(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Reverend’s Reviews: Close to Home

I feel uniquely personal connections to two acclaimed documentaries opening in theaters today. The first, Somewhere Between, is “a delicately wrought, deeply felt” (according to its Variety review) profile of four of the approximately 80,000 children in the US who have been adopted from China since 1989. Having just visited last weekend my 4-year old adopted nephew, who was himself born in China but abandoned by his birth parents due to a correctable birth defect, I’m anxious to watch this award-winning film directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton (The World According to Sesame Street). Alas, the link to an online screener made available to me wasn’t working at press time but I hope to yet view it and write a fuller review. In the meantime, those of you in NYC can catch Somewhere Between at the IFC Center. It is scheduled to open in Los Angeles on September 14th, followed by a national release.

I was, however, able to watch the equally inspiring and infuriating Love Free or Die. Winner of a Special Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this documentary by gay director Macky Alston (Questioning Faith) is now playing in LA. It is also scheduled to air November 12th on PBS’ Independent Lens, in the event it doesn’t open in a theater near you. Alston’s subject is Bishop V. Gene Robinson. Now concluding his controversial nine-year tenure as head of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, Robinson has suffered public criticism, private death threats and the scorn of many of his fellow bishops in the global Anglican Communion since his election in 2003, all because he is openly gay and partnered. Never mind that he is also a compassionate, learned, wise, dedicated and — oh yeah — holy man of God.

Robinson’s election and subsequent travails have been recounted to some extent in previous documentaries, notably 2007’s For the Bible Tells Me So. Alston, however, focuses exclusively on the bishop and spent the better part of seven years following Robinson. Most significant during that time was Robinson’s exclusion from the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Church’s gathering of bishops held every ten years in London. Robinson went to London anyway to meet with other disenfranchised Christians, and Alston’s camera was on hand to capture key moments. For me, the film’s most powerful, moving sequence occurs when Robinson, not invited with the gathered bishops to tea with the Queen, chooses to have tea with HIV-infected “commoners” instead. It is exactly what Jesus would have done.

Love Free or Die also reveals how far the Episcopal Church has come regarding the full inclusion of GLBT people in the last decade, largely and ironically thanks to the backlash to Robinson’s consecration. While it has had to weather departures from conservative/traditionalist clergy and members, some of whom left to form rival congregations and others to join the Roman Catholic Church, Episcopalians are now the undisputed leaders within mainstream American Christianity when it comes to incorporating men and women in same-sex relationships. This was cemented in 2009, when an overwhelming majority of the church’s bishops, clergy and laity voted against the larger Anglican Communion’s will to not only continue ordaining bishops in committed same-sex relationships but to bless same-sex unions among its clergy and laity as well.

Bishop Robinson’s journey as recounted in Love Free or Die and elsewhere has frequently come to mind for me since my own ordination two years ago as an openly-gay, partnered bishop of the Reformed Catholic Church. While our independent communion is considerably smaller and has a lower profile, we embrace the same enlightened reforms and understanding of human sexuality for which Robinson and so many of his US supporters have been chastised by their prevailing powers that be. Viewing this film leads me to denounce utterly the inexcusable decision by Rowan Williams, the still-reigning Archbishop of Canterbury and Anglican primate, to ban Robinson from the Lambeth Conference. Williams clearly placed his fear of reprisals from church conservatives over the sacramental and fraternal responsibility he had to invite a duly-elected and -consecrated fellow bishop. From one bishop to another: shame on you, Rowan.

Although Robinson will be stepping down as the 9th bishop of New Hampshire at the end of this year, his involvement in political reform including GLBT equality will only be growing. He has accepted an appointment as Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC. Coupled with President Obama’s selection of Robinson to give the invocation at his 2009 opening inaugural ceremonies, the good bishop will no doubt continue to advocate on behalf of all God’s people.

Reverend’s Rating for Love Free or Die: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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