Vicky Beeching, Undivided: Coming Out, Becoming Whole, and Living Free from Shame (London: William Collins, 2019)
When Vicky Beeching came out as gay it was big news. I remember buying a real newspaper in order to read the story! Now, for anyone in their 30s Vicky Beeching probably feels like a household name, while many younger readers may not know much about her. I recently asked some younger members of my church whether they had heard of her and they hadn’t. So, for those who don’t know, Vicky was a Christian worship leader who headlined big music events and toured the world. ‘Yesterday, Today and Forever’ was one tune of hers that was a particular favorite of mine when I was a teenager. She has now turned her story into the book Undivided: Coming Out, Becoming Whole, and Living Free from Shame.
Even though my heart goes out to Vicky, I cannot agree with the theological decisions she has made or the social campaign she has started out on.
Undivided is a warm and friendly autobiography. It documents Vicky’s rise to fame, her journey of faith, and her battle with mental health struggles. It is a real page-turner and often heartbreaking. She speaks openly about the shame she felt around her sexuality and how it led her to contemplate suicide. That story alone bought tears to my eyes, but there are several other moments that are equally hard to read as an evangelical. Hearing how old pastors and work colleagues from the Christian music industry cut her off when she went public about her sexuality, and how other conservative Christians attacked her over social media was particularly chilling.
However, even though my heart goes out to Vicky, and I mourn the way she has been treated, I cannot agree with the theological decisions she has made or the social campaign she has started out on. Vicky is not only gay but also argues in favour of same-sex marriage in the Church. She considers herself to be a modern-day Wilberforce, taking the road less travelled in the fight for an inclusive Church (p.182). This strikes me as ironic, since 1 Timothy 1:10, a verse that would have spurred Wilberforce on as it clearly speaks against slave traders, is also a verse that openly speaks against same-sex marriage. The same verse that inspired Wilberforce should encourage Vicky not to head down the path she has taken.
An argument of two parts
Vicky’s argument focusses around two points. Firstly, that the traditional Christian sexual ethic is harmful, and secondly, that Christians do not have to follow it.
Vicky argues that our sexual desires must be acted upon, and that if we suppress them, this will, at best, cause us harm, and, at worst, lead us to suicide. Because of this, she argues, the traditional Christian sexual ethic is harmful to gay people.
On this point, I want to partially agree with her. The traditional Christian sexual ethic can be harmful, if that is all you hear. I am same-sex attracted, and as a young man I knew that Christians believed marriage was for unions of one man and one woman, and so, my experience of same-sex attraction made me feel guilty. To deal with this guilt I tried to deny my sexuality and the attractions I had, and I pretended that everything was fine. This led me to a dangerous place. From reading Undivided, I think Vicky tried to do the same thing.
However, the traditional Christian sexual ethic does not stand in isolation. When we read Romans 1:18-32 and hear God’s condemnation of homosexual acts, this could make those of us who are same-sex attracted feel guilty (as it could anyone who feels the weight of sexual sin), but, if we keep on reading, we get to Romans 3:21-26, and we find the answer to our guilt. We are made right with God by faith, not by being heterosexual! The traditional Christian sexual ethic must always be married to the gospel. It can be experienced as harmful if we let Scripture convict us of our sin without also letting it take us to the cross.
The traditional Christian sexual ethic must always be married to the gospel.
Guilt and shame, in themselves, are not bad things. They are signposts that take us to Jesus, and when we go to Jesus, we find forgiveness and love. Once we are with Jesus, we are united to him and given his Spirit. With his Spirit within us, we are able to be honest about our sexuality and are given the resources to be able to live out the traditional Christian sexual ethic, an ethic that is not harmful but life-giving, so long as it is married to the gospel.
On Vicky’s second point I have less sympathy. She claims Christians no longer need to follow the traditional Christian sexual ethic and that the Holy Spirit has led her to reject it. She argues that the Church has been wrong in the past and has changed its position on such things as slavery, and so in the same way, it should change its position on sexuality (pp.69-76). Vicky speaks about a powerful spiritual experience she had while reading Acts 10 and how she came to realise that she had viewed homosexual acts as ‘unclean’, but God was telling her they were in fact ‘clean’ (p171).
There is much I could say on this point, and I would encourage you to read Sean Doherty’s article on the subject of slavery. But my main critique is summed up in one question: how are Christians meant to know what God thinks?
Vicky claims the Holy Spirit has led her to reject the traditional Christian sexual ethic, but this is the sexual ethic that the same Holy Spirit inspired the biblical authors to write down (2 Peter 1:21). She uses Acts 10 to justify her decision to reject the traditional Christian sexual ethic. But is that really a fair way of reading Acts 10? At no point does it mention homosexual practices; she has simply projected that onto the text. Surely we must let God’s word in Scripture dictate what is ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’, what is good for us and what is sinful? On the subject of homosexuality, the Bible is clear that homosexual acts are sinful because the Bible has a wonderfully different, and good, understanding of what sex is for.
If God does not speak comprehensively and clearly through the Bible, then, in the end, there is no way of knowing what God thinks about anything. This will result in theological uncertainty and, sadly, Vicky herself demonstrates this. She starts by rejecting the traditional Christian sexual ethic, but once she begins down this road, she soon questions other central Christian beliefs. In a radio interview near the end of her story, she was happy to undermine that salvation is by Christ alone (p.267). If Christians are not even able to answer the important question of how we can be saved, then how can Christians know anything about how life should be lived, or even what God is like?
An incredibly helpful book
However, even though I disagree with Vicky Beeching, I have got to be honest and say that I found this book incredibly helpful. I am a Christian who is same-sex attracted, and I have only ever known acceptance, support, and love from the different churches I’ve been a part of. It was good for me to hear the story of someone who has experienced a vastly different side of the Church as it has inspired me to play my part in helping to build a more biblically inclusive Church. For this reason, I would encourage any church leader to read this book. It demonstrates powerfully the destructive consequences of preaching truth without love, and that is something no church leader should do.