By Douglas LeBlanc
The Washington premiere of Love Free or Die, director Macky Alston’s documentary about the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, prompted a frequently political post-film discussion this week. The screening at Landmark Theatres’ E Street Cinema was sponsored by the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank where Robinson serves as a senior fellow.
After the screening, Alston and Robinson sat for a discussion with Alyssa Rosenberg, a culture blogger for Think Progress. Robinson expressed his confidence that widespread legal approval of same-sex marriage is inevitable in the United States.
“The way this will end is with the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in civil society and in religious institutions,” he said. “All we’re arguing about now is timing. And I think the conservatives know this.”
An audience member asked Robinson if it looked ridiculous for Anglicans to debate about same-sex marriage at such length, considering King Henry VIII’s pattern of divorce and remarriage.
“Yeah,” the bishop said in a dry tone. He said the more important aspect of Anglican history was the Elizabethan compromise, which he described in this paraphrase of Queen Elizabeth’s message: “You Protestants and Catholics are going to stop killing each other. I will not have it.”
“It looks ridiculous not because of our history but because of the gospel,” Robinson said. “If Jesus was about anything, it was that love trumps rules, love trumps doctrine.”
Asked about the conflict between the Obama administration and leaders of both Catholic and Protestant churches regarding birth control (including morning-after pills, which most pro-lifers understand as abortifacient), Robinson said: “It is time to reassert and affirm the separation of church and state.”
This prompted the most vigorous applause of the evening from the full house.
Robinson added that he sees that conflict as a matter of the church trying to impose its beliefs and practices on secular government.
Alston, whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather were ministers, attended Union Theological Seminary in New York but he was not ordained. He told that story in an earlier film, Questioning Faith.
Alston said that he and his partner, Nick, celebrated their union with “a big, country-style wedding” at a church in New York City.
“The way that undid, exorcised, all the oppressive experiences I’d had in those halls — was very good for me,” he said. “Thouse I’d like to say we could go around religious faith and leave that at home, it doesn’t seem to work that way.”
Robinson singled out the Episcopal Church for its decisions to ordain openly gay and lesbian clergy and to move steadily toward a sanctioned rite for same-sex couples.
“A lot of religious people have had their eye on the Episcopal Church, to see if it would fall apart,” he said. “The Episcopal Church, in a pretty significant way, risked its life for us.
“This is about the miraculous notion that an old, complex, and somewhat lethargic institution can move, can change, in a relatively short period of time.”
Robinson told The Living Church that he and Alston have known each other for many years.
“I met Macky many years ago through media training for the Faith and Religion Council of the Human Rights Campaign,” he said. “I found the Auburn Media training so helpful, I recommended it to Bishop Clay Matthews as something that would be helpful to bishops. It became a regular part of the ‘baby bishops’ school.”
Asked if it had begun to feel surreal to see and hear himself so many times on film, the bishop responded: “It has always felt surreal. My ministry just feels like my ministry, trying to do the right thing, take the next step, one day at a time. It still humbles me and surprises me that my work on behalf of the Gospel seems to mean so much to so many. In many ways, I simply have to think of that person on the screen as someone else. It's just too much to absorb and impossible to stay grounded otherwise. Still, the recognition is very nice indeed.”
Gillian Laub photo courtesy of Reveal Productions.