“For They Know Not What They Do” is the new stirring and emotive documentary by Daniel Karslake. It is a follow up to the previous “For the Bible Tells Me So” and it emphasizes the battle between Christian fundamentalism and LGBTQ rights, essentially the very right to exist and breathe freely. It is plainly presented, direct and very moving.
One meets the Robertsons, an evangelical family who met at a Christian retreat. They fell in love instantly. In addition to three other kids, the Robertson’s have a son, Ryan. To his parent’s shock, Ryan came out as gay while a teen. Ryan was stern, but his parents begged him to try Exodus, a conversion center. Conversion therapy, now largely discredited, is legal in 41 states. During such therapy many lives have been damaged.
In the film, one meets Vico, a young man from Puerto Rico who was afraid to come out because of his Catholic mom and his macho conventional father.
There is Elliot who did not feel right in boy roles. His parents being conservative did not know what to do.
Then there is Sarah McBride who had a childhood obsession with the White House, presidents and politics. Sarah was born as a boy, Tim, but things were not right. After his last term as student body president, Tim transitioned as Sarah. Her dad felt like he was punched in the gut. Sarah has since become a force in American politics advocating for Trans policies. She works at the Human Rights Campaign and was a highlighted speaker at the 2016 Democratic Convention.
Though these families are conservative, they are not generic or cartoonish and your heart goes out to each of them. Linda Robertson’s feelings are especially heart-rending as she deeply loves her son Ryan but cannot reconcile with him being gay under the weight of fundamentalism.
Ryan does his very best, but gets into addiction having no forgiving option. He is heavy with guilt.
Vico wrestles with the fate of being in the Pulse nightclub and having survived while two of his best girlfriends were shot and killed.
Sarah McBride found Andy, a man who was transgender, he became a lawyer and fell in love with Sarah.
While all of these stories are intensely emotional, it is the story of Linda Robertson whose story is transfixing and anxious. As a mother, she is forever looking over her shoulder with nervous tics. Her lips quiver in tight smiles. Her regret is immeasurable and she has an almost Shakespearean sense of guilt. Her story will induce tears.
Bishop Gene Robinson and Reverend Mel White all advocate for tolerance. God and Jesus does not stand for hate.
The fault is Fundamentalism, the iron rod of the Fundamentalist cross, the symbol and belief of intolerance. As Dr. Jacqui Lewis says in the film “We create whole societal structures based on ‘Hey do you like me?’” Lewis elaborates, “Churches and the world would be different… if we admitted that we were terrified of being alone”. It is unyielding Christianity and by extension the ultra-conservative belief that allows hate to spread like a virus.
“For They Know Not What They Do” is another triumph for Daniel Karslake and it is a must for those who want to see the inclusion of the human spirit in all its forms up against a crumbling wall of religious hatred.
This film is part of the Tropic’s Virtual Cinematheque Series. Get tickets here and support the Tropic!
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