I watched some of one of those late night music compilation programmes last night- hits of the 80’s. Rather than flicking past as I would normally have done, I found myself back in Preston, as a student. Or slow dancing to Tears For Fears at parties in my earlier teens. Music does this to you- even music that may not have been a personal preference- it somehow becomes a powerful cue for memory.
One of the tracks that surprised me in this way last night was The Communards ‘Don’t leave me this way’- suddenly I was in the Student Union again, with my house mates Mark and Steve- and the electronic pulse of this track, combined with Jimmy Sommerville’s astonishing falsetto singing was carrying us along.
I was never really a fan of The Communards- I did not own any of their music. Partly this was because I was never into dance music, but also (to be honest) there was this sexuality thing, that made me uncomfortable. The band were openly gay- at the forefront of the campaign against homophobia. This was the time of AIDS- seen as a ‘Gay plague’ and ‘section 28’.
Listening to this song yesterday was more than just a nostalgia trip- it made me think again about how far my thinking- and that of wider society- has come since the 80’s in relation to homosexuality. Don’t get me wrong, I was never openly homophobic. I lived in a house with two other lads- one who was gay. I was a very left leaning student of sociology and social science.
But I was also from a Christian background- and always there was this conflict in me- because there were hard lines drawn here- homosexuality was sin. End of discussion. Sure, people like Tony Campolo proposed a path of grace in which we should accept that people were born gay (rather than the prevailing view that it was a debauched ‘lifestyle choice’, or perhaps the product of some kind of childhood damage or weakness of character.) Campolo’s view was that the way to resolve the issue was to accept people as gay, but to expect celibacy. This was not an argument that went well with my gay friends at the time- most of whom longed for companionship after desperately lonely and stigmatised early lives.
Watching The Communards yesterday made me feel ashamed of my rejection of their music on the basis of their sexuality. I have written before how I have come to believe that the Church will look back on it’s teaching on homosexuality in the same way that it does now on its previous teaching on other culturally based rights issues- on the basis of race, or gender for example. Another example is the change (over the last 30 years) in relation to divorce/remarriage in most of the Protestant church at least. The meat of this issue always comes back to how we understand the nature of Scripture of course- but I will not re-rehearse these arguments here.
I also discovered something about the other member of the band- Richard Coles– a classically trained musician who played most of the instruments. He has since presented programmes on Radio 4 and BBC 2, but the surprising thing about him is that he is now a Church of England vicar.
Coles talks about coming to faith after attending the funeral of a friend who died of AIDs. Which reminded me of this song- which I offer here as a lament for all of this faith based homophobia…