Undivided – the story of Vicky Beeching

cover-mobileA church I was once part of was very keen on Christians ‘telling their story’. People might argue about theology, we were told, but they cannot argue with your story. When you tell your story clearly and from the heart, its authenticity will ring true to even the most hardened skeptic.

‘Undivided’ is the story of Vicky Beeching. Vicky was a Christian worship leader and songwriter. Throughout the 00’s her songs were sung and she led worship in some of the largest evangelical and charismatic churches in the USA. She had known she was gay from her early teens but believed these attractions were deeply sinful and so struggled with inner turmoil for 20 years. Aged 34, and realising this struggle was crippling her physical and mental health, she came out as gay. She had never so much as kissed a woman, but coming out cost her career anyway, as record contracts and bookings were cancelled, and she was shunned and vilified both privately and publicly. In ‘Undivided’ Vicky tells her story from early teens, through her time at Oxford studying theology, her years in the Christian music industry, her agonies at coming out, her struggles with chronic illness, and her new career as an equality and inclusion activist who lives very much in the public eye.  She also tells how far from abandoning her Christian faith, she has found a faith which is stronger, more authentic, and more meaningful than ever before.

Part of Vicky’s story is realising that what the Bible ‘clearly says’ about same-sex relationships isn’t really that clear after all. Many of the so-called ‘clobber passages’ can be easily addressed but fundamental is Romans chapter 1 which appears to condemn both male and female homosexual relations. However we know that in Greco-Roman culture, same-sex behaviour was primarily seen in terms of a power-play, between men and adolescent boys (masters and servants), via prostitution, and by men who were also married to women. This is worlds away from loving, committed same-sex relationships. ‘Undivided’ is not however a theological treatise, and readers who are interested are referred to a number of other resources, for example, those from Matthew Vines (1).

When I was 21 I went to stay with a Christian friend and his family for a few days before we moved into a shared house for our final year at uni. One day as he was driving me up the M6 motorway he turned to me and said,”There’s something I want to to know about me – I’m gay”. I’d been brought up in a very conservative evangelical church setting and don’t think I’d ever met anyone openly gay before. I’d never even considered challenging the assumptions about being gay that I’d grown up with. Fortunately however I found myself replying before I’d had time to think, “This doesn’t change the way I think about you. You are still one of my closest friends. Thank you for telling me”. Things took an interesting development later that month when we moved into our student house and the third friend sharing with us disclosed that he too was gay. My two friends, both evangelical christians, had different perspectives on being gay. The first felt that he had always been gay, always would be gay, and resigned himself to a life of celibacy. The second felt that through much prayer and humble obedience he would stop being attracted to men and eventually be able to have a fulfilled hetrosexual marriage. Like many gay christians he took this path but after 2 children and 15 years his marriage could not stand the strain. His story continues on a happier path and he has been in a stable relationship with a man for over ten years.

Everyone we meet has a story. Although it is important we understand our own story, perhaps it more important to listen to the stories of others. Too long has the church projected an ideal story upon the lives of its members while those for whom it does not fit are forced to suffer in silence or be shamed and ostracised. The consequences of this can be tragic; the high profile case of Lizzie Lowe (2) is  just one of countless stories that should make all of us who call ourselves Christians deeply uncomfortable.

But Vicky’s story is also a story of hope. Hope that we can all live lives that are not torn between who we are and what others want us to be. Hope that we can all live lives that are full of grace not shame. Hope that the church will one day not be divided by prejudice but united in love.

It is high time we, the church, listened to the stories of LGBTQ+ persons,whether Christians, former Christians, or those who would never seek God in the church. Only by listening to others will we hear the voice of God, challenging our own attitudes and idols, calling us to journey further into grace and mercy. We have much to learn and little to teach to those who we have forced to carry this burden of shame, and for whom we have closed the doors to the kingdom of heaven.

So I highly recommend you read Vicky Beeching’s story, either in the book or on her website (3). And I strongly encourage all of us to take every opportunity to listen to the story of others, to really listen, humbly and attentively. We might just hear the voice of God speaking of a story more beautiful than we had ever dared were possible.

