Last week saw a public announcement by Vicky Beeching, Christian singer and songwriter, that she is gay. Predictably, the reaction to her story, published in The Independent, has been mixed. Some, despite disagreement, have paid tribute to her courage and integrity:
‘I’d like to publicly offer my love, prayers, support and thanks to Vicky who has modelled Christian behaviour, tolerance, compassion and understanding to someone with whom she is ideologically opposed.’ http://carolinefarrow.com/2014/08/14/message-of-support-for-vicky-beeching/
Others have been more critical. Scott Lively, for example, an American anti-gay campaigner, said on Channel 4 News that she has given into a lie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GivMLlmeAU. For me, this is a bit like telling a person with one leg that they are wrong to think that this is okay because God has ordained that people have two legs. But more on this later.
A more sensitive critique has come from an evangelical ordinand on this side of the pond: http://deanroberts.net/2014/08/14/vicky-beeching-is-gay-so-what/ He is concerned that the description of the prayer ministry that she received may reflect badly on churches that don’t offer such ministry. He is also concerned that her reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury may result in undue pressure being placed on the Church of England: ‘Look what you’ve done to her. You better issue an apology and pass canon law to allow same sex marriages.’
I understand these concerns. They come from the heart. However, my own feeling is that they fail to take account of both the breadth of Vicky’s audience and the reality of the experience of gay people within the church. Telling her story as it is, prayer ministry included, has allowed her to communicate some important messages:
Firstly, to the conservative evangelical churches that have formed a major part of her background, a message that many are unwilling to accept: ‘I was absolutely committed to change. I wanted nothing else. Yet despite years of struggle, prayer and deliverance ministry, I’m still gay.’ Secondly, to the Christians who continue to struggle with their faith and sexuality: ‘I’ve been hurt too, but it doesn’t have to be this way. God loves people like us just as they are – gay.’ Thirdly, to the wider church and world, ‘This is me. I’m gay. I’m a Christian. I’ve been hurt, but I still want to take a full part in the life of the church.’
All these messages strike me as hugely important, particularly when she has been booked to speak on LGBT theology at a number of venues in the coming year, including the Greenbelt Festival this weekend. It seems right to me that those present should know where she is coming from and that she is speaking for the LGBT community rather than about them. For some, this is an important distinction: http://therachelmannblogspot.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/oasis-open-church-lgbt-voices-privilege.html
Meanwhile, if Vicky’s revelations result in more pressure being placed on the church to change, then I’d see that as a far better outcome than people saying ‘Look what they’ve done to her. I don’t want anything to do with them.’ Indeed, it looks to me as if she was working hard to limit this latter response. The media tends to be intensely critical of the church, stirring up trouble wherever it can. However, Vicky’s refusal to name and shame the camp at which she received ministry, together with her emphasis on not being angry with the church, both show that this was not her agenda. I would suggest that her primary concern throughout has been for honesty and integrity and for the abuse to come to an end:
‘What Jesus taught was a radical message of welcome and inclusion and love. I feel certain God loves me just the way I am, and I have a huge sense of calling to communicate that to young people… The Church’s teaching was the reason that I lived in so much shame and isolation and pain for all those years. But rather than abandon it and say it’s broken, I want to be part of the change.’ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/vicky-beeching-star-of-the-christian-rock-scene-im-gay-god-loves-me-just-the-way-i-am-9667566.html
In the light of this, I would see her references to the Archbishop’s family as a show of solidarity with them. After all, that’s what being ‘close friends’ is about:
‘Even when you don’t agree… love can supersede everything.’
All this fits with what she has since said on radio – that she wants to see the church get to a place where members can agree to disagree on the rights and wrongs of homosexuality, but still be family.
It’s a vision I can identify with. When theologians have such widely differing views on what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, I don’t think it is right for the church to dictate to its members how they should behave. Part of what the Protestant Reformation was about was the freedom of individuals to reinterpret the Bible for themselves rather than submit without question to established authority/tradition. That said, I have difficulty seeing how an agreement to differ could work out in practice. Whilst I can picture a church where clergy are free to decide whether or not they wish to bless a gay marriage, I struggle to picture a church where the ministry of people who are practising homosexuals is fully accepted by those who believe such acts to be sinful. As I see it, that will only happen if and when homosexuality ceases to be seen as an impairment to be fixed and instead begins to be seen as an impairment to be fully accepted, lived with and even welcomed.
