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Love Free or Die (2012)
Friday, May 11, 2012
This film is about a man whose two defining passions are in direct conflict: his love for God and for his partner Mark. Gene Robinson is the first openly gay person to become a bishop in the historic traditions of Christendom. His consecration in 2003, to which he wore a bullet-proof vest, caused an international stir, and he has lived with death threats every day since.
Love Free or Die (2012) | Review
A Courageous Cleric
Love Free or Die shows us a bit of Robinson's life and ministry. It begins with his trip to England during the Lambeth Conference. He went, not to crash the party, but to be available to meet with any who wished to talk. (Bishops talking and listening is what the Lambeth Conference is supposed to be about.) The very fact of Robinson's exclusion from the conference illustrates just how difficult this issue is for the church to deal with.
The film serves for the most part as a profile of Gene Robinson. We see him with his family. He has been with his partner (and now husband) Mark Andrew for nearly a quarter century. The film includes their civil union ceremony and the reception they had afterwards with family and friends, including Robinson's daughters. But mostly we watch as Robinson goes about his ministry in various forms.
Later in the film, we see the Episcopal Church in convention as they consider if they will (as they have been asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury) name no other LGBT bishops or authorize same-sex marriage ceremonies in places they are legal. Those questions come right to the core of the issue facing that denomination (and others), but also are very personal for Robinson. What would it say about his ministry if the church said they would not name gay bishops or marry LGBT couples? The footage from that convention is where the deepest examinations of the issue are heard. And we do hear those who are opposed. We also hear people who are still struggling with how to understand all this.
The heart of the film, though, is the courage Robinson shows throughout. While in England he was invited (in spite of the Archbishop) to speak at a church. As he begins his sermon about fear, a man stands up and calls him a heretic. The man is well built and angry. He is in many ways a threatening figure. When order is restored, Robinson goes on, but afterwards reflects how shaken he was by the event. He comments, "Sometimes when evil comes the best thing is to let it stop right there and absorb it."
Later, preaching at a Presbyterian church in New York City on the day of the Gay Pride Parade, he speaks of what the church will be doing that day—giving cups of water to marchers as they go past the church. Giving that cup of water, he tells them, "is a dangerous thing to be doing—but very holy." That understanding, I think, is what the film is trying to get us to see in Robinson's life and ministry. He faces danger because of his ministry. (He has received various death threats.) He reaches out to people who may not accept who he is—some because he is gay, others because he is Christian. But he offers a glass of water to whomever is thirsty. In that is an act of great holiness. The film is itself a cup of water offered to us.
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