Earlier this week, Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay person to be elected as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, was in Maine for three showings of a new documentary about his life.
The movie, “Love Free or Die,” was shown in Portland, Lewiston and Ellsworth over three consecutive days. The screenings, which were followed by questions and answers with the bishop, drew large crowds all three nights.
Robinson was elected Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire on June 7, 2003, after serving for nearly 18 years as Canon to the Ordinary (Assistant to the Bishop).
He came to Maine to help Mainers United for Marriage, which is the campaign to win the freedom to marry for all loving, committed couples in the state. As the communications director for the campaign, I had the opportunity to travel with Bishop Robinson as he made his way around Maine.
At each stop, Robinson told his story as an openly gay member of the clergy, who became bishop and later was able to marry his partner of 25 years, Mark Andrew, when it became legal to do so in New Hampshire.
The movie depicts a man of great courage, conviction, strength and grace, who has overcome death threats, name-calling and anger to become a groundbreaking bishop and advocate for LGBT issues, including the freedom to marry.
It is hard to overstate the level of vitriol that has been directed at him. He’s been called a heretic and much worse. And has lived every day since his consecration in 2003 with death threats.
One of the most common questions he was asked during his visit to Maine centered around that anger and the hate that he has encountered. People wanted to know how he could overcome the attacks thrown at him.
“The opposite of love isn’t hate,” he said. “The opposite of love is fear.”
Talking about other Episcopalian Bishops who opposed his elevation and participation in the church and of the people who would end his life if given an opportunity, Robinson showed the perspective that has made him a great bishop for the people of New Hampshire.
The anger and the attacks “don’t change me of my obligation to treat others as the child of God that they are.”
Part sermon, part philosophy class, Robinson’s discussions after the movie gave attendees a glimpse of a man who is helping to lead a conversation among people of faith about the importance of allowing all loving, committed couples to be married.
When he first became bishop, Robinson said that he had no intention of becoming the “gay bishop.” His goal, instead, was to be the best bishop he could be for New Hampshire.
But, he said, God – with an assist from the media – had a different plan.
As Robinson nears retirement at the end of the year and makes plans to continue his ministry and advocacy in other ways, he talks about his journey through a tumultuous time in the growth of his church and society as a whole.
“Sometimes God calms the storm,” Robinson says. “But sometimes God lets the storm rage and calms his child.”