God’s voice in a coming out story.

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. 

About Claire

@claireylegs Keen on Jesus. Keen on justice. Ministry assistant in the Great North East. Blogger. Find me in: coffee shop / church / pub / bed.
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13 Responses to God’s voice in a coming out story.

  1. Andrew says:

    Thanks for this Claire – this is wonderful. Like you, I hope and pray that the Church will listen.

  2. Adrian Jones says:

    Can I add something? …something about it being the experience of each new generation in grappling with the questions that their parents were too scared to look at or didn’t think needed asking, that teaches us about the love of God that far exceeds all we can understand 🙂

  3. Thank you for this, I’m still sifting, trying to identify what I believe about this topic, and this is helpful.

  4. Bernard says:

    Hi Claire. Thanks for your post. Just some thoughts in response.

    I fully agree that we must listen carefully to Vicky’s voice, but I would suggest that there is also a need to listen carefully to other voices, such as the gay Christians who write at the Living Out website, who still believe same sex attraction is a temptation to be battled and fought. Vicky recognises that different perspectives are held by equally sincere Christians, and has encouraged us to continue in dialogue to find a way forward.

    I would also suggest that those who are not gay also have a valuable contribution to make, as often those outside a particular situation can bring particular perspectives which those within are unable to see.

    In other words, we all need each other to help us move forward on this issue. There can be no place for vitriol, but I believe it is important that we listen to all the voices. All the best. Bernard.

  5. Steve says:

    Is it possible to be a Christian, have a differing stance/viewpoint on this subject, and not hate Vicky? I would argue that the majority of Christians who would have a different opinion/viewpoint in this debate, love and care. The media don’t want to hear or give voice to this majority. The small percentage of ‘Christians’ who would spout anger and hatred towards the individual, re their sexuality, are far more interesting for the media because they fit the image that they want Christians to be.

    • Claire says:

      Of course not everyone who thinks differently on this issue hates gay people. I have always been part of evangelical churches where many people would disagree with my and Vicky’s theological position on sexuality, and I know many of those people to be loving and welcoming even to those they disagree with.

      Others find it very difficult to be genuinely welcoming to someone they feel is choosing a sinful lifestyle, refusing to acknowledge them as fellow Christians, and I’d argue, not acting lovingly towards them. The guys at Living Out are doing a good job at sharing their differing perspective and that’s being acknowledged in Christian media at least.

    • Bernard says:

      Hi Steve. I agree with your comment. I also think that, if it is a ‘small percentage’ of ‘Christians’ (which I think is probably the case) who spout anger and hatred, they can often sound like, a ‘very large percentage’ of ‘Christians’. Unfortunately, this then unhelpfully distorts the picture of where things are really at.

  6. So here you are, Claire 😉 (I saw you on some other online magazine about Vicky)
    Nice article. For me this is easier of course, I’m not Christian anymore so the whole problem of “being bound” to a 2000 year old text plays no role anymore. But even when I was Christian, I already came to a different understanding of the text. The bible is created by human beings. But they were not fools – they were people like us, seeking for god, seeking how to live a good life. Homosexuality back then was probably only an issue when it was implied in Reli-sex (such as it happened in places like Ephesus and Corinth) – very few new testament authors don’t even mention it, Jesus left not a single word about the topic even while the Roman Empire was replete with the practice. The “meaning” of those bible verses hardly played any role in my Christian life. Today as a (religion-friendly) atheist it’s a total non-issue. But I like the way you wrote about it here. Even while you seem to read at the bible with pretty “literalist” eyes, so to speak, you are open-minded – just as Vicky is I suppose.
    I wish you much, much happiness. Happy Christians are, just like happy people in general, to prefer above unhappy Christians.

    • PS. Your analysis in Vicky “coming out twice” was a nice one. Indeed, with the link you provided, I can see that. So she did that with poor Steve Chalke – which means she knew exactly how this could turn out. But then, they can both support each other in this, isn’t it?

  7. nickgarrett says:

    You can’t demand rights for so called heterosexual people or women without dropping the whole sexual orientation label. I find it ASTONISHING that anyone in 2014 has a problem with same sex partnering, love and marriage.

  8. Will says:

    So good. Something I’ve noticed recently. I’m currently in my 3rd year of studying medicine at the University of Cambridge. One of the modules I’ve taken is the psychological development of gender and sexuality. This is such an important subject as questions of gender and sexuality are one of the leading causes of suicide in the western world as well as the cause of horrible persecution and injustice. We need to understand this! Not just in an academic context but on a global society level.

    The thing I’ve noticed is that empirical evidence about this is so hard to find. This isn’t surprising given the history, diversity and sensitivity of this subject. It seems that most of what we study is either conjecture and theory, or studies on what small babies attend to most which rarely reveals a difference of more than 10% on any given trial. These studies are beginning to be drawn together and a picture is starting to emerge but we still have a huge way to go before we can say we understand this academically.

    Of course I can’t say I’m an expert having been studying it for 6 months. Nor can I say I’ve looked at all the approaches to studying this area. All I’m saying is that our society’s view of this issue is astoundingly based on history, strong feelings and the power of social movements. These are all of course relevant and incredible parts of humanity, but they are also notoriously unreliable and changeable.

    My point is that I think we all need to admit this. I’m sorry that being a student of this hasn’t given me an answer that I can share with you all. I do however want to encourage you to consider what I’ve learned and tell other people so we can all give each other the opportunity to step back and have some room to think about what is true.

    My dream is that we would be able to generate a clearer picture of what drives sexuality that will help people understand who they are created to be. This is basically what psychiatrists and counselors do with anyone who’s confused about who they are. The heart breaking thing is that for so many LGBT people, the entire media, church, and blogosphere seems to have become their counseller.

    My final message would be that if you have an LGBT friend who you love and want to help them understand themselves. Listen to them and maybe offer some thoughts and advice. Otherwise, be very careful about how you express your views. I think we all need space to think while we at least let the very hardworking and clever scientists I know find some evidence that will help us root our response in truth.

  9. Finding her story was one of the most incredible and interesting moments of my life. You don’t hear about stuff like this in the mainstream world very often.

  10. Reblogged this on Another Anomaly Among Many and commented:
    First of all, I have to say that I’m surprised that I didn’t hear about Vicky Beeching’s story sooner. I only discovered it just recently, and she came out back in August of 2014 or sometime around then. I really appreciate the fact that she was brave enough to step out and speak up for what she believes, though I don’t necessarily agree with her 100%. She’s still an incredible example of what kinds of conversations can be started when Christians take risks.
    I also really like the ideas that Claire (the author of this post) brings up. I’m really inclined to agree with what she says, and she speaks a lot of truth into this kind of situation.
    Her thoughts on the idea that “the whole Christian faith is built on personal experience” is so powerful and thought-provoking. I really want to dig deeper into that, just because that’s not the way I typically think of Christianity, but it’s definitely challenged me to think about whether or not that’s true. The me that I’ve come to know over the past year and a half really wants to believe that because of the things that she brought up, but the part of me that was raised in Sunday school says that there’s something fundamentally wrong about that statement.
    I’m hoping to write a longer, more fully thought out response to this post very soon, because it got the gears in my brain turning.

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