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Not That Kind of Christian!! is a feature documentary that explores gay and lesbian Christians' struggle for acceptance in he Episcopal Church, the "schism" their defiant activism threatens to bring to worldwide Anglicanism, and the ways in which activists such as these can profoundly shape our personal liberties at the highest institutional levels. But while the film celebrates the achievements made by queer Anglicans as they fight to transform an oppressive Christian tradition into a modern force of liberation, it never excuses the prejudices and abuses of organized religion, particularly in an era when the word "faith" is merely code for the nationalistic and homophobic violence religion often fosters.
With its emphasis on the ironies of sexual politics, the film uses entrenched homophobia as an example of how long-standing prejudice can be overcome through equally long-standing resistance. More specifically, as its devoutly Christian (and male) interviewees offer an internal critique of Christian patriarchy, the film implies that our best cure for homophobia should come from within the Church, the organization responsible for propagating homophobia.
The film's crisscrossing interviews bring together a number of major players in the Anglican sexuality debate, each of them representing a different place on the spectrum of sexuality and religion: Louie Crew, the creator of "Integrity," the Episcopal Church's first LGBT rights organization, founded in 1974; Bishop Gene Robinson, the world's first openly homosexual bishop and an icon of gay civil liberties; Bishop John S. Spong, a pro-gay bishop with a uniquely agnostic, heretical approach to Christian dogma; Douglas LeBlanc, a conservative Anglican journalist who attempts to understand gay rights issues despite his fundamentalist beliefs; and David Virtue, the Anglican Communion's most influential conservative layperson, who believes any gay Christian activism will sabotage the Church's evangelism in Africa, where a majority of Anglican bishops still adhere to 19th century, colonial-era definitions of homosexuality.
Every now and then, we hear the diverse voices (and only the voices) of Episcopalians across America that Louie Crew has anonymously telephoned, giving us a spontaneous, uncensored picture of where the "average" parishioner stands on the film's issues of sexual inclusivity and political progressiveness. The film also includes comments from Ernest Clay, Louie Crew's African-American husband of thirty-two years, who, like Louie Crew, emerged from the conservatism of the deep South into the more liberal Episcopalian tradition. But the film is not limited to the current Episcopal crisis; analyzing the crossroads of Biblical sexuality, conservative ideology, and African and African-American gay rights, the film offers a far-reaching critique of how homophobia continues to operate in multiple contexts.
Instead of reducing its civil rights arguments to the simplistic "liberals versus conservatives" scenario we often see in the mass media, the film takes a more nuanced approach, highlighting the differences among liberals who collectively fight for LGBT rights but diverge on other philosophical matters. This theme is most clearly articulated in a framing sequence where I speak for myself, a gay atheist sympathetic to the cause of Louie Crew and Gene Robinson but who, like the unconventional Bishop Spong, is skeptical about organized religion and how effectively it can challenge its own prejudices from within.
When the framing sequence returns in the film's coda, and I sit in the pews of a darkened, otherwise empty church listening to Louie Crew sermonize on themes of forgiveness and the overcoming of bigotry, the image is deliberately ambiguous. Here, I stand in for the film's presumably liberal audience, as it is asked to contemplate whether secular or religious remedies will best redress our institutional homophobia. We thus come to a dual realization: on the one hand, while our fight for equality seems to be the bottom line, there will always remain profound differences among us; on the other, if more religious progressives assert themselves as forcefully as Crew, Robinson, and Spong, religion may becomes less and less of a threat to the secular world, rendering our moldy "church vs. state" arguments quite moot.
©2007 Ideal Spectator All rights reserved.