In 2003, Gene Robinson was elected bishop in the rural Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. As Christendom's first openly gay bishop he received a lot of publicity as "the most controversial Christian in the world." Robinson's faith and courage have been tested every step of the way; he's had to endure death threats and the hatred of Bible-waving fundamentalists who see him as the spawn of hell.
In this edifying and enlightening documentary, winner of a Special Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, director Macky Alston provides an up-close and personal look at Robinson and an overview of the struggles and challenges he has faced in his pioneering ministry of hospitality, reconciliation, and understanding.
Robinson has not had an easy time of it. His longtime partner, Mark Andrew, has had to hold down the home fort while the bishop has been on the road. One of his daughters from a previous marriage salutes her father as a dedicated extrovert who loves to mingle with people, whereas Mark, who helped raise her, is the quiet one.
When the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, convenes the Lambeth Conference in 2008 for all bishops in the Anglican Communion, Robinson is not invited. He decides to go England anyway and try to talk with other bishops in their spare time. While preaching at an English church, he is interrupted by a violent and angry young man who sees him as heretic and screams out for him to "Repent!" Robinson is emotionally shaken by the encounter and asks for prayers for the zealous believer.
The theme of his interrupted sermon is the rampant fear in the Christian church and that same fear is evident in the comments by those who oppose Robinson and all he stands for. The bishop from New Hampshire admits that he is having trouble with the institutional church and its emphasis on fear over love, judgment over compassion.
In the last sections of the documentary, Robinson's spirits are lifted when the Episcopal Church in America at its General Assembly votes to consecrate gay bishops and bless same-sex marriages in states where they are legal. At the Gay Pride Day march through the streets of New York City, Robinson passes out water to the marchers and shows himself to be a servant of these members of his wider community. He is blessed with an even broader audience when he gives the prayer at the Lincoln Memorial to open the inauguration celebrations for Barack Obama.
This film is a moving chronicle of the slow but steady changes put into motion by Robinson as a bishop and a gay man. In a Director's Statement, Alston states:
"In Love Free or Die, we see Bishop Gene Robinson and others flourish — even as they're discriminated against. When the world sees them living and working in community in powerful loving ways, I believe people's hearts will be moved and their minds will be changed. Just like in my family, when they know us, when they really see us, they'll be less able to vote against us. The truth will set us — and by us, I mean all of us — free."
See this documentary. Tell your congregation, colleagues, and friends about it. And we are confident you, too, will be both moved and changed by the witness of Alston and Robinson, two open-hearted gay men on a mission.