The main reason I wanted to make this film is to elevate the conversation around religion and homosexuality to a higher level. We’ve done enough screaming at each other, we’ve done enough accusing each other of hatred and bigotry. It’s time to start to understand that there might be a way that we could live together, and be together, in faith, maybe not by always agreeing, but by sharing this idea that really all it comes down to is love. – Daniel Karslake

Film Notes

In many ways, Robin and Bruce Voss represent the audience for which FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO was made. An Orange County, CA couple who go to church every Sunday, the Voss’ almost didn’t marry ten years ago because, as Robin recently told the Orange County Register, “their politics became an issue. [I] had gay friends, and Bruce was uncomfortable with that.” And so Bruce, intolerant of gays for so long, learned to accept them.

Robin Voss is just about as mainstream American Christian as you can get. She sold Mary Kay cosmetics for 18 years and earned a fleet of the company’s signature pink Cadilacs in the process. She was a vice president in the Helen Grace chocolate chain. family is really important to Robin; she has three children and as many grandchildren.

One day at St. Mark’s Presbyterian, her home parish in Newport Beach, California, Robin picked up a brochure about a seminar to be held there on “What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality.” She was new to St. Mark’s and imagined the tenor of the seminar would tell her all she needed to know about whether or not it was the right place for her to worship. She even made what she now calls a “sarcastic” phone call to a friend, a Los Angeles talent agent named Keith Lewis, inviting him to come along for the ride. Expecting that good old ‘fire and brimstone’ intolerance, Voss and Lewis instead heard something quite different from the literalist interpretation with which they were so familiar.

As the five hour seminar unfolded, and people began to participate and break into groups, the conversations “had a profoundly healing, transformative effect,” Voss says. “It opened hearts, opened minds. It got straight people like me to be open to hearing something different from what they’d been taught their entire life. That experience was so overwhelming that I believed in my heart that I had to do something, like make a movie, to perpetuate the ideas and the healing I’d experienced that day. If people in Orange County, California, were seeking this kind of message, then people everywhere would soon be ready to stop struggling and start understanding what the Bible really says about being gay.”

“I truly believe FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO was driven by a divine presence,” Voss concludes, and that Daniel Karslake was exactly the right guy to make the movie. The day we talked with Daniel, we recognized that as a man, and as an artist, Daniel had exactly the right understanding of spirituality and religion the project required. Our country is in great need of healing, in great need of anything that spreads the message of tolerance, understanding, and inclusiveness.”

Last week I bought the gun. Yesterday I wrote the note. Last night I happen to see your show on PBS, and just knowing that someday, somewhere, I might be able to go back into a church with my head held high, I threw the gun in the river. My mom never has to know.

This is the email a novice television producer named Daniel Karslake received from a boy in Iowa the day after the PBS series “In the Life” aired a segment Karslake produced about Reverend Irene Monroe, an out lesbian theologian at Harvard University. It was 1998.

Karslake had been interning at “In the Life” for about six months, learning everything he could about television journalism. A Christian whose day job was as a fundraiser for New York’s Riverside Church, Karslake had often wondered why “In the Life,” an excellent newsmagazine about gay and lesbian issues, rarely, if ever, did stories about religion.

The show’s executive producer explained that the topic of religion, particularly the nexus between religion and sexuality, would surely be too controversial for too many people.

But when Karslake met Reverend Monroe through his work at Riverside Church, he knew she would make a great subject for an “In the Life” profile, and got the green light. The segment not only saved at least one life, it was honored with the first Emmy award nomination the show ever received, and Karslake became the “go to” producer at the show for stories on spiritual issues and the gay community.

“That email from the young man in Iowa was the first of hundreds of emails I got from gay and lesbian people from across the country who felt so rejected and condemned by their own churches that they had considered or were still considering taking their own lives,” Karslake recalled.

“Then,” Karslake says with a smile, “I saw BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE.”

“It became clear to me that I could make a movie,” he recalled, “that reconciled homosexuality and scripture, by bringing the argument to a level that normal lay people could understand. BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE had managed to say some very difficult things about who we are as a country, but in a way that was actually going to be heard by a wide spectrum of people. The movie used all different devices to try to break people’s defenses down – funny stories, touching stories, music, video, animation – – and I remember I couldn’t get out of my seat.”

In May of 2003 Karslake and Voss came together and decided to make FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO.

Almost immediately in June of 2003, New Hampshire’s Episcopal Diocese elected a beloved and openly gay priest named Gene Robinson. Suddenly, Robinson was on the front page of every newspaper and all over the TV news.

“I was watching that closely,” Karslake remembers. “I’d always been obsessed with how the media covered religious topics, so I recorded everything I could about Robinson’s election and read everything I could find. I saw all the inconsistencies and misreporting on it and it drove me nuts.”

As the summer wore on, the story about New Hampshire’s openly gay, Bishop-elect Gene Robinson continued to build as his consecration, scheduled for November 3, grew near.

“The more I followed the story, the more convinced I was that Gene was the key to the movie,” Karslake says. “I knew if I could somehow get to him and get him to agree to participate, then everything else would fall into place. He was a huge deal, and he was also the most threatened public figure in the world, with layers of security around him, so getting to him was going to be a challenge.”

Miraculously, Karslake got a meeting with Robinson in his New Hampshire office in September.

“So who are you and what do you want?” Karslake remembers Robinson asking.

Karslake remembers feeling the adrenalin pumping while he tried to remain calm. He told Robinson he had been a TV producer for “In the Life,” and about the email he’d received from the young Iowa viewer after his profile of Irene Monroe had aired. Robinson had seen the segment and had loved it.

Then Karslake told Robinson he had to ask three things of him, in ascending order of obnoxiousness, and to please not answer until he’d asked all three, otherwise he didn’t think he’d be able to go through with it.

The first thing Karslake asked was for an email relationship. He was looking for stories of how Christian families had dealt with discovering a gay child and he imagined Robinson’s email would be a great source. The second thing was to ask Robinson to travel to LA a month after his consecration to participate in a fundraiser for the film. The third was to ask Robinson to participate in the film, to give Karslake access to his ex-wife and his parents. As Karslake rattled off these requests, he felt Robinson bristle with what he perceived to be anger.

“Let me get this straight. You want me to share confidential email with you, email I get because I am a priest. You want me to go to LA – with my schedule! – and help you raise money. Then you want me to risk my relationship with my partner, my daughters and my parents so you can put us in your movie?”

Yes, Karslake said, that’s what he was asking of Robinson.

“Let me just answer with a blanket, ‘Yes,'” Robinson said, and then he laughed. “You thought I was going to say ‘No!’ I should be saying no, but I am overtaken by your passion.”

“Gene Robinson,” Karslake explained, “is the single most significant person who made the film happen.”

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— VIA —

I loved this documentary. Very well done, and ends with a hopeful message. It’s difficult to watch without a tear, and it’s difficult to not be persuaded by the reasoning as well as the emotion. This will clearly be only one step along a very long journey for some who are wrestling with this issue, but depending upon the viewer, it will be a big step.