Love Free or Die (Alston, 2012)
About a decade ago, in another place, another time, I met with the rector at the Episcopal church I was attending. “It’s just hard to motivate yourself to go to work,” I said, “when you are surrounded by so many people who hate you.” He paused momentarily, choosing his words deliberately. “Hate is a strong word,” he finally replied.
Indeed it is. I am older now, and, I hope, wiser. I understand that my rector wanted to make sure I was not being melodramatic or exaggerating normal conflicts out of frustration. I thought about that exchange, and my work experiences that prompted it, a lot while watching Love Free or Die, Macky Alston’s new documentary about the Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop ordained in the Episcopal Church of America. A lot of things have changed in my life and in the world around me in those ten years, but one thing, sadly, has not.
Nobody has ever hated me the way Christians have hated me.
Hate is a strong word. It causes a visceral reaction just to type the letters. Something—I would like to think it is the Holy Spirit—recoils so deeply and so completely at even just the word “hate” that the self-censoring takes over and the temptation comes to choose a different word, a softer word, a less accurate but more palatable word. Christians don’t have a monopoly on hate, certainly, but our hate is so refined and practiced with such impunity, such self-righteousness, its intensity so hot, its frequency so dully relentless, that it is sometimes hard to care about the hatred that comes from other quarters, because one realizes that if the only hatred in the world were Christian hatred that would be more than enough to go around.
Oh, yeah, and I say that as a straight man.
Early in Love Free or Die, Gene speaks candidly about being shaken and disturbed by a protestor who disrupts a service where he has been asked to speak. I remember being a little surprised that he was shaken. Surely, I thought, he has faced protestors before? That’s one of the many insidious things about hate, though. It never gets old. Sometimes, Robinson says, “when evil comes your way the only thing to do is to let it stop right there [….] and absorb it.”
Raise your hand if you have ever had someone hate you. I mean, really, really hate you. Do you know what it feels like? Then you have something in common with a gay person. No matter how different you are, no matter the spiritual, sexual, emotional, cultural, or geographical distance between you, in this, you are he are one. That oneness, and the way it alters you, is the reason that so many who hate other people also hate art, literature, poetry, music, and film. Creating oneness through shared experiences, both corporate (experiences of the art) and vicarious (experiences through the art) is art’s superpower. Art is hatred’s kryptonite.
Robinson opines that the opposite of love is not hate but fear. If that is true, I wonder what hate’s opposite is? Perhaps sacrifice. The Episcopal Church in the United States voted by a measure of approximately 3 ½ to 1 to approve the ordination of gay bishops and to approve the blessing of same-sex unions. Yet each change brings push back and, it seems, more and more states are passing laws against same-sex marriage. (The film claims that it is illegal in 44 out of 50 states.) This disconnect is hard to process. I started this article with the thought that Christians hate better than anyone else, but it is Christians, too, who love, accept, and exercise humility.
Towards the end of Love Free or Die, Bishop Robinson states that just as the truth will set you free, not telling the truth will keep you enslaved. Here is my attempt to tell the truth as best I understand it. I have read the Bible cover to cover multiple times. I have attended hundreds, maybe thousands of sermons in my life. Of the writing and reading of many books, Ecclesiastes says (and I bear witness to), there is no end. What God thinks about and how God will judge those who are gay and lesbian, I honestly have no idea. What God thinks about and how God may judge those who hate them is a subject about which I think I have a bit more of an inkling. Search me oh God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me…
That’s Psalm 139:23-24a, by the way. The emphasis, as we usually say in a parenthetical aside, has been added.