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In 2008, the Anglican Communion met in Lambeth, England for their
decennial conference. All consecrated Bishops were invited to the
assembly bar one, New Hampshire's Gene Robinson. As the Communion's
first (and only) gay bishop, not only was his invitation withdrawn but
he was actively and forcibly prevented from participating in any part
of the conference (including, in one farcical scene, entering
Canterbury Cathedral). Unwavered, Robinson journeys to the UK to
publicise his forced isolation, speaking at fringe events around the
Seen as a microcosm of the wider's gay community's struggle for acceptance, Robinson's battle against the odds is fitting. He is in a long-term, stable relationship with his partner, is a loving father to two daughters (from a previous marriage) and has the blessing and love of his own parish, yet continues to both suffer abuse for his way of life, and come up against scriptural barriers to gay progression in the wider Anglican community. Whilst there is a sense of inevitability about the Church's acceptance of a homosexual lifestyle, it still takes courageous and strong-willed advocates like Robinson to drag them into modernity, kicking and screaming if need be.
If one aspect bothered me, it was that aside from calm, if disjointed, excuses from Archbishop Rowan Williams and the tearful explanation of a female Bishop, the question of marrying Robinson's agenda with scriptural authority is not explored in any depth. Director Macky Alston's point may be that Robinson's story is about what is morally right, rather than scripturally acceptable, but when the opposition points so obstinately to Biblical scripture, their case requires addressing.
That said, Love Free or Die is still a powerful proponent of a good cause, and if it succeeds in ensuring the Anglican Communion stays in touch with the reality on the streets, all the better. Robinson's charisma and enthusiasm is infectious, and if his faith were shared by more of his Episcopal or Anglican brethren, the Church would not be seen as the backward, slow-moving institution that many (including Robinson) consider it to be.
Love Free or Die reveals a window into the struggle of homosexuals with
the Christian faith through Gene Robinson, an Episcopalian and the
first openly gay person to be elected Bishop. In the film, we get to
see Bishop Robinson as a person, beyond simply the label of being a gay
clergyman. We see revealed a man who has loves and struggles in life
which, different from most folk's lives, are played out on a public
stage. However, we also see a man of deep Christian conviction.
Don't let the name fool you, "Love Free" is not a play on words related to "Free Love". Rather, it coincides with the New Hampshire state motto: "Live Free or Die". Possibly one reason that Bishop Robinson has been able to move the LGBT cause forward in New Hampshire is that although the state tends to be politically conservative, folks there do seem to take their motto to heart.
The film spends much of its time centered on the exclusion of the bishop at the 2008 Lambeth Conference to which all Anglican bishops have been invited for 150 years. We see pain and fear as the bishop is interrupted by a heckler at a sermon in England. We see humility as the bishop interacts with an AIDS/HIV group. We get a glimpse of the bishop's personal joys as we meet his partner, now husband, and see footage of his parents and daughters.
We also see clips of various Christian leaders like Rick Warren in opposition to gay people in church leadership and Barbara Harris as a wise older voice of reason as well as others providing conflicting viewpoints.
The presence of Ms. Harris, the first woman ordained as an Episcopal bishop, elicits just the response the director and the movement is looking for: Christians have been down this road before. Episcopalians base their theology stately and specifically on the bible, tradition and reason. The Episcopal Church and many others have changed biblical interpretations through the years and this is another of those times where the bible and tradition need to be examined with reason. In Love Free or Die, the point of view of the direct was transparent; Macky Alston had a particular agenda of promoting the journey of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. While the documentary gave us a light onto Bishop Gene Robinson and his life's story, the cause may have been better served by presenting more on the turmoil in the Episcopal/Anglican Church and the overall reaction publicly to the consecration of Bishop Robinson.
That said, this movie was near to my heart as a "liberal" Episcopalian from New Hampshire. I find it difficult to separate my personal feelings in trying to sort through the issue of LGBT people in the church. Clearly, the Lord welcomes us all; but not so clear to me is the correctness Biblical interpretation. I related most especially to the woman who sobbed as she said she could not get discernment on the issue.
Above all, this movie offers Christians and society such a wonderful opportunity for dialog. Listening to Macky and Robinson speak in the Sundance Q&A clinched my heart. The affirmation of the Story the 2000 years of the church holding fast to a position, but more over the story of Gene's struggle, society's struggle, and specifically for me the Episcopal struggle. Bishop Robinson that we should "hold fiercely to each other" while walking through this issue. I felt his heart was pure and I wept.
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