Resources

  1. Matthew Vine’s website
  2. Report in The Telegraph on Lizzie Lowe
  3. Vicky Beeching’s website
  4. Buy ‘Undivided’

Life After the Evangelical Church: Part 2 The Bible

It is my conviction that to treat the Bible as inerrant and infallible is un-Christian in that it is both dishonest, and dishonouring to the the Bible itself and to the God Christians believe inspired it.

Image of a fragment of a dead sea scroll, from the Isaiah scroll, 1QIsab
From the Dead Sea Scrolls; a portion of the second discovered copy of the Isaiah scroll, 1QIsab (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Sea_Scrolls)

As an evangelical I was taught that the Bible is inerrant (contains no mistakes about anything) and infallible (absolutely trustworthy). Some evangelicals temper this with ‘as originally written’. The second statement is a matter of faith, since no original manuscripts exist. But for practical purposes it makes no difference, since it is the Bible we have which is used as the basis for faith and life.

The reason inerrancy and infallibility matter so much for evangelicals is their understanding of inspiration. Since ‘All scripture is inspired [literally ‘breathed out’] by God’ (1 Timothy 3.16), the argument goes that it must be inerrant and infallible, since God does not make mistakes and always tells the truth. Any suggestion that there are inconsistencies or mistakes in the Bible must be strongly refuted, for two reasons. Firstly it would be blasphemous to suggest God would make mistakes, and secondly, to accept an error in the Bible would be undermine and negate its entirety, and the whole of Christianity into the bargain.  

Many make the case against against Christianity based on the Bible: ‘it can be proved there are errors in the Bible therefore the whole of Christianity is false’. Ironically evangelicals adhere to the same belief, that Christianity stands or falls on the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. Historically both views are extremely modern. Inerrancy and infallibility simply were not an issue for Christians before the enlightenment. It was a given that the Bible was written by ancient writers and reflected their varying understanding, worldviews, particular agendas and reasons for writing.

By way of three questions let me provide examples that illustrate why this view of the Bible is dishonest.

  • In the creation accounts, in what order were animals and man were created? (see Genesis chapters 1 and 2)
  • Who incited King David to take a census of Israel – God or the Satan? (see 1 Samuel 24.1 and 1 Chronicles 21.1)
  • When did Jesus carry out the ‘cleansing of the temple’ – near the start or the end of his ministry? (see Matthew 21.12 and John 2.13)

These are just three of literally hundreds of ways the Bible shows us it is not one book with one overriding message. It was written by dozens of authors over many centuries. It reflects the particular agenda, understanding and worldview of its authors. In many places it attempts to correct or revise earlier instances of history or theology, and in other places flat contradicts itself. (The writers of Chronicles seem especially keen to ‘correct’ or ‘revise’ the accounts of Samuel and Kings.) Just consider for a minute that some words attributed to God are outright contradicted in other places, again supposedly by God.  Attempting to iron out and resolve these differences into one ‘flat’ narrative is simply not possible and insisting on this has let many people to reject the faith altogether. In my view is misses the point about what the Bible actually is.

One further example: why do we have four gospels, not one? If historical and theological consistency is the aim, then one definitive gospel would be far preferable. However the church fathers rejected early attempts to consolidate the gospels into one definitive account, regarding retaining the differing accounts as preferable.

Let us be honest about what the Bible is and what it is not. Let’s be honest about what ‘inspiration’ actually means. To do so is not ‘liberal’ or a sign of weak faith. To be really honest about the Bible honours it for what it is: a collection of different genres of writing, written over many hundreds of years for many different reasons. I would go further: the Biblical writers obviously thought it was legitimate to challenge, re-interpret and re-purpose earlier writings and to be faithful to the Bible one must be free to engage in this today.

If you are interesting in exploring this subject further a good place to start is Peter Enns’ blog and podcasts at https://peteenns.com/blog/ and https://peteenns.com/podcast/.

Why I Joined the Orthodox Church

Why does a 50 year old protestant, a deeply committed member of the evangelical-charismatic church for 30 years, suddenly go and join the Orthodox Church?

