Reclaiming Christ

By Lavender May 9, 2008

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Pioneering journalist Edward R. Murrow was right about television: If it is used to educate people, it could have an amazing impact. In the case of one gay teen in Iowa in 1998, TV not only educated him, but also saved his life.After seeing a segment about Harvard theologian Reverend Irene Monroe on PBS’s In the Life, the youth in question wrote an e-mail to the segment’s producer, Daniel Karslake.

The e-mail read, “Last week I bought the gun. Yesterday I wrote the note. But last night I happened to turn on your show, and just knowing that someday I might be able to go back into my church, I threw the gun in the river. My mom never has to know.”

Reading that e-mail was the beginning of a journey for Karslake.

“I couldn’t fathom that this kid was going to kill himself because of what he thought the story of Jesus was,” Karslake related to me in a recent interview. “Gay kids are pushed to suicide because of Christianity. It’s what should save them, but it’s been twisted so much for so long. This kid changed his mind because here was one person of faith [Monroe] who was also openly lesbian and proud of being both. There were so many stories we needed to start telling. We could save more lives.”

Karslake told his In the Life boss that he wanted the GLBT religion beat. His focus eventually turned into a feature-length film that is taking the country’s pulpits, classrooms, and movie theaters by storm: For the Bible Tells Me So.

The spiritual violence of the radical Christian right became palpable to me as I watched the film. Even though I’m a Jew, I truly felt the pain of Christian families with GLBT members. Before, it was just another political issue for me to rally around and write about. During the 99 minutes of the film, I heard and felt the stories of five very American, very Christian families who have struggled to reconcile their religion with the very real fact that they have gay or lesbian children.

The Reitans from Minnesota are one of those families.

These were people I knew—literally. I had interviewed Phil and Randi a few years back about their son, Jake, whose coming-out had taken their family on an amazing journey. Their unconditional love for Jake outweighed their Lutheran Church’s teachings. They soon found themselves sharing his passion for bringing Christ’s real message of love and inclusion to GLBT-excluding college campuses and organizations through Soulforce’s Equality Rides.

Go see the film, and you’ll experience their family. You can check out the film’s trailer or find out about screenings at www.forthebibletellsmeso.org.

Together, the Reitans travel to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to challenge the homophobia of James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Together, they are arrested. Together, they make the point that Christianity is not what the radical Christian right says it is.

“Churches should be the place that welcomes the outcast,” Randi told me during my interview with Karslake, who was sitting with the Reitans in their home, eating Chinese takeout after a day of lobbying together.

Randi continued, “Instead, churches are making people into outcasts. The film helps us share with pastors how many people have been hurt, how they long to come back and feel welcome. It’s time for pastors to lead their congregations, and no longer be silent about GLBT rights.”

The Reitans have been touring with the film, so to speak. Whenever it is shown within a few hours of their home, they go, and participate in the question-and-answer period that inevitably follows a screening. They also have been taking it to churches.

In fact, after showing it in one small Methodist church in Minnesota, the congregation wanted to know what they could do to “help the situation.” Phil and Randi told them it would be great if they could make the For the Bible Tells Me So DVD available to the folks at the Methodist National Convention taking place soon in Ft. Worth, Texas.

A group of Lutheran ministers asked Randi and Phil to be part of a Q&A session after watching the film. According to the Reitans, all the ministers were visibly moved.

“As they discussed it afterwards, they made each other braver,” Phil recounted. “They started to see they wouldn’t be out there all by themselves if they took a stand. It helped them along on their journey.”

That journey also is being taken by what Karslake calls “straight people who are conflicted.”

Karslake explained how people come up to him after seeing the film, and tell him they’ve been sitting in their church pews for decades, feeling really conflicted about what their pastors have to say about the GLBT issue.

They tell Karslake, “Jesus embraced outcasts….It makes no sense that GLBT people are put outside the Kingdom of God. I’m going to talk with my preacher. I want him to explain how we’re not all God’s children.”

Others have told Karslake that they left the church because the way the GLBT issue was handled didn’t jive with their understanding of who Christ was.

“But I’m a Christian,” one viewer shared with Karslake. “The film makes me feel like I can go back to church.”

Changing hearts and minds in the red states is what Karslake had in mind when he made the film. It seems to be working.

“Much of our country is really part of that movable middle. For the Bible Tells Me So helps educate,” Phil Reitan remarked. “Those who see it start to understand what the discrimination is, so it becomes their issue.”

Libby Post, the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda, is a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached care of this publication, or at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.

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