Now I’m fully aware that this is controversial. As the responses to Vicky’s revelation have shown, acceptance of any impairment as ‘okay’ will be a huge challenge to those who see it as sinful. Meanwhile, many in the LGBT community will be very quick to affirm that homosexuality is not an impairment in the first place! So let me explain further.
The Disabled community defines impairment and disability as follows:
Impairment: An injury, illness, or congenital condition that causes or is likely to cause a loss or difference of physiological or psychological function.
Disability: the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in society on an equal level with others due to social and environmental barriers.
Their point is that an impairment need not be seen as a problem. Lots of us have them. They may result in behaviours (such as using sign language) that depart from the norm, but they don’t stop us from being fully human. On the other hand, disability *is* a problem because it’s about what society does to those with impairments in not treating them as full members.
In as much as homosexuality appears to be an innate psychological difference from the heterosexual norm, I would see this model as helpful. If we don’t have an issue with people with a body or mind that is different from the ‘God-ordained’ norm living out their faith in the way they believe is right for them, we shouldn’t have an issue with people with a sexuality that differs from the ‘God-ordained’ norm living out their faith in the way they believe is right for them. Indeed, as the privileged majority, I believe we should help structure both church and society in a way that enables them to do so with integrity.
Meanwhile, much has been written by others on the subject of whether the Bible condemns homosexuality and I’m not going to repeat all of it here. I will, however, say the following:
Yes, there are verses in the Bible that condemn homosexual acts. However, in the context of a fully consensual, committed, loving relationship, where there is neither abuse nor promiscuity, it seems to me that the only thing that could make homosexuality sinful would be something in the physical acts themselves – e.g. oral sex, anal sex, mutual masturbation etc. For the Old Testament Hebrews, these would most certainly have been an issue. The Law, as given in Leviticus, places a lot of emphasis on bodily fluids and what is to be done with them. Contact with them was a major concern and carried the potential to separate people from God. For example:
‘When a man has an emission of semen, he must bathe his whole body with water, and he will be unclean till evening.’ (Lev. 15:16)
‘When a man has sexual relations with a woman and there is an emission of semen, both of them must bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.’ (Lev. 15:18)
‘Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period.’ (Lev. 18:19)
‘If a man has sexual relations with a woman during her monthly period, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it. Both of them are to be cut off from their people.’ (Lev. 20:18)
‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.’ (Leviticus 19:22)
‘Do not eat meat with the blood still in it.’ (Leviticus 19:26)
‘I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people.’ (Leviticus 17:10)
These things mattered hugely. So anal sex, with its potential to mix semen, blood and faeces, almost certainly would have been seen as a major taboo. But in the early Christian church, contact with bodily fluids, including blood, became much less of an issue. Such contact was no longer seen as potentially separating the person from God. On the contrary:
‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body… What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.’ (Mark 7:18-23)
I would suggest that this is precisely the reason why the church doesn’t waste valuable preaching hours telling heterosexual couples how to behave in bed or what they should do afterwards. It’s become a non-issue. In the same way, I would suggest that it’s a non-issue for those who are gay. As I see it, the main reason Paul condemned homosexual acts (Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:9-11) is because they happened in the context of lustful, promiscuous and/or abusive relationships together with a more generally immoral and godless lifestyle. Such relationships were well known in Graeco-Roman society. They happened openly and hence would have been worthy of comment. But now the LGBT community have shown us something of which Paul probably knew nothing. They have shown us deeply loving, consensual and committed homosexual relationships that harm no-one. So will we still seek to condemn them? I hope not, even if we would feel unhappy about doing the same ourselves.
‘For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit…’ (Galatians 5:14-15)
‘The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.’ (Galatians 5:19-23)
How much better for us to concentrate on living this out ourselves!
‘Take my life and let it be
All for You and for Your glory
Take my life and let it be Yours’