Daniel Karslake '87, Documenting a Christian Imperative

Mark Mainz / Getty Images

Daniel Karslake has long known about Bible passages that appear to condemn homosexuality. Soon after Karslake graduated from Duke and came out to his parents, his father read to him from the Bible, imploring his son to change his sexual orientation.

Now Karslake has made the Bible the centerpiece of his first documentary film, which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. For the Bible Tells Me So features five conservative Christian families whose gay loved ones cause them to examine their own faith. Religious leaders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and the Reverend Peter Gomes of Harvard University, offer perspectives on the often heated issue of biblical teaching and homosexuality.

"I made this film very specifically for what I call the moveable middle," Karslake says. "I think there's a group of people in this country who don't quite know what to think, who are getting to know a gay or lesbian person for the first time, but all they hear about from religious figures is that gay people are evil, they're condemned in the Bible."

In the film, which Karslake produced and directed, one woman changes her viewpoint after the daughter she rejected for being a lesbian commits suicide; a religious couple from the Midwest comes to accept and fight for the rights of their gay teenage son. Karslake also tells the story of the family of former Congressman Richard Gephardt, whose daughter Chrissy is gay, and of Gene Robinson, a gay man whose consecration as bishop in New Hampshire roiled the Episcopal church. Robinson's decision to cooperate with the filmmaker launched the project, which began in 2003 and took more than three years to complete.

Karslake, a resident of New York, formerly worked as a producer for the Emmy-nominated PBS newsmagazine In the Life. As he was raising money for the film, he faced skepticism among his peers, many of whom didn't want him to give credence to the religion they felt oppressed them. Yet Karslake argues, "If we're going to start to counter that, you don't do that by saying, 'Forget the Bible.' "

He saw the validity of his argument when he began showing the film. One woman told him it made her reconsider everything she believed about gay people. She never knew, she said, that "nice Christian families" could have gay children.

Karslake once couldn't believe it either. During college, he prayed in Duke Chapel that the son his parents were so proud of could not be something that might shame them. His prayers were eventually answered in a different way, however. When he joined his partner in a commitment ceremony in the mid-'90s, his parents were there. By then, his mother had started a chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

For the Bible Tells Me So has earned critical and popular acclaim. It won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Seattle International Film Festival and the Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights at Durham's Full Frame Documentary Festival and was a nominee for the grand jury prize at Sundance. This fall, First Run Features is distributing the film in theaters across the country (see www.forthebibletellsmeso.org for dates and locations), and Karslake is embarking on the international film-festival circuit.

"It's been amazing to see how the conservative Christian community has received the film," says Karslake. At one screening, he recalls, a woman who introduced herself as a born-again Christian "thanked me for 'reminding the world about the true story of Jesus.' Jesus embraced the outcasts.

I wanted to show that people of deep and abiding faith can also love their gay child, and that the church should be about bringing people together, not pushing people away."

—Rice is a freelance writer in Arlington, Massachusetts.

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