‘Some Day I’ll Find You’ by H.A. Williams C.R. (London: Mitchell Beazley, 1982)

Fr Harry Williams was a Cambridge don, tutor to the Prince of Wales, who, aged 50, entered an Anglican religious community. This is his autobiography. It is fair to say that it caused a stir when published. He was very much an establishment figure, and the frank tone doubtless shocked. That said, little would be shocking now, but back in 1982 it was not common for priests of the Church of England to publically declare that they were gay.

It is not really necessary to give a complete review of this book. It is an easy read. It has often been criticised for name dropping, and Harry Williams has been called a snob. I did not really notice that. He was well connected, but most of the names he drops are now forgotten. Sic transit gloria mundi and all that, I suppose.

The real story of this book is how Harry Williams fell for a false god, how he “mixed up God and the devil, not knowing which was which. It was a muddle which needed a severe breakdown before it could be slowly sorted out. The sorting out led me to discover that in order to love God I often had to hate religion and I began to catch glimpses of God’s glory in places where, on any ecclesiastical estimate, that glory had no right to be.” [p. ix] In this he discovered that “what passes for virtue has been a far more destructive force than what passes for vice.” [pp. 44-5]

His family was what would probably be called upper middle class, though not wealthy. His mother was neurotic and that neuroticism found a focus in an intolerant and joyless Protestantism. He notes that “one of the important functions of religion is to give people something to do with their lunacy.” [p. 81] That holds true for other brands of religion as well, not just the Protestant variety. Lunacy can take many forms, and there is a religion for each one of those forms.

Despite all this he became a clergyman, though naturally of a higher church disposition than his mother’s religion. As a curate at S Barnabas, Pimlico, London, during the Second World War he came to see that goodness, and God, could be found in all sorts and conditions, and often more clearly outside church than in it.

A curacy at the famous Anglo-Catholic church of All Saints, Margaret Street followed. It was here that he started to realise that the god he served was a false god, a god who demanded constant propitiation, an idol of his own creating:

“It was with the idol that I conceived my relationship to be one of contract. Keeping his back scratched was not at all a labour of love. It had nothing about it of a free, loving, joyful obedience. It was a disagreeable and exhausting chore which made me in my heart of hearts hate the taskmaster who imposed it – that is God, my idol.

“For my idol-God was a neurotic. How could he help being that? For a projection cannot be more healthy than the projecting agent. So my God felt unloved and insecure unless he was constantly the centre of attention. And when he felt insecure he would take it out on you by refusing to speak to you until you had formally apologised by going to confession, and sometimes not even then. So to prevent his feeling insecure you had to jabber at him at regular intervals.” [p. 130]

It is sadly true that if God has made human beings in his image, since that time human beings have been remaking God in their own fractured image. In this they (we) have been aided by a Church which has often been in the hands of the most fractured and neurotic.

But for Fr Harry Williams, now at Cambridge as a fellow of Trinity, this all came to a head. And, needless to say, the issue was his sexuality.

“Thus it was that my deepest, most tender, and strongest feelings were felt by me to be monstrously horrible, something to be utterly condemned, as well as being, I felt, the legitimate target of ridicule deserving to bring down on me the cackle of Cambridge. Had I not been in thrall to my idol I might have been able to liberate myself from these conventional estimates. But with the stranglehold upon me of the god the priests had encouraged me to believe in, even the smallest degree of liberation was quite impossible. I was little more than the puppet of the savage hypnotist I had dreamt about, little more than the dupe and slave of my own guilt-feelings.

“… I fell in love with a colleague; totally, hopelessly and catastrophically in love. The sexuality which the savage hypnotist [the false god] had so far compelled me to ignore, at last exploded. It was, as I saw later, the victory of my humanity over the forces bent on destroying it, the victory of health over sickness, of good over evil, of the true God over the idol.” [p. 164]

Grace, we are told, builds on nature. And Irenaeus of Lyons tells us that “the glory of God is humanity alive” [Ad. Haer. 4. 34. 5-7]. How can a denial of humanity get one anywhere, least of all closer to God?

