Interview with Daniel Karslake

The new documentary For the Bible Tells Me So looks at the intersection of homosexuality and the Bible, and through a variety of approaches and with a staggering number of resources (Archbishop Desmond Tutu, anyone?) refutes the standard conservative claim that the Good Book has a thing against the gays.

We'll be running a full review of this engaging and unexpectedly moving work later, but as the film opened in a number of cities last (check at the bottom for a listing), we wanted to bring you this interview with the film's writer and director, Daniel Karslake, and encourage you to check out the film if it's in or near your town. People often say that religion is one thing that you can't change people's minds on, and that the best that can be hoped for is for each side to see the other's point of view and respect it. Is that enough? Do you feel that this film can actually change minds? Or can anything?
Daniel Karslake:
I actually agree with both of those assertions. First of all, what doesn't happen enough is that very basic [thing], people on both sides at least respecting other people's opinions.

We're very much still in a discussion in this country where both sides are yelling and really not listening to the other side. So one thing that I'm really hoping is that the film can lift the conversation out of that separating point and that people will at least start to hear another way to think about gay and lesbian people in the Bible and walk away thinking, "Okay, I respect what these theologians are saying, I respect what conclusions these very faithful Christian families are reaching and I will just let that lay instead of trying to change them."

What I will say, though, is that a lot of the initial response I've gotten from the film from the people I most made it for, these conservatives who have another view of the Bible, have been very strong and very positive, and more positive than I'd even hoped.

We had our world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January and at Sundance there were groups of students from two very conservative seminaries who came to the same screening. And both groups of kids, or not really kids but in their early 20's, emerged from that screening desperate to have a longer conversation with me about the film and about the issue. They asked me to come to the church — they were sleeping on the floor of a church throughout the festival — and i went to the church the next day and we had an amazing conversation where a lot of them said, you know, we couldn't sleep last night, we couldn't believe there were these stories of good Christian parents who had gay kids, and I've never really been exposed to what gay people are before and I think maybe I've been misled this whole time.

And another woman stood up at one of the screenings and said, "I'm a born again Christian," and I thought, here it comes … and she said, "I just want to thank you for reminding the world about the real message of Jesus," and she sat down. And I thought, wow — I think this movie actually is resonating more deeply with people than I'd even hoped — especially the people that I want most to see it … Because all five families are Christian families who are wonderful and to various extents embrace their gay child but also stay in their faith. So I have a lot of hope.

AE: The journeys of the families represented range from bittersweet to promising to revelatory. But unfortunately we know that many families do not come to the sort of resolutions that these families did. Was it a choice not to include a family that was still at considerable odds over issues of faith?
It was definitely a choice that I wanted to have families that were at various points, not all of them were totally happy-ending accepting, but also on the other side of the coin felt like we've seen enough stories of families who are completely shut off from their kids because of their faith. I know I've seen that, there have been movies just about that — very good films — about conservative Christians who are completely estranged from their kids because they chose their faith over their kids.

So I didn't really think it was necessary to have another one of those stories, because the whole point of the movie is that there are so many great families of faith who have found a way to stay with their child and in their faith. So to add a story where that didn't happen would be to kind of add, you know from Sesame Street? "One of these things is not like the other"?

It just felt to me like we've seen that enough, and especially for the gay and lesbian community that is a big part of our audience, we've all seen that and it's all just way too painful. But I had not seen a lot of stories of fiercely Christian people who've stayed with their kids. So that's what I wanted to show.

AE: In recent years there have been several documentaries made that address the relationship between sexuality and faith, which is something of a new topic. Why do you think it's on people's minds?
I think because people more and more are realizing that as gay and lesbian people come out more and begin to feel their own power and start to demand equality in our society, they're starting to realize that one of the biggest impediments to achieving equality — and not special rights, equality, just being on the same playing field as everyone else — is this whole kind of myth that the Bible is the final word and that the Bible condemns gay and lesbian people.

Every time I would watch Larry King Live about the anti-gay marriage amendment he would book on the right two baptist ministers and on the left Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, and Chad Allen, "Out Gay Actor". And those guys are both great people, but it was always the religious voice on the right and the more secular voice on the left. And it's very difficult to start to talk to people of faith and to try to change their hearts and minds if you're not talking their language. And religion is its own language.

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