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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Cuenin, Trisk talk religion, sexuality

Published: February 29, 2008
Section: Front Page

On Thursday, students and Brandeis Catholic Chaplain Walter Cuenin gathered at the Trisk office in the Shapiro Campus Center to view, and afterwards discuss, the film “For the Bible Tells Me So.” The event focused on the question; Does God condemn homosexual relationships?

The award-winning documentary, shot in a style which was inspired by Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine,” follows the narratives of five Christian families who attempt to reconcile their religious beliefs with homosexuality. The families featured in the film are diverse, spanning from the family of a former House Majority Leader to the family of an Episcopal Bishop. According to the film’s website, the documentary’s purpose is to provide “healing, clarity, and understanding to anyone caught in the crosshairs of scripture and sexual identity.”

The event was the result of the collaborative efforts of members of Trisk, an umbrella LGBT organization, and Father Cuenin. In an e-mail, Trisk General Coordinator, Alice Ittelson, ’08, described why the club wanted to share the film with students. “[We] care deeply about ensuring that people of all different faiths and orientations feel comfortable engaging in dialogue about sexuality and religion, and that is what this event hopes to foster.”

While Trisk organized the showing, Father Cuenin, who aided in the training of Queer Resource Center staffers by talking with them about religion and sexual identity, originally recommended the film and managed to secure a copy.

Before he was the Catholic Chaplain at Brandeis, Father Cuenin was a pastor at Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton, Massachusetts, where he was known for his outreach to homosexuals in the Catholic Church. More recently, in 2006 he spoke at a gay pride interfaith prayer service where the Interfaith Pride Coalition presented him with an award for his efforts.

Following the showing, Father Cuenin conversed with students on the topic of homosexuality and the Bible and whether or not it condemns homosexual relationships.

He began the discussion by stating his own opinion of the film, “I was very moved by it…my only critique is that it made it seem a little bit easier than it is in real life. All of those parents eventually came around to understanding their son or daughter and that isn’t always the case.”

He went on to mention that he thought that the film raised the question of whether the Bible should be read “as written” or “in context.” This comment prefaced a discussion about the different ways the Bible is read, interpreted, and used.

Justine Dowden ’10 raised the point that since sermons are thematic, it is easy to take parts of the Bible out of context. Father Cuenin responded, saying that if read out of context “you can prove anything in the Bible.”

Then, the conversation shifted when a member of the Brandeis Humanists said, “for me, this movie reinforces that there is no God. If there is divine inspiration [for the Bible] why is it not more clear about this?”

Father Cuenin answered by explaining that the Bible is “a product of a certain period of history.” He continued, “Homosexuality, as a sexual identity, is a modern idea. If you asked Jesus about homosexuality, he wouldn’t know what you’re talking about, that’s like asking Moses about electricity.”

The documentary featured many clips depicting religious people using the Bible to condemn homosexuality as “an abomination.” Father Cuenin remarked, “what’s troubling about the film is that it shows how the Bible can be used for hatred.”

The event ended with Father Cuenin quoting from a Catholic document directed to gay youth. He read, “In you, God’s love is revealed.”

Overall, the film was well received. There were a few criticisms regarding the documentary’s simplistic examples of how people today are relearning the Bible. Jane Becker ’11 stated, “I think for time constraints, [the film] was more about telling people’s stories than the technical stuff.”

For the showing, the Trisk office was overflowing, with students standing in the hall. During the film, members of the audience burst out with laughter and at its more tense moments and some were clearly moved.