A completely bizarre consequence of Noel Stanton's death is that some are expressing a sense of desperation at the loss of his benign protection from extreme elders. One man tells me he has been in the JA for years and is gay. He feels that his sexuality is an abomination and appears not to hold it against the church that when he came out, his elder banned him from meetings. He believes that Noel could not only have helped him with his "problem", as the elders clearly can't, but would protect him from their harsh treatment. He believes that his only hope died with Noel.
This phenomenon is not new to me, of course. I remember getting a heavying from all the elders of my household (because I had caused a terrific scandal when a sister and I fell in love and had discussed our feelings) and then talking in terms of "splitting" (leaving the church) and getting a phonecall from Noel in which he asked if the elders had been too heavy, and in which he seemed to imply that he would get them to back off. Yet, it was quite clear from the content of the heavying that the elders were acting on instructions from Noel, who apart from anything else, set the tone and content of everything that went on. In those days the Elders met with Noel every Monday, then passed the latest edicts down that Tuesday at Agapé.
What my correspondent fails too see, perhaps because in grief we tend to canonise the recently-departed, is that if he was banned from meetings for being openly gay, the elder took his lead from Noel. Noel liked to play good cop to the elders' bad cops, but at the end of the day he was the law-maker.
Jesus Army homophobia has its origins in Noel Stanton's own attitude towards human sexuality and his uncompromising attitude towards what he regarded as sexual sin, straight or gay...which led to an over-emphasis on celibacy, even for married couples (who were urged to have sex for procreation only...avoiding any sex which was inspired by "lust"). At a recent meeting, a friend who was present tells me, a man "confessed" to having been gay and claimed to have been "healed" of it by God, and this profession was met with rapturous approval.
The JA are very keen to appear inclusive but the only gays who are really tolerated are those who have sought to bury their sexuality in baptism and step out of the waters cleansed, to live lives as celibates. Homosexuals are only really accepted if they see what they are as abhorrent to God.
I feel desperately sorry for homosexuals in the JA who in order to be considered acceptable stay in the closet in a state of self-loathing or come out of it and then seek to be healed of what my correspondent calls "his problem". But the ironic tragedy is that this abominable situation was of Noel Stanton's making; he would not have been this man's salvation but is responsible for the fact that he sees himself as unclean.
Now that Noel is dead, this man is distraught that he will not be there to save him, either from his problem or from an over-zealous eldership. The eldership, meanwhile, are just being true to their deceased founder's vision of the Kingdom of God.