Undivided: Guilt & Shame or grace & forgiveness and sex & sexuality (Responding to Vicky Beeching part 2)

Two years ago I wrote and spoke quite a bit about the problem of guilt and shame and especially the Guilt Driven Life. This came to my mind when I saw the full title of Vicky Beeching’s book “Undivided: Coming Out, Being Whole and living free from shame.”

Vicky’s book is essentially about trying to escape from shame. Sadly, I believe that she turns in the wrong direction so that the story continues to be one of running and hiding rather than discovering what it means to be clothed in Christ’s righteousness and truly free from guilt and shame. This is because she has experimented with the three dangers that I argued led to guilt/shame driven lives and churches:

–        Legalism

–        Magic/Supersition

–        Licence

Let me show how she tries each of those

Legalism

This is seen in the teaching she experienced concerning sexuality both in terms of heterosexual and homosexual experience.  Vicky portrays a church teaching on sex which presents it as an attractive, out of reach and at the same time deadly dangerous desire.

These two quotes describing examples of that teaching are telling:

“This,” he said, gesturing soberly, “is what happens when you have … sex.” Looking at us with an intense gaze, the man at the front of the Christian youth event held up two pieces of white paper. He took a stick of glue and spread it liberally over both sheets. Then he pressed the sheets together, so they stuck firmly. “Sex means you are literally gluing your soul to the other person; it’s sacred. Something significant happens when two people become ‘one flesh,’as the Bible describes it. It’s not just about flesh and bone; part of you joins with that other person. It’s a spiritual union that cannot be broken.” He held the two pieces of paper in the air, showing us they were completely glued together. “Now, see what happens if you have sex with someone casually—who you’re not married to—and then you break up.” His brow furrowed as he took the two pieces of paper and, starting at the top, tried to pull them apart. Of course, the glue had done its work, and this proved a difficult thing to attempt. Finally, he managed to separate them but was left with a mess: part of one piece of paper was left attached to the other and vice versa. In his hands the two sheets—once perfect—were now ripped to shreds and full of holes. “This,” he said, “is what sex outside of marriage does to your body and soul. You leave a part of yourself with that other person. You are both damaged by it. And you can never be whole again.” All of us in that summer camp seminar were around the age of sixteen, and we exchanged worried glances. “Save sex for marriage,” he said, bringing his illustration to a close. “Wait for the partner God has chosen for you, the perfect husband or wife, who you’ll be married to for life. If you don’t wait, the consequences are very serious in God’s eyes.” At the end of the seminar on sex and relationships, we all shuffled out of the venue looking shell-shocked. I knew a couple of my friends had already had sex, and I hated to think what emotions they were trying to process after seeing those ripped-up pieces of paper. One friend who I knew had been sexually active whispered to me, “What am I going to do now? If I’m damaged, just like that piece of paper, who is ever going to want me?” Tears began trickling out of the corners of her eyes, and she wiped them away, smudging her makeup.”[1]

Then on another occasion:

“At one Christian camp, a visiting American speaker used a different illustration. She held up an apple and, taking a bite out of it, said, ‘This is an example of what happens when you have sex.” She handed the apple to a person in the front row, instructing, “Take a bite.’ The teenager awkwardly chomped into the fruit. ‘Now hand it to the person next to you,’ the leader instructed. Once five people had bitten chunks out of the apple, there was little left but the core. ‘Hand it back to me,’ the leader said, holding out her hand. ‘Now,’ she said, looking at us, ‘this is what happens when you give yourself away sexually to multiple people. All you’re left with is this ugly core.’ She held what was left of the apple in the air. “Who’s going to want you if you are left like this? What godly man or woman will want to give their life to you then? Stick to God’s way for sex: save it for marriage.’”[2]

We are presented with an image of extra-marital sex which has some truth in it, casual sex is dangerous, unhealthy, sinful. However, we only have one part of the story, plus we have elements of magic/superstition and licence tangled up in there too. Magic, because there’s a superstitious attempt to understand how one flesh works, the act of sex gluing bits of my soul to someone else like some kind of horcrux.[3]  Licence because the focus is on sex, something I persue to enjoy for myself and risk losing out on with the ideal romantic partner.

