Release Date: 2011
Seen on: Maryland Film Festival, MICA Brown Center, Sunday, May 6, 4:30PM
Hosted by: Macky Alston and Bishop Gene Robinson
Confirmed Showing: PBS Independent Lens
Awards: Sundance U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize for an Agent of Change
Love Free or Die was screened this past Sunday at MICA's Brown Center. I was surprised that the audience was not bigger because the film was hosted by both the director, Macky Alston, and the subject, Bishop Gene Robinson. I suppose the fact that it was a Sunday afternoon made for a smaller audience.
The film captures the experiences of Bishop Gene Robinson, an Episcopalian Bishop in New Hampshire and also "the first openly gay partnered bishop to be consecrated a bishop in the three largest high church traditions of Christendom." Bishop Robinson's consecration started a schism within the greater Anglican Church which has an estimated 80 million members worldwide. The documentary was filmed in 2008 and catches this political and theological issue mid-stride.
In July 2008, Anglican bishops from across the globe gathered in England for the Lambeth Conference. Rev. Robinson was not invited and banned from preaching in England. Fortunately, a London priest, Giles, invites him to preach at his congregation. "I am a straigforward parish priest who believes in this stuff and has the balls to say it." He is interrupted early at the beginning of the service. A man near the front of the crowd stands up and starts shouting at him. The scene is shot from the balcony and you are unable to make out his words. He is ushered from the church by several church members. Rev. Robinson is visibly shaken, "Pray for that man. Fear is a terrible thing. And the opposite of love is not hate, it is fear." Rev. Robinson is choked up, "Sometimes when evil comes your way, the only thing to do is to have it stop right there and absorb it."
The film interviews church members on both sides of the issue. These bishops read the same sources, but come to different conclusions. Despite their differences, the church members are cordial and positive to one another. They all have deeply held beliefs and communicate them with respect and decorum. Even so, the actions can be hurtful. Rev. Robinson hears that the Lambeth Conference has his picture up in the security office. "I am not going to storm the cathedral. It's another one of those small hurtful things."
The film also shows Rev. Robinson's private life. He met his partner, Mark Andrew in 1987. Robinson was previously married, and amicably divorced after coming out. His two daughters Ella and Jamee are interviewed at Gene and Mark's civil union. We are also introduced to his parents, Charles and Imogene. They describe how their relationships with some friends lessened and changed after Mark came out.
"It's going to take a lot of religious voices to fight those religious sources."
In July 2009, the Episcopal General Convention met in Anaheim, CA. The Bishop of Pittsburgh, Rev. Bob Warren leads a breakaway faction with Rev. Rick Warren. At the Convention, two issues are up for a vote: Allowing the consecration of openly gay bishops and Blessing same-sex marriages in states where it is legal. "It feels like a make or break situation for me."
At the convention, the resolutions are discussed and debated. Here you can see the true struggle of faith. A bishop from Indiana says that he prays for God to guide him and take the "scales off his eyes" in the future. "I don't have clarity." The documentary is fascinating because it shows the struggle of the faithful without shouting and finger pointing.
This film is a moving, thoughtful, and funny portrait of a man and a community in turmoil. Rev. Robinson is a warm and caring individual who puts a human face on an epic debate. He is comfortable with himself which allows others to relax "into the comfort and normalcy of it all."
"It's just an accident of history that it turned out to be me."
After the screening, there was a question and answer session with the director, Macky Alston and Bishop Gene Robinson. It was surreal to watch a documentary for an hour and a half and then suddenly the subject is right there in front of you. Rev. Robinson waved off his standing ovation saying, "I think the hero of this movie is the church." It was able to change after 2000 years.
The questions were mostly directed towards Rev. Robinson. He was asked questions about the future of the LGBT community in other churches. While he couldn't speak for other faiths, he was able to see what was happening and counsel others in how to make changes in their own churches. He also spoke about the importance of intersectionality in fighting discrimination. Oppressed groups working together are far more powerful than the oppressors. He stressed the importance of bringing all groups together.
The film has screening times available on its website. The director is also making it possible to set up your own screening in your community center, church, or even your own living room. They want to make sure that the film is seen.