This is a lesson which many of us have to find for ourselves. Often it is painful. Often it means the rejection of false (but comforting) certainties. Often it leads to charges of self-indulgence, of taking the easy option. But as Harry Williams notes, it is about integrity. The alternative is not just continuing unhappiness, but often self-destruction. How many gay Christians seeks solace in the bottle? Or guilt-ridden casual sex? Or it can destroy others, when projected onto them.

God is love. That we know. But so often love is replaced with rules. The Religion of the Scribes and the Pharisees is easier, in some ways, than the Religion of love and perfect freedom which Christ offers us. For all its destructiveness it gives one a sense of belonging. And as Williams quotes, “as Benjamin Jowett remarked, what is truth compared with an espirit de corps?” [p. 196]

Harry Williams dies in 2006, aged 86. His Church Times obituary noted that in the 1960s and 1970s his message – “Be yourself, meet and love your Creator and Father, don’t think that you need be orthodox or perfect but live joyfully and abundantly.” – was greeted as Good News. That is because it was Good News. And it was, and still is, needed today.

Christianity And …

In The Screwtape Letters CS Lewis has the senior devil Screwtape advise his nephew Wormwood that if he cannot stop his Subject becoming a Christian, the best thing is to get him involved in ‘Christianity And’. The ‘And’ can be anything worthy. Screwtape mentions Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order [presumably not the post Ian Curtis Joy Division!], Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. The aim is to keep him from what Lewis (and Screwtape) refer to as Mere Christianity.

The point is that the ‘And’ comes to dominate. Christianity comes to matter only insofar as it promotes the ‘And’. And in the end it matters less and less.

So is this blog about Christianity and Gay Rights, or somesuch thing? I hope not. I think Lewis’s insistence on Mere Christianity is right and important. This blog will consider (I hope) all sorts of things, such as current affairs, books, liturgy, even (heaven forfend) what the General Synod is getting up to. But from the perspective of someone who happens to be a gay Christian.

But isn’t that just as bad? Isn’t it enough to be a Mere Christian, as Lewis would have it, not a gay Christian? Well yes. I am a pretty mere Christian (using mere much as daisy Ashford would, as well as CS Lewis). But being gay does give one a certain perspective. There is also the whole issue of identity. This seems important. It is part of human nature to seek identity, to identify oneself with a group, a gang, a tribe. And that instinct is probably more pressing for those of us who belong to minorities of one sort or another.

So no Christianity And, I hope. But Christianity from an intelligent perspective (I hope) of one whose faith journey has involved coming to terms with his sexuality, and for whom that it is an important part of who he is.

I hope you will join me.

Return to Old Mother Damnable?

So why? Why, after 25 years away from the Church of England (or Old Mother Damnable, as Ronnie Knox used to call her) think about returning?

There is so much behind that sort of decision. And so much that can only be unpicked over time.

Suffice to say that I have travelled a long way since the early 90s, when, in what I thought was a principled stand for apostolic faith and order, but was really about the feared end of a comfy Anglo-Catholic gay ghetto, stamped my feet over women priests and flounced off to the Church of Rome.

I guess I was looking for certainty.

Now I am older. I am probably not much wiser, but I am more tolerant. I see through Roman Catholic ‘natural law’. I see that the arguments used against women priests (the male priest represents the male Christ, married to the female Church) are based on the same outmoded ideas of sexuality and gender that are used to condemn gay people.

The Catholic Church makes victims of women and gay men (and others). But ironically, or hypocritically if you like, it makes use of women and gay men. Without women, the churches would be empty. Without gay men, the priesthood would be, shall we say, much reduced.

But women and gay men are made complicit in their victimhood. They are even told that being a victim (ie being a 2nd class citizen) somehow helps them to mystically share in Christ’s sufferings.

Well it won’t wash anymore.

Now the Anglican position on LGBTI people may be confused. But at least it is an honest confusion. And at least there is an acceptance that there is a debate which needs to take place.

Today the LGBTI Mission has been established in the Church of England to campaign for full inclusion of us LGBTI people in the life of our Church. And that seems reason enough to start this blog, as a place to muse on faith – in the context of being gay.