Ralph's story is just one among those of similarly chastised lesbian and gay Lutherans that make up Pam Walton's Call to Witness, the opening film of Out Now!, the fall version of last June's very successful Kansas City Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. Though the film is joined on the schedule by another devastating documentary -- Paragraph 457, about the annihilation of gays and lesbians during the Holocaust -- the festival is not all cries and whispers. Hunky West Hollywood boys are the subject of Broken Hearts Club, with TV's former Man of Steel, Dean Cain, playing the prettiest boy on the block.
But it may be Call to Witness that has the most relevance for today's lesbian and gay community. A statement issued by the governing body of the ELCA says the church "allows" gays and lesbians into its churches, a stilted invitation that Ralph says "is already slanted toward prejudice. They really don't want to deal with this issue; they want it to go away."
That is a point Bishop Charlie Maahs, who oversees the ELCA for this region, disputes. He says that though the film "does a good job presenting some of the struggles" around the issue, "what it's lacking is how the church is learning to study and discern. We're on a journey, and people are at different places. In 1995, we issued an open letter to congregations to extend hospitality to gays and lesbians. The sticking point is the ordination of practicing homosexuals in committed relationships."
The movie also visits St. Paul, Minnesota; Ames, Iowa; and San Francisco, profiling ministers whose openness about their sexual orientation provoked disciplinary hearings as if they were children late for their curfews. And Abiding Peace, a small Lutheran church in North Kansas City, is currently struggling with issues regarding its lesbian minister. Though Walton, Ralph, and Steve Saban, whose tense hearing comprises the last third of the film, will attend the opening-night screening and reception, Maahs says a schedule conflict doesn't allow him to accept the filmmaker's invitation to attend.
Also on the agenda this week: Greg Berlanti's Broken Hearts Club, which received a B+ from Entertainment Weekly for its "warmth and proud cheekiness"; Nisha Ganatra's Chutney Popcorn, about an infertile woman whose lesbian sister serves as a surrogate womb; and Jon Shear's Urbania, a dark contemporary piece about which The New York Post said, "(Y)ou can't take your eyes off the screen for a second."