“You can choose to believe or not believe that my experiences are valid. That's OK. I just ask you to keep an open mind and consider that it might be possible that this is a genuine, authentic experience, and that it’s possible for more than just me.”
So says “Rilene” near the beginning of Desire of the Everlasting Hills, a new documentary about three Catholics who chose chastity after being in homosexual relationships (watch online here). She says these words as we see images of her carrying the communion bread and wine—an important image for the film, as “communion/community” is suggested as the root object of the desires indicated in the film’s title.
Rilene’s personal journey out of homosexuality is one thing; but the second part of her statement is most controversial: “that it’s possible for more than just me.” This comment is the furthest the film ventures in the “it’s possible for others too” direction. In an age where (particularly on issues of sexual identity) individual choices are fine insofar as they never suggest themselves as preferred models for others, Desire wisely opts to focus on three people sharing their unique-only-to-them journeys, without any statements of universality. And yet Desire—produced by Courage, Int., a Roman Catholic apostolate focused on ministry to same-sex attracted (SSA) individuals and their families—clearly wants the film to offer models of hope for Christians seeking to reconcile their sexual identity with the teachings of the church.
Each of us has a story and “whether or not this story is welcome, it deserves respect,” writes Fr. Paul N. Check, executive director of Courage, Int., on the film’s website. “It deserves respect not only for the unique mind and heart the story reveals, but also for what it may contain for others.”
The discourse surrounding “ex-gay” narratives, or narratives of SSA individuals who choose celibacy, is among the most combustible sub-genres of an already highly explosive discourse. Can a person’s sexual identity change? The question can barely be uttered in public without nuclear consequences. Indeed, to even suggest that an individual might be unhappy in an LGBTQ lifestyle, and to offer specific stories of people who say they are happier having left it (as Desire does), is highly controversial.
Desire is one of three new documentaries that takes up the question of change in the context of Christian homosexual identity. Sing Over Me, a film about contemporary Christian music star Dennis Jernigan’s struggle with homosexuality—is another. Kidnapped for Christ, ostensibly an expose of a Christian boarding school (“Escuela Caribe”) in the Dominican Republic, also wrestles with the “LGBTQ Christian” question by focusing on a gay high school student whose parents send him to the school with hopes (it is suggested) that he’ll come back straight.
Each documentary takes a different approach to the contested questions, and yet each is humane and empathetic. At a time when the Christian discourse on homosexuality may be shifting and all sorts of models/positions/perspectives are represented within the church, these three films represent helpful additions to the ongoing conversation.
Is Change Possible?
Sing Over Me (watch online here) is an Indiegogo-funded documentary directed by Jacob Kindberg, a 2008 graduate of Biola University, who says the film is “about hope, identity, and the transformative power of the gospel.” By letting Jernigan tell his story of being “redeemed” from a homosexual lifestyle (he’s now married to a woman and has nine kids), Sing is easily the more instantly controversial of this trio of films.