Vicky Beeching, worship-leader heroine of my youth and now writer, theologian and broadcaster heroine of my adulthood, has come out as gay.
Really though, she’s had come out twice: first of all, she came out in support of same-sex marriage and the compatibility of faith and homosexuality. Writing on her blog about the subject and becoming a patron of Accepting Evangelicals were two public moves that in themselves caused plenty of backlash. No, that doesn’t do it justice. Vitriol. As Steve Chalke found out, to be a respected leader in the evangelical church and to stand in support of LGBTQ Christians is to stand up in front of a firing squad.
Beeching’s work on LGBTQ theology is important; her voice and influence in the evangelical world more so. The danger now is that in being courageous enough to share her personal experience, she’ll be dismissed by that world.
I say this because as soon as I step back into my old shoes, the ones I wore when I believed homosexuality was a temptation to be battled and fought, I would have dismissed her.
I would have been threatened by a Christian leader, clearly intelligent and sincere in faith, who concluded that God affirms gay relationships as he does straight relationships; that God affirms people because they’re people not because they’re straight people.
I would have been relieved to discover that Christian leader was, herself, gay, because I could dismiss her position as having an ulterior motive:
‘Of course she’d think that; she’s got a strong desire to think it, and that’s clouded her judgement.’
One of my favourite verses in explaining this kind of attitude was Jeremiah 17:9, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’ If a biblical interpretation or a theological perspective is in any way influenced by the heart, I could dismiss it. Personal experience hides the truth, it doesn’t reveal it.
Here’s what I never considered:
The whole Christian faith is built on personal experience.
We know God through Jesus. Through our experience of Jesus. We know Jesus through the gospels, the written down testimonies and experiences of people who met him. We pass on faith by telling our stories, to friends and family and gathered crowds. We tell of the one who has met us and loved us and accepted us and transformed our lives, and we offer him to others to meet too. There’s nothing more powerful and revelatory than a personal testimony of the love of God.
It’s the experience of the marginalised that teaches us about poverty. It’s the experience of the persecuted that teaches us about injustice. It’s those who’ve had their voices shouted down and dismissed that often have the most important messages for us to hear.
Sexuality and faith might be an interesting debate for some of us, an academic question, an indicator of theological leanings perhaps. But it’s gay Christians who’ve wrestled with sexuality and faith in a way that the rest of us can’t imagine. It’s gay Christians who’ve wept and prayed and examined themselves and pleaded with God. In Beeching’s words: “I said to God, ‘You have to either take my life or take this attraction away because I cannot do both.'”
It’s gay Christians who have had to listen, really listen, to really be persuaded that God affirms them in their sexuality not in spite of it, before they can accept it themselves.
And when the answer God gives to his heartbroken child is to neither take away life, nor take the attraction, but to meet her with love and affirmation, that’s a message we need to hear.
So Church, let’s listen.
Beeching’s story is on the front of the Independent today, and you can read it here too. I hope beyond all hope that Vicky Beeching’s courage will be rewarded not with more hatred from Christians, nor with the dismissing of her years of prayer and struggle. I pray we’ll hear God’s voice speak through her story.
Today, if we hear God’s voice, let’s not harden our hearts.