Its A Religious Thing
“I bet you had a good time in the 1960’s!” one of my students once said to me. “Sex, drugs, rock and roll eh?”
“Well it had its moments” I replied, while trying to live up to his perceived image of me and his expectations of some raunchy reminiscences.
The best I could have offered was that I remembered the Beatles performing at the Colston Hall, though I wasn’t actually present and in reality I was going through a life far more tedious.
I was in a theological college, (I can hardly believe now that this was me) and 8 pm each evening didn’t allow for being out at such ungodly events as the performing Beatles. You had to have permission to be out at night and I wouldn’t have got it for that. Indeed even to speak in the corridors during the evening would have got other students shouting “Study hours!” at you, which meant ‘Keep Silent! and work’.
Jim was one of my fellow students. He was a year or so older than me and we shared the same group for informal chat and coffee which met each evening after study time.
He was a really nice, happy, and sometimes hilarious chap, with a loud laugh. An accomplished pianist, a good preacher, and he was devoted to the cause of becoming a Christian minister. We often joined together in a small male voice group for performing at special occasions. Jim was not specially academic, he wasn’t studying for a degree, but he could hold his own in any theological discussion. His best skill was for putting people down when they got too big for their boots and he did it with a hilarity which was close on being personal but was exercised in a camp way which took the edge off it being cruel.
In a special way I felt Jim was a compatriot, we seemed to have an indefinable bond, and I wanted to get closer to him, but he always ensured that there were limits to me or anyone else getting too close. Indeed I now realise that he used his humour as a way of diverting attention away from himself towards others lest too much of the real him became known.
One evening I knocked on his door just to say ‘hello’ and found him crying. He dried his tears, assured me it was about nothing, just the usual stresses and strains of being in a place like our college.
The Truth Will Set You Free
We both left the place after two or three years and went our separate ways to parts of the country where we would serve the churches there. We stayed vaguely in touch and even worked together, at one point, in a project for young people which made our contact more regular and stronger.
By the end of the 60s I was becoming more understanding of my sexuality and accepting it too, with the accompanying trauma, family break up, and drastic change of employment which I felt had to be necessary if I was to be person I felt I needed to be.
Jim stayed in touch. He was supportive, and empathic too and at last opened up about his own sexuality. That time of crying, I had walked in on, I discovered, was the result of unrequited love for another student and his resulting feeling of shame.
We stayed in touch and met up occasionally in London. We went to a radio recording of a popular comedy programme called ‘Round the Horne’ which always included an item in which two outrageously gay characters just camped it up, using the gay language Polari. It seemed strange to me that so many found it so funny when they didn’t know the language and certainly didn’t understand what was being said. Nevertheless I knew what was being talked about, and, significantly, so did Jim.
Another time we went to a meeting addressed by Troy Perry, an ex Pentecostal minister, who had now founded a gay church, called the Metropolitan Community Church. This was so moving. At last the unspoken was becoming spoken of within the sphere of Christian belief. His statement ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd and He Knows I’m Gay’ hit home and moved us both to tears. I knew that I wanted to continue to practise my religious belief on the basis of the fact that I was gay. Jim, however, was not so sure, and so began a different, and more painful journey for him.
We didn’t meet so frequently now. A couple of times he visited my partner and me, accompanied by a boyfriend, but that relationship was so secret that it seemed to give him more pain than pleasure. He confided to me that he desperately wanted to be happy but he loved the work of being a Christian minister too much and so he just had to accept the consequences of such a decision.
Jim continued with his work but at one point he went through a breakdown. He led the double life which so many in his situation went through and this took its toll. As he got older he also became more infirm.
Darkness and Light
Yesterday I discovered that Jim had died last year and it moved me greatly to read his obituary. There was an oblique reference to him being a single man and the challenges which such a state brought to people who were Christian ministers, but at this point I felt so angry! For the sake of just a Book; for the sake of what people believed; for the sake of appearances; and for the sake of his own well being and happiness, this lovely man had sacrificed himself for a cause which surely would have been immeasurably strengthened and advanced had he felt secure enough to be who he really was, an upright, righteous, devoted, but totally GAY MAN.
I have now lost count of the many, many men and women of all faiths, who, on achieving the maturity of accepting their sexuality, have been lost to their religions and allowed to, or told to leave. And I lose count of those, who in the same situation, fail to experience and practise fully that true love for others, because, for religious reasons, have been encouraged not to love themselves.
In my age group especially, the path of service, within faiths, has been blighted and smeared by the corpses of those who had so much to give, and could have made the world an immeasurably better place, had they not been rejected by those whose misguided judgement was that their love was not of the right kind.
I will mourn Jim today and give thanks for the whole person he was, sexuality and all. Others in his church may still mourn him, I just don’t know, but I know they will be doing so on the basis of their own imposed and partial understanding of Christian service and belief. Perhaps some, and hopefully in the future more, will mourn what they could have received from my gay brothers and sisters, but chose not to, because of their blinkered approach.
And that is the point about our LGBT history which needs saying regularly and forcibly to all those groups and organisations which, over the years, have discriminated and worked against us, namely ‘you have harmed, limited and, even sometimes, destroyed your work by failing to love and encourage the service, which those of us, who are equal, but different to you, might have given. You have panicked and cast us out, threatened by a condition which is not threatening but instead life affirming’.
I rejoice, but do not feel grateful, when I hear religious people using a more inclusive approach to us as LGBT people, because they have, at last, achieved a proper understanding of what humanity is like. Nevertheless like all of us, at some time or another, they need to say ‘sorry’ for the past. After that, ahead of them lies another road of necessary proactive work which, only then will create a firm surface based on an undoubted acceptance of all sexualities being equal in the sight of their god.
Thanks for the memory Jim.