Macky Alston leads a bit of a double life.
By day he runs a media training program at Auburn Seminary in New York city for “faith leaders who speak out for justice through the media.” By night, on weekends, and sometimes around the clock, he is also an award-winning documentary filmmaker. His most recent film, Love Free or Die, merged these two lives.
Mr. Alston first met Gene Robinson as his media trainer. At the time Mr. Robinson was an openly gay Episcopal priest. A few years into their working relationship, though, Mr. Robinson was elected bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire, making him the first openly gay bishop. This set off a schism throughout the international Episcopal community and there was fierce opposition to the appointment. At his consecration in 2003, Mr. Robinson had to wear a bulletproof vest to the ceremony.
“He was talking about how the death threats started again and how everything might change in New Hampshire and the nation, in the church, and I said, you will go down in church history and history in general,” Mr. Alston said to a packed crowd at a screening of the movie at the Film Center on Saturday. “Somebody ought to tell this story.”
The somebody turned out to be Mr. Alston.
Mr. Alston spent four years with Mr. Robinson documenting on film an especially explosive time in the bishop’s life, and the life of the church. Mr. Robinson became the lead voice in the movement for the Episcopal Church to allow gays and lesbians to be ordained, and for churches to allow same-sex marriages in states where it is legal.
The movie first premiered at the 2012 Sundance film festival.
Mr. Alston is a graduate of the Union Theological Seminary and he has been making documentaries for more than 20 years. He described the filmmaking for Love Free or Die as both beautiful and painstaking. But when the Episcopal Church voted in 2012 to allow the consecration of gay bishops and to allow same-sex marriages in states where it is legal, Mr. Alston said his faith was restored.
“It’s hard to watch folks fight about whether or not you are fully human and whether or not you are beloved by God,” said Mr. Alston, who is also gay. “But to see history tip on my watch was one of the greatest gifts of my life. To see the church stand for my family, restored my faith in the church.”
The wins for marriage equality in 2012 marked a shift in the intersection of ideology and religion, he added.
“When Barack Obama came out for marriage equality, he said as a person of faith, based on the people I have come to know, I realize I have been wrong and now I stand for marriage equality,” Mr. Alston said. “So this faith piece is the sticking point for so many folks in what is right and what is wrong. These moments have meant everything.”
But the fight is far from over, he said.
“There are prophets of our time, representatives as a force for good, that we haven’t heard from in a really long time. But that day is yesterday. I think there is a new day, but we have to step up. If you look at any major social movement you’ll see prophets on the front lines, often martyrs, who were speaking the language of religion about how sacred life is and that we must not rest until the world and all on it can flourish.”
As a companion piece to the film Mr. Alston created an online forum called the Friends and Family Plan, which provides strategies, messages and resources for talking to friends and family about supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in Christianity.
“It’s all about person to person, and you can move folks I can’t on this issue, if you are so inclined,” he said.
The film and the online forum are ways of reaching others, but it remains a challenging and complex issue, Mr. Alston said.
“There’s a sentence in the film that Bishop Robinson offers us where he says that he is angry at the church, but that doesn’t mean that he has lost his faith in God, not by a long shot,” Mr. Alston said. “I knew in making Love Free or Die that it didn’t really matter what side the church was going to fall on this issue. It was going to be a gripping story.”
Love Free or Die is available on netflix.com. For more information on the Friends and Family Plan visit friendsandfamilyplan.org.