Sunday, 6 March 2011
This morning I passed as usual the Hampstead church of St John's Downshire Hill, a pretty place but a stronghold of some very unpleasant evangelicals, religious fundamentalists of the worst kind. I went to a party there a few years ago and got talking to a big wheel in the church's parish affairs. He was a military type wearing the tie of one of the minor public schools. It came out that I worshipped up the road at the very different parish church of St. John-at-Hampstead in Church Row. "You can't carry on there," said the blimp. "You're doing nothing more than inhabiting a kind of spiritual Switzerland." In other words my easy, middle-of-the-road broad church neutrality was little more than contemptible. It would be easy to dismiss this as a moderately amusing bluster by a pompous, condescending but ultimately harmless old prat, were it not for the wickedness that crackles like hellfire beneath the judgmental remark. For these are intolerant Christians of the homophobic stamp, openly and deadeningly anti-gay. I went to a service at Downshire Hill soon after the Switzerland episode and heard a humourless priest from, I think, Wimbledon, preach against sodomy. It was a chilly morning and one had an eery feeling throughout the hectoring sermon of having been transported back to an infinitely unpleasant bygone age. The young and very well-heeled congregation (lots of City people, somewhat like at Holy Trinity Brompton, whizzkids at futures but short of what you or I would call brains) nodded wisely in agreement as the womble maundered on and on about the decline of family values etc. His corrosive words - forgotten for years - came back to me recently when I read an article on evangelical-inspired homophobia in Africa, where Christian fundamentalism has taken a firm hold. A young gay man had died of AIDS in West Africa and had been buried in a simple ceremony by his family and his partner. A zealous local Christian group exhumed his body and hanged his corpse outside his grieving mother's house. This is the sort of thing that eventually happens when right wing Christians of the Downshire Hill persuasion start trumpeting their unsavoury message abroad - and such intolerance is infectious, even more infectious than AIDS. So if you meet people like this, avoid them with the ends of several bargepoles. And they've taken over some of London's most beautiful churches too and contaminated the premises with their happy clappy nonsense, pop groups and drum kits - a terrible shame, but dead trivial in comparison to their unwarrantable queer-bashing.