When Gene Robinson became the first openly gay, partnered bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States, he was the right man for the job. Self-described as “unashamedly gay, unashamedly Christian,” he’s warm, sincere and stands his ground without appearing confrontational … the very qualities work against him as the subject of the documentary Love Free or Die, airing this week as part of Independent Lens. (He’d be better played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.)
Alas, Macky Alston’s film is necessary nonetheless, spotlighting as it does a man who deserves the attention he received for his place in LGBT history.
There are glimpses of Robinson’s early days, including his 2003 consecration in New Hampshire, but Alston focuses on the period from 2008. The first is when he was intentionally snubbed an invitation to the decennial Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion in Canterbury, England. (Instead, Robinson hung around outside, drawing plenty of media attention; he was even asked to preach at a church in London.) The second is the General Convention the following year, where the Episcopal Church officially voted to allow the consecration of openly gay bishops and to perform same-sex weddings in states where they are legal.
Alston allows people on all sides to state their cases, from those supportive of full equality for LGBT people in the church to those struggling with their feelings to those whose conservative attitudes will never change. There is general talk of the schism the change has caused in the church and the communion but no specific figures.
Robinson has his moments to shine, from delivering the invocation at the start of Barack Obama’s inauguration activities to giving a classic comeback to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, but the best line comes from Bishop Barbara Harris, who in 1989 became the first female bishop in the Episcopal Church. (Where’s her documentary?) Speaking of the Anglican
Communion and presiding Archbishop Rowan Williams she says, “If assholes could fly, this place would be an airport!”
Amen to that, sister.
— Steve Warren
Two and a half stars. Love Free or Die premieres on PBS’ Independent Lens, airing on Ch. 13 on Oct. 30 at 10 p.m.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 26, 2012.