For those of you who are thinking ‘Vicky who?’ let me give some brief background.
Vicky Beeching – acclaimed Christian singer-songwriter, worship leader, Oxbridge-qualified theologian, contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day programme. Currently in her mid-thirties, Vicky has long been one of the bright stars of the charismatic evangelical rock-worship scene, and her albums have sold millions worldwide, particularly in the US.
As an aside, in all of this Vicky Beeching has represented many of the things I myself once aspired to. I’ve long been a worship leader in a similar tradition to hers; I’ve written a number of songs; I’m passionately interested in theology. Don’t tell anyone, but secretly I might well have been tempted to envy her the success, the popularity and the song royalties.
Then just a few weeks ago Vicky announced to the world, via an interview in the UK’s Independent newspaper, that she was (and always had been) homosexual. Unsurprisingly, all hell broke loose in the Christian world – or at least the charismatic evangelical world of which she was such a well-known and well-loved part. And sadly, but again unsurprisingly, many in the church were quick to attack and criticise her, to write her off as a sinner and deceiver, and to consign both her and her musical back catalogue to the garbage.
Meanwhile Vicky’s response has been unfailingly gracious, thoughtful and Christian – I would go so far as to say Christlike. She has refused to respond with anything but grace to the venom and prejudice directed at her by so many fellow Christians. She has refused to give up on the church, though parts of it have given up on her. She has spoken out calmly, reasonably, rationally, intelligently and with great dignity.
To my mind Vicky Beeching has emerged from this unenviable situation little short of saintlike. I’d guess she must have suffered considerably through this whole episode, both emotionally and financially. I know she has suffered physically – the stress of concealing her sexuality led to a life-threatening auto-immune condition in which her body started attacking itself, soft tissue turning into scar tissue. (As I understand it, it was this in the end that led to her decision to come out publicly, to stop concealing and repressing the truth of her sexuality. You might even be tempted to wonder whether, just maybe, God might have forced her hand.)
Unity in uncertainty
I still can’t honestly say that I’m sure for myself on the whole homosexual question. I don’t know for certain whether all (or any) homosexual orientation is innate. I don’t know whether any form of homosexual relationships can ever be ‘okay’ in Christian terms. My strong personal feeling now is that it can, but I don’t know.
What I do know is that I’m in no position to judge, condemn or write off anyone on the basis of their sexuality, or of the choices they make before God according to their own conscience and understanding.
And what I also know is that people like Vicky Beeching – fellow flawed human beings doing their best to follow Christ – need and deserve our full support and kindness, not rejection or condemnation. We can still have fellowship in our difference, and unity in our uncertainty.
God’s paradox – power in weakness
There’s also a profound irony and paradox in this whole situation to my way of thinking – which suggests God’s hand in it, because God is nothing if not a God of profound irony and paradox.
Vicky Beeching is a highly talented, intelligent, successful person who has dedicated all her considerable gifts to God’s service over the years, to general acclaim and doubtless to great effect. She has had a highly successful international ministry which has probably impacted countless people’s lives for good.
Yet (and here is the irony and paradox) it may well be in her brokenness that she is of greatest service to God. It may well be in this very public and painful situation which was not of her making or choosing that God uses her most powerfully. Her most enduring legacy to the church and the world may arise from what for years she was taught to view as shameful and unacceptable.
I think there’s an important truth in this for each of us. Many of us may secretly hanker after the kind of successful career or ministry Vicky Beeching has had up till now – whether because we want to serve God in the most effective way, or simply because we’re attracted to the money, acclaim and popularity. (It may well be a bit of both.) And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being successful in using our God-given talents.
But God does seem to like to do things in upside-down, expectation-confounding, convention-upsetting ways. He seems to enjoy working precisely how we would never imagine or choose. ‘My power is made perfect in your weakness’ is a favourite motto of his. So rather than it being our great successes and gifts that God most wants to use, it may well be our weakness and woundedness, our areas of brokenness and rejection, of shame and pain and humiliation.
Even with Jesus we can see this to be the case. Jesus had the most amazing ministry of healing and teaching that the world has ever seen. Yet it was in his final few hours of utter humiliation and loss, of rejection and agony, that he truly changed the world. I believe that there is much more to Christ than just the cross, and I no longer subscribe to evangelical understandings of the atonement; but I’m convinced that the cross of Christ is in some way central to the redemption of the cosmos and all humanity.
All in this together
Of course, Vicky Beeching is human like the rest of us, flawed like the rest of us. I’ve no wish to make her into a plaster saint. But the point is that she is no more flawed than the rest of us. For sure, we shouldn’t put her (or anyone else) on a pedestal, but nor can we put her (or anyone else) in a cage marked ‘bad Christian’ or ‘fallen woman’ where we can dismiss and condemn and scapegoat her.
We’re all a mess in different ways, and we’re all in this messy world together. Together we can also be part of the redemption of the world, but only by acknowledging our own flaws and not trying to put them onto other people who we dislike or disagree with, who we think are the problem. The problem is always us; the solution always starts with ourselves.
Which also means, annoyingly, that I can’t just dismiss and condemn those who have reacted so negatively to Vicky Beeching’s story. I disagree with them, but I can’t afford to judge them. There but for the grace of God go I.
I remember when the highly-regarded evangelical minister and Bible expositor Roy Clements came out as gay about 15 years ago and started arguing that homosexual relationships were okay for Christians. At the time I was convinced he had gone badly wrong and was leading others astray with false, unbiblical teaching. Now I’m far less certain; I think it was probably me that was wrong – certainly in my attitude, if not in my thinking.
So I applaud and marvel at Vicky’s decision to remain within the evangelical church, a decision which seems to me both courageous and generous-hearted. The evangelical church desperately needs the presence and support of people like Vicky; needs voices and stories like hers. And maybe, just maybe, through people like her, the upcoming generation of evangelicals will be more open to diversity and difference. Maybe, just maybe, Vicky Beeching is God’s ambassador and apostle to the evangelical church.
Vicky Beeching used to lead worship at Soul Survivor and New Wine; it may perhaps be too much to hope that these organisations will welcome her back again in this capacity. But maybe one day that won’t be such an impossible dream.
I have to admit I’ve never bought one of Vicky Beeching’s albums, and I don’t know many of her songs. I have a feeling that much of the theology they express would be too conservative for my current tastes. But still, I’m half wondering whether to buy one now anyway, as an act of solidarity and support.
You’ll probably never read this, but God bless you, Vicky Beeching.