Undivided – Some initial thoughts in response to Vicky Beeching

I’ve just finished reading “Undivided” by Vicky Beeching.  It’s her “coming out” story. Vicky was a prominent young worship leader with songs like “The Wonder of the Cross” “Deliverer” and “Breath of God” being sung at church services and conferences around the world.  A few years ago Vicky came out as gay.

My aim here is not to do a full review of her book -others will have provided their’s elsewhere, nor do I specifically want to talk about homosexuality here.  Regular readers will know that I disagree with her, that I believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman.  You can read the two pdf files on our resources pages where I respond to the type of theological arguments that Vicky makes (See Same Sex Marriage and also Wesley on the Slave Trade ). What I do want to do however is pick up on five things that we cannot ignore.

First of all, I found the book a sad read, particularly as Vicky described being signed up for EMI, a Christian recording label as a young person and spending those formative post University years on tour, living in tour buses playing at different concerts, festivals and mega-churches to large crowds.  A culture that sticks people into the limelight, that separates them from church, community and family and turns them into celebrities is unhealthy. A culture that builds them up and then when they don’t meet our expectations tears them down again is cruel. When we realise that it is the Christian, evangelical culture that has been doing that, it should prick us to the heart.

Secondly, the chapter that described her experience at Wycliffe Hall is horrifying. Vicky at one point says that her form of evangelicalism did not provide space for anger yet anger is a right response to her description of what happened to her and around her. Vicky attended as an 18 year old undergraduate. You would hope that a young lady stepping out into the world would feel safe in a Bible College community. However, horrifically she describes being sexually assaulted by a priest and not knowing who to turn to. She then states that single students were engaged in pre-marital sexual relationships and that married students even had affairs. Whilst being a Christian does not mean we are sinless and that even going to Bible college will put you in some protective, these are serious matters concerning those going into pastoral ministry.

It also reminded me of some brief comments made by Chris Green in his introduction to “The Goldilocks Zone”. Describing Mike Ovey’s theological training at Ridley Hall, he says:

“The practical aspect of ministry, delivered at Ridley Hall itself, was disconnected from the theology department, internally inconsistent, and required fellowship with some he believed to be false teachers and others who were immoral in lifestyle.”[1]

The description of immoral life-styles seems to chime with Vicky’s observations about another college a decade later. Green observes that for Mike it was a “spiritually painful experience.” Theological training instead of being something to cherish and enjoy became something to endure, survive and escape. That cannot be right. I hope that things have changed and I know that this was Mike’s mission at Oak Hill and David Peterson’s before him but the possibility that we have potentially at least two generations of pastors for whom this was their formative theological experience must also raise the prospect that this has had a significant impact on the church of the early 20th Century.  The men and women who went through theological training in the 1980s and 90s have been the pastors, preachers, youth and children’s leaders, worship leaders, missionaries and theological educators responsible for the health of the church over the past 30 years.

Thirdly, Vicky describes how during the stage when she was seeking to resist same sex attraction that she confessed this in two contexts. The first was with a priest at confession. He prayed with her but then off she went without any sense of ongoing support. The other was at a Christian youth festival. There, she describes hearing testimonies from people who had been released from different sins and addictions including one girl who said she’d been healed from homosexuality only for Vicky to meet her later at University and discover she was the LGBT representative. In response she went forward for prayer and had hands laid on her, demons were cast out and urgent prayers said for her release, shallow advice was given.  I’m concerned by the detachment from realism here, the almost superstitious belief that we just wave a magic wand over things. There’s no space to listen, to talk, no sitting down and going to God’s word together, no commitment to stand with her for the long term.  It’s one of the reasons why I’ve always been a little wary of the promise and claims of summer camps and festivals. They risk being disconnected from the reality of day to day Christian life and the local church.  It’s so easy to say those prayers, make those promises, even give some off the cuff counselling without there being any accountability for the “counsellor.”

Now, when talking about camps and colleges, I note that these are historic situations. However, first of all, we are talking about named events and the people involved are still around in Christian circles. So, there does need to be a response. If these allegations are true then they are serious. We cannot continue with a culture that sweeps past events under the carpet. Some things whether its a “clumsy wording “of a conference invitation with racist overtones or accusations that a man who physically abused boys  was able to hold a senior position at summer camps can’t just be forgotten about.  Secondly because we just assume that these things work. The constant assumption is that our system of camps to convert and disciple young people and our seminaries to train pastors is the best and maybe even the only way. Those of us who are thinking seriously about how to reach working class and multi-ethnic inner cities and estates have been asking questions for other reasons. It’s time for a proper conversation.

Fourthly, Vicky describes those sessions on sex and relationships at church events that many of us have sat through where the gist of the message is that you need to save yourself for marriage because every sexual encounter you have will mean leaving something of yourself with the other person, because it will damage you and so no-one will want you.  Well, I firmly believe that sex should happen within marriage and those points are part of the truth. However, they miss so much.  I also want to say that our commitment to marital faithfulness comes out of much more than fearing being damaged goods and more out of a glorious vision of Christ’s faithfulness to his bride. Furthermore, in a world where young people already will have engaged in sexual relationships, those messages sound like law without grace.  I want to say to the person filled with shame that the shame does not have to stick that there is a saviour who covers our shame by clothing us in his righteousness, there is one who makes us a new creation so that we can be whole again.

Fifthly and finally, Vicky talks about coming out to various friends and family. The general tone is that those she spoke to offered to stand with her and promised that she would not be alone.  It’s not stated but the implication seems to be that there was a promise to support her in her new direction. That’s the challenge for those of us who want to love, support and care for people but cannot support a change of direction which goes against what the Bible teaches. How do we do that? There are some clues I think in a tender conversation Vicky has between her and her grandfather.  He wants her to sit and listen to some CDs on the Bible and homosexuality with her. He offers her a different version of standing and walking with her. Vicky refuses, she cannot bear to hear those talks with him. She mentions something Billy Graham once said “It’s God’s job to judge, the Holy Spirit’s to convict and ours to love.” He agrees that we sometimes get the roles muddled up and he can keep loving his granddaughter. I believe that both parts of that conversation, his offer to go to God’s word with her and his willingness to keep loving her model grace. There has to be an alternative to the extremes of either denouncing in angry rants or simple going along with someone in silence.  The challenge is to go together with someone to hear God speak to us through his Word.

[1] Chris Green, The Goldilocks Zone, 25.

For a full review of the book from a conservative evangelical perspective see https://theweeflea.com/2018/06/25/undivided-an-open-letter-to-vicky-beeching/