A preview of what I’m writing for the next issue of Marston Times:
Vicky Beeching is a Christian musician who for a number of years was one of the most popular singers on the multi-million dollar American Christian music scene. She also studied theology at Oxford University, and in more recent years, after returning to the UK, she has worked as a broadcaster, often offering commentary on current events on radio and TV. She has even been tipped as a future presenter of BBC’s Songs of Praise. In August this year, she “came out” in an interview with the Independent newspaper, stating publicly that she is gay.
Hers is a profoundly moving and honest testimony to what has been the experience of many people for whom faith in God is the foundation of their whole lives, and yet who also realise that a sexual orientation towards their own sex is a “given”, an integral part of who they are. She describes how, even as a 12-year old, she realised that she didn’t share her schoolfriends’ interest in boys. Instead, she found herself increasingly attracted to other girls. This caused her intense shame and guilt, because she ‘knew’ it was condemned by Scripture and church teaching – certainly by the conservative churches which she attended. She tried keeping her feelings to herself, changing the way she felt by prayer and will-power, even seeking spiritual healing by going forward at a big prayer and worship gathering. Here she was subjected – by a group of adults and Christian leaders – to what was effectively a form of exorcism as they attempted to drive out the demons of homosexuality that possessed her. It’s hard to imagine the psychological trauma and damage this inflicted on a vulnerable teenage girl, or to forgive the cruelty of the people responsible.
Fortunately, Vicky was intelligent and strong enough to survive, and she knows God well enough to have come to the point where she is able to say, “I’m gay. God made me the way I am, and God loves me just the way I am.”
Such a public statement, from such a public Christian, obviously adds to the heat of the current Church debates on sexuality. There will be some who are so entrenched in their views that they simply refuse to accept the testimony of gay Christians that they haven’t chosen their orientation, it is just their God-given identity. Others may argue that the Church should love and welcome gay people, while not accepting that same-sex relationships can be part of God’s plan. I wonder if it’s really coherent to accept that God created and loves gay people, but wills to deny them the support and blessing that marriage affords to heterosexual people?
For me the issues about inclusiveness in the Christian community really beg the question: who would Jesus exclude? My reading of the stories in the Gospels leads me to think the answer is: No one. Jesus wouldn’t exclude anyone, or condemn anyone as being outside the reach of God’s love. (Look at the way he fed the five thousand, no questions asked; the way he healed lepers and Gentiles; the parable of the lost son – among many other examples.) Actually, I should maybe say the answer is, Probably no one. Because there were some groups of people Jesus had very hard things to say about. These were the hypocrites – people who pretend to be religiously better than everyone else. (Perhaps, like religious people who think they are OK because they are straight, and condemn gay people?) And there were the religious people who cause a more vulnerable person to stumble (Mt. 18.6) – like the people who tried to convince a young girl struggling with her sexuality that she could not be acceptable to or loved by God unless she changed. Would Jesus exclude hypocrites, and these? I don’t think he would – but the fact is they have effectively excluded themselves or cut themselves off from being within God’s plan.
Vicky Beeching has already exposed herself to hatred and abuse from parts of the Christian community that formerly loved her. It would be better for us all to thank God for her courage, pray for her, and pray for ourselves to understand more clearly the amazing richness of the mystery of how God has created human beings, and God’s longing to welcome everyone into the commonwealth of his love.