God Has No Favorites: 'Love Free or Die'

When Bishop Gene Robinson becomes the "first openly gay person ever made bishop" in a mainstream Christian denomination, he uses the controversy to publicize the case for tolerance and openness.

Love Free or Die

Director: Macky Alston
Cast: Gene Robinson, Barbara Harris, Bob Duncan, Peter Beckwith, Mark Andrew
Rated: NR
Studio: Reveal Productions, ITVS
Year: 2011
US date: 2012-10-29 (PBS)

"Get real. Gene Robinson is certainly not the first gay bishop in the church," says Bishop Barbara Harris. "He may be the first one who's openly gay, but you know, give me a break. If the election of a gay bishop in a little corner of the Anglican communion like New Hampshire threatens to split the Church, that's telling me that the times, they are a changing."

Reflecting on the Anglican Church's opposition to Robinson's election by his Episcopalian diocese in 2003, Harris is at once practical-minded and refreshingly frank. And her appeal to common sense Love Free or Die, premiering on on Independent Lens 29 October, frames Robinson's own. Macky Alston's film follows Robinson's response to the decision by Archbishop Rowan Williams not to invite him to the 2008 Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, England (a once-a-decade conference of the world’s bishops), a very public effort to push back against both him and his loyal congregation. Robinson makes his own case public when he heads to Canterbury anyway and meets with media outside the conference. As he puts it, "I will be making myself available to anyone who wants to have this new experience that many people in the Anglican Communion have never had, which is to talk to an unashamedly gay, unashamedly Christian person."

Robinson's sense of humor, as well as the warmth and maturity visible in his 20-year relationship with Mark Andrew, as well as his daughters and parishioners, serve here as something of a foil for the recalcitrant Williams. In turn, Williams -- helped by the famously reactionary Rick Warren -- embarks on his own campaign, first publicly condemning Robinson ("Homosexual activity is not compatible with scripture") and then arguing that the Anglican Church should break apart rather than allow the Episcopalians to have their way.

As the film presents it, the struggle is partly a matter of civil rights, partly a matter of congregational freedom: during the Lambeth Conference, Robinson is invited to preach at St Mary's Putney, whose Reverend Dr. Giles Fraser observes, "These hate-filled nasty letters, they really do show it's all about prejudice. Because for me, it’s a huge, big justice issue." The struggle expands, too: Robinson is invited to speak at First Presbyterian Church in New York on Gay Pride Day, specifically the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, and also at the 2009 General Convention in Anaheim. Here, the Church is voting not only on whether to accept gay bishops, but also on whether to support gay marriage.

Love Free or Die does include interviews with opponents of Robinson's consecration. Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh protests, "It's not about homosexuality, it's about the church lifting up a leader that's contrary to what the tradition has taught can be done and contrary to what the scripture says can be done. It's really about scriptural authority." But such complaints are repeatedly countered by support for a church that looks forward rather than backward: thus, Bishop Jon Bruno of LA seems almost to build and turn around on Duncan's argument: "Sexuality isn’t the issue. Humanity is the issue. The only thing Gene Robinson did different is, he didn't pretend to be a straight man with a roommate."

That sort of honesty is a hallmark for Robinson's life and career, and it leads to a number of opportunities and risks. In 2009, Robinson is selected to deliver the invocation at the kickoff event of President Obama's inaugural weekend, where he urges listeners to cast off prejudice: "Bless us with discomfort," he prays to God, "At the easy, simplistic 'answers' we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future."

Such challenges shape the film's portrait of Robinson, as he remains resilient, hopeful, and generous in the face of intolerance. Bishop Jon Bruno observes, "The Church always has the tendency to claw on the carpet as it's being dragged out of the past." That clawing is ugly in Love Free or Die, as Robinson receives hate mail and death threats. But he embraces the chance to make such "clawing" visible, taking it as an opportunity to invite for the Church to act against fear and ignorance. "It's time religious institutions took responsibility for what their speech empowers people to do," the bishop says. He's taken a first step.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.