A nearly full house packed WKAR's auditorium for a Community Cinema preview of Love Free or Die, airing Monday, June 3, at 10 p.m. on WKAR. The event was the last this spring for the popular screening/discussion series at WKAR.
The program examines the life and experiences of Gene Robinson, a gay man with a life partner who was named Anglican bishop of New Hampshire. The event caused turmoil in Anglican and Episcopalian churches around the world.
The film follows Robinson with his congregation, family and at the world Anglican conclave of bishops in England from which he was excluded because of his homosexuality.
Immediately following the preview, moderator Judy Karandjeff introduced panelists Dr. Penny Gardner and the Rev. Dr. Gordon Weller.
Gardner is an MSU professor, community activist and a Lesbian who has been with her partner for 17 years.
Weller, now retired, was serving at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Lansing at the time of Robinson's appointment.
"The firestorm his July 31, 2003," he said. I remember it well. "In a very short way it tore our congregation apart. When the smoke cleared, about 30 percent walked away and formed their own congregation."
"He's just like us," Gardner said of Robinson, noting a segment in the film where he returned home from an event, laden down with his official robes, and hung them in the closet. "I envy him," she added. "He's a model for the practice of religion.
The Audience Weighs In
Karandjeff asked the audience for questions and comments and there was no shortage of hands raised. Gretchen Smith said it "took ten years for a church to accept me as I am," adding that it depended a lot on building trust, a topic that came up in other comments.
Lynne Martinez asked about the challenges of reconciling hate and fear within a church. Weller acknowledged that "Churches -- with a capital "C" -- or churches, lower case, are a great deal less than what they should be if the seats are not in the pews. The service and organization is there, but the justice is not."
"Gina" asked how Weller believed faith leaders could be a prophetic voice. He said discussion was very important, adding, "The purpose of debate is not to win or lose, but to get perspective. But debate has become a contest where there are winners and losers."
The Issue Goes Beyond Religion
Gardner pointed out that that pertained to the political process as well. "Not a darned thing is happening (in the legislature) other than it's eating away at us as women and as part of the LGBT community," she said. "We're not equal yet and we're still fighting."
Dennis Hull asked, "Can it change how you feel if you know someone who is gay?"
"In his ordinariness, he changed me, made me think," Weller said of Robinson. Weller added, "It would change everything. How can you hate someone you know?"
At each Community Cinema event, guests are asked to fill out a brief survey on their thoughts about the evening. Survey comments for this event were uniformly enthusiastic with some indicating:
"There is plenty of work to be done, progress and roads to travel"
"Their knowledge made me change and improve the experiences and understanding of the issue."
"We love coming to these screenings. We may not be interested in a certain topic before the screening and discussion but learn so much from each session.
WKAR Community Cinema will return next season with another series of fresh new screenings and discussions focusing on programs from the Independent Lens series. WKAR will announce them online, in our program guide and on-air. And if you attended, please let us know what you think with your comments!