This teaching is only a fragment of truth because it leaves the hearer hopeless as we see in the quotes. What about the person who has already had sex, the dominant message is that life is hopeless, they are unloved, unlovely, unlovable, ever. There’s no way back, they can never be whole again. The gospel message that God takes unlovely, unlovable broken, damaged people, loves them and makes them whole again is missing.

This legalism leads to fear, there’s no way for Vicky to come into the open and talk about her struggles. She buries herself in theological studies and a Christian music career. These are the atonements that legalistic religion offer her and they fail resulting in distress and a break down in her health.

Magic/Superstition

In her desperation, Vicky tries twice to receive prayer ministry in order to deliver her from homosexuality. This includes a private confession with a priest who prays, tells her she is brave and offers absolution but she is still not free. Then there is the encounter at Soul Survivor where people give testimony about how they have been released from different addictions through charismatic prayer ministry. She goes forward nd is surrounded by people who lay hands on her, cast out demons and pray for deliverance in a highly charged, emotional, potentially abusive context. They tell her she is free, though one warns she may need to fast as well.

No-one offers her ongoing counselling, no-one promises to stand with her, no-one talks about ongoing challenges and real spiritual war as we seek to mortify sin in the flesh. The hope is that the supercharged emotional experience will do it for her.

We turn to magic/superstition when we hope that the right experience in the right place from the right people using the right words will set us free. This type of religious offering often ends in disappointment, confusion and disillusionment. You are not surprised to read later that one girl who had testified to being set free from homosexuality turns up later in Oxford as the LGBTi spokesperson.

Licence

So, the  end outcome is that Vicky turns to licence. The legalistic burden is too heavy and the magic has failed so all that is left is just to give up and do as she pleases. Licence happens when we brgin to find reasons to deny or downplay sin. There are no shortage of people ready to come forward and show us that we’ve misunderstood the Bible and what we are doing isn’t really wrong. Vicky finds those who are ready to explain away what the Bible says about sex and relationships.

Legalism and Licence are twins. They both encourage us to make comparisons to others. Legalism makes me feel good when I’m doing better than others and crushes me when I think I’m doing worse. Licence says “Look others get away with whatever they want, so what about me.”

One of the fascinating and sad things about the current arguments in favour of Christians being permitted to engage in same sex relationships is the way that other struggles are played down.Vicky Beeching and Steve Chalke have both insisted that the gay christian’s situation is not comparable to others who find themselves celibate.  Why is this? Well because other celibate Christians have still got the possibility of enjoying a relationship. This misses … things.

–        That there may be a variety of reasons why someone is celibate.

–        That for many people, the issue of love and attraction is not the generic desire to be with any companion but that love and desire is specific and focused on a person. It is concrete not abstract, therefore if love is requited then the person may know in their heart that relationships are off the cards for them.

–        Even if rejection leading to aloneness is a temporary thing,  because love was focused on a specific person it may not feel like it is possible again to that person for a long time.

Vicky argues that celibacy is a choice not a command but in fact, for most people it is neither, it is a circumstance. One elderly lady into her 90s told me before she died that she had always longed for marriage and the challenge of aloneness was real throughout her life, yet she learnt to trust God and find deep love and fellowship in him.

A better story

I believe that there is a better story for those who wrestle with sexuality and with aloneness. That story is about God’s great love story for his people.  God is presented as the bridegroom who loves, rescues, restores and marries his bride, Israel in the OT and the church in the NT. Jesus is the groom who sacrificially loves his bride and dies for her. The church is the bride who is redeemed, washed clean and dressed in beautiful wedding garments. The greatest story ever told finishes with a wedding banquet.

This means that for those who feel dirty, broken, unloved and unlovable that you can know hope, forgiveness, cleansing, wholeness and love.

This means that for everyone who has been deserted by a cruel husband, there is the promise of an eternal, faithful husband. It means that everyone who has been jilted at the altar, experienced unrequited love and rejection or chosen for the sake of holiness and the gospel not to pursue a relationship that together we will all get our white wedding day.

 

[1] Vicky Beeching, Undivided, Kindle location 700-707.

[2] Beeching, Undivided, Kindle location 722-729.

[3] Which would the dominant imagery in many teens minds hearing that kind of explanation in the 21st century.

Advertisements