In future I hope to say more about the first part of the story, the leaving part, but I’m going to skip this for now. Suffice to say that I’d been dissatisfied with my church for some years, and slowly came to realise that it wasn’t just ‘my’ church but the charismatic church in general that had become alien to me on many levels. In this post I want to focus on the positive reasons for becoming Orthodox, rather than my dissatisfaction with my former church.

 

The short answer

holy apostlesOne of my children became Orthodox last year. I initially attended one or two services with him, including his joining service (‘chrismation’). While finding the services strange and some of the beliefs challenging, I was drawn back again and again. Over several months my questions and doubts dissolved and my heart was drawn to worship God as part of this faith community.

 

The slightly longer answer

While the explanation above may satisfy some, there is obviously more to this tale. A lot more in fact than can fit in 800 words. However I’d like to highlight here three key aspects: theology, prayer and worship. Forgive me if my treatment of these is superficial and inaccurate. My understanding is limited; moreover this is a personal reflection and space is limited.

The theology of the Orthodox Church emphasises the unity of God and the triumph of God’s love. The Holy Trinity are united in their nature and in all they do. In this framework, Jesus perfectly reveals the Father in every way, and corrects false notions of God evident in the Old Testament scriptures. Redemption is not seen as a legal transaction, where Jesus satisfies an arbitrary notion of divine justice; rather it is a rescue mission where the whole of the Trinity deals decisively with the issue of death-caused-by-sin once and for all. And although not being church dogma, this includes at least the possibility that the work of redemption will somehow be effective for all people. The Orthodox Church permits me to hope that the work of Christ is at least as powerful as the error of Adam. 1

The practices of prayer is central to the Orthodox Christian. This is obviously true for all Christians, however the Orthodox Church provides a great deal more help in making this a reality. There are set prayers to be said when rising from sleep, at 6 am, 9 am, noon, 3 pm, 6 pm, evening and before sleep (personally I aim for morning and evening!). Orthodox services are crammed full of prayers. And the prayers are crammed full of scripture and very much centred on God (not me and my needs). 2 Obviously there is room for spontaneous and personal prayer. But the essence of prayer is that done ‘in the name of Jesus’ that is, in accordance with scripture and God’s will. I have found that praying in this way is liberating, freeing me from the whim of personal feelings and distracting thoughts, and it seems to be slowly transforming my mind, bringing my thoughts and feelings in line with scripture. Some may argue that this is possible without set prayers, and that somehow praying prayers penned by others in somehow inauthentic and mere ‘religion’. I have come to believe that to neglect a practice found to be beneficial by generations of Christians over two millennia, and replacing it with whatever I feel I right on the spur of the moment, is both foolish and a little arrogant.

paschaOrthodox worship is where I have experienced the sharpest contrast with the charismatic church. Gone are the amplified music, the projected words, and ‘contemporary’ songs. Gone too are the spontaneous ‘contribution’ where songs and even sermons may be interrupted by a prophetic word or tongue. Orthodox worship is liturgical, with set services for every day. Rituals, processions, incense and icons all play a part. On every Sunday, and on other feast days, the focus is on encountering Christ in the Eucharistic meal. Superficially this looks a world apart from charismatic worship. It is hard to explain how I have transitioned to this world and reconciled the differences, and space does not permit me to try. However my experience has been that Orthodox worship is deeply infused with the presence of God, and the set form of service focuses attention on God in a way that a meeting manipulated by a worship leader seldom achieves. 3 If you want to know more you will have to try it for yourself.

 

If you want to know more, try these links.

  1. Permit me to hope, (Brad Jersak): https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2015/12/07/permit-me-to-hope/
  2. Orthodox daily prayers: https://www.goarch.org/-/the-synekdemos-daily-prayers-for-orthodox-christians
  3. The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom: https://youtu.be/OYg5D6gpe98. This recording is in different form and slightly more polished rendering (!) than at my church. It is in two parts, the liturgy of the Word, climaxing in the gospel reading (at about 24 minutes), and the liturgy of the faithful, climaxing in the Eucharist.