A lively new doc aims its lens at biblical bigotry.
Name the moral of Sodom and Gomorrah. “Homosexuality is a sin,” right? Well, what’s omitted from that common, conservative understanding of the tale of Lot, who takes in two visiting angels disguised as men, is the fact that when the men of Sodom and Gomorrah surround Lot’s house and demand he turn over the angels so that they might “know” (i.e., have sex with) them, Lot offers up his two daughters for the men to gang-rape. Later, he impregnates both of them.
The theologians interviewed in Fish Out of Water, a new documentary by local filmmaker Ky Dickens that screens on Sunday 8 as part of the Reeling Film Festival, point out this lesser-known aspect and argue persuasively that the story is actually not about homosexuality but rather a lack of hospitality. What’s unexpected is that Fish Out of Water also offers a hospitable defense of the church.
Traveling throughout the country, Dickens, 31, a TV producer by day, talked with ministers on both sides of the debate surrounding homosexuality and the Bible to find out what they believe the seven biblical passages most frequently used in justifying religious-based bigotry really say. Dickens says what she learned surprised her. “I thought I’d be making a film that was anti-church and anti-religion in order to give the gay community some perspective on the Bible in this debate,” she says. “I realized there are many allies in the church, many ministers that deeply, strongly believe this homosexuality thing has been blown out of proportion and has no business even being discussed as a moral issue.”
Dickens says she always felt like a fish out water (hence the film’s title) as a gay woman in the Christian church (she’s a quarter Jewish and has a Muslim girlfriend and an atheist father). Born and raised in Chicagoland, she attended conservative Vanderbilt University, where she also ran a Bible study. Rejected by her sorority sisters after coming out to them in 2000, Dickens began a spiritual quest that led to the making of Fish Out of Water. She drove around the U.S. to find out just what religious leaders had to say about homosexuality and discovered that silence, not homophobia, most informed their teachings at the pulpit. “Ministers often feel like they can’t speak out about the great moral issues of our time,” Dickens says. “The number one thing they say [is that] you cannot speak up; you have to preserve unity. If you don’t, you can get removed or relocated at the drop of a hat. It’s sad.”
Fish Out of Water examines key passages in the Bible through lively animation that humorously illustrates stories like Adam and Eve and Sodom and Gomorrah. True, the debate is framed largely by liberal theologians with only two conservatives, including God Hates Fags’ own Fred Phelps (at his campy best) offering anti-gay rhetoric. But the most passionate and resonant voices are those of the everyday LGBT folk who have been victims of religious-based prejudice. Dickens says dozens of gays and lesbians filled her apartment until the wee hours to talk about feelings of mistrust toward the church, a hunger for an inclusive faith experience and their own bias against Christians.
“One of the men I was interviewing was disowned by his family in the South and his church,” Dickens says. “He became homeless because he had nowhere to turn in this time of turmoil. Whether you believe in God or not, the church always serves a role in society. This idea that one group of people could be barred from this sanctuary, this safety net, when the chips are down and they have nowhere to turn, to me was an outrage.”
Fish Out of Water screens 5pm, Sunday 8 at the Music Box.