For They Know Not What They Do
by Hope Madden
“If a lot of people have just a little bit of courage, then nobody has to be a hero.”
If we can’t see the truth in that statement right now, we are truly lost. It’s a call to action, and an argument that For They Know Not What They Do patiently articulates.
A sequel of sorts to director Daniel G. Karslake’s 2007 doc For the Bible Tells Me So, For They Know Not What They Do revisits the Christian church after more than a decade to gauge its movement on LGBTQ rights.
The film drops you into the lives of four families navigating the complex world of faith and sexual identity.
Elliott is about to leave for his freshman year at Vassar, and he and his parents walk us through what it’s like to trust your adolescent enough to begin the irreversible. Ryan, with the help of his genuinely loving if deeply misdirected parents, commits to praying the gay away. Sarah is as committed to the political career she started as a middle school class president as she is in fully transitioning. Victor survived a tragedy thanks in part to the unflinching support of his Catholic parents.
In and around all of these stories, Karslake examines the political backlash to marriage equality, particularly the way the religious right has targeted the especially vulnerable transgender population and what that has meant in terms of violence.
All of the parents involved display their courageous human frailty, owning their immediate and long-term responses to knowledge of their children’s sexuality or gender identification.
Their continued reliance on faith to help them see where religious dogma had become poisonous is among the loveliest elements of the film. These parents lean on their scripture’s concept of forgiveness (mainly to forgive themselves for having harmed their children), love, and acceptance to help them see beyond their own fear.
It’s a path Karslake takes as well. This is a forgiving documentary. It never turns a blind eye toward the way the religious right uses organized religion as a tool to oppress. But FTKNWTD is more interested in how faith does not have to be tainted by this noxious hate. It’s a bold vision for a documentary on Christianity and LGBTQ suffering.
It is also perhaps the film’s strongest selling point. Karslake doesn’t preach at, condescend to or even vilify the audience most in need of the film’s message.