Love Free or Die

Trailer (1:28)
Clip ( 5:18)
Extra (6:14)

About the Film

In a screenshot from the film, Gene Robinson sits for an interview, wearing his white collar and a pensive look on his face. Gene Robinson adjusts his red Mitre as he prepares to conduct a sermon.

In 2003, Gene Robinson became the first openly gay priest in a committed same-sex relationship to be ordained a bishop in any Christian denomination. But his consecration has brought the Episcopal Church in the United States to the brink of a catastrophic schism, and has resulted in threats of violence against Robinson himself (he wore a bulletproof vest to the elevation ceremony). But with his beloved husband Mark at his side, Robinson continues to calmly make the case that who you love doesn’t determine whether God loves you.

Robinson’s story parallels the conversation underway in many American churches about whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are equal to heterosexuals in the eyes of God, and also the debate in legislatures and courthouses across the nation as to whether LGBT people are entitled to equal status under the law.

His ministry takes him from the tiny rural churches of rural New Hampshire all the way to the national stage, when he was chosen by President-elect Barack Obama to deliver the invocation at his 2009 inauguration. Sometimes he is shouted down when he is leading prayers; he has received more death threats than he can count. He also receives calls from young gay Christians who draw strength, hope, and courage from Robinson’s example.

But Robinson’s elevation has reverberated through not only the American Episcopal church, but beyond, to the Anglican Communion as well. With the threat of a schism ever-present, dozens of socially and theologically conservative congregations voted to separate from the church and align with conservative bishops from the Southern hemisphere, a move the leadership has thus far prevented. As the pressure built, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, pointedly did not invite Robinson to Lambeth Palace in 2008 for the once-a-decade conference of the world’s bishops. Robinson took his message to the media outside.

Robinson has announced his intentions to retire from the church next year at 65, and will continue his work as a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, his legacy continues to be written daily across one of the world’s oldest Christian traditions. He also continues the conversation about LGBT rights in his book God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage, answering questions like “Why gay marriage now?”, “What’s wrong with civil unions?”, and “Doesn’t the Bible condemn homosexuality?”, and makes the case for same-sex marriage as a man of faith.

The Filmmaker

Macky Alston looks into the camera as shadows play across his face.

Macky Alston’s film Hard Road Home aired on Independent Lens in 2008. His other films include The Killer Within, Questioning Faith, and Family Name (which aired on POV in 1998). Alston also serves as Director of Auburn Media at Auburn Theological Seminary, dedicated to informed and engaging coverage of religion in the media.