Undivided (Vicky Beeching) -- A Review
UNDIVIDED: Coming Out, Becoming Whole, and Living Free from Shame. By Vicky Beeching. San Francisco: Harper One, 2018. Xiii + 290 pages.
Not everyone is on board yet, especially in conservative religious communities, but attitudes towards LGBTQ persons are changing, and they’re changing quickly. The Supreme Court ruling a few years back, legalizing same-sex marriage across the country, was a game changer. That’s not to say that the debates and resistance is over—bakers, wedding sites, and churches may still be resisting—but there really is no turning back. Even a more conservative Supreme Court isn’t going to go back to what was. While the broader culture seems to have accepted LGBT inclusion, there is still much debate going on in Christian communities. While the Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Disciples and the United Church of Christ have made their peace with this changing reality, the United Methodist Church (the largest Mainline Protestant denomination) is being torn apart by the debate. As for the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and more conservative Protestants, the resistance remains strong. At the same time more and more studies are emerging, especially regarding the biblical texts. In fact, it could be said this has been well-litigated. When it comes to same-sex marriage, in my opinion, most of what the Bible has to say can be applied to both same-sex and opposite sex marriages (see my book Marriage in Interesting Times: A Participatory Study Guide). So, what is really needed are testimonies from LGBTQ persons, their family members, and their allies. It seems to me that debates over biblical interpretation can become overly abstract. Testimonies make it personal. Then again, having family members who are gay, and church members who are gay and even transgender, makes this a relational question, as much as it is a biblical or theological one.
There is an increasing number of books that give account of life in the closet and the healing that comes when the closet is exited. None of the testimonies suggest that coming out is easy, but many find that upon emergence from the closet they will find accepting family and friends. Of course, this isn’t always true, especially when one’s context is a religiously conservative one. A common theme of these testimonies is the need to deal with a life time of teachings on sexuality that condemn same-sex relationships. When you have lived with these teachings for many years, you come to believe that your sexual orientation is sinful. You may seek “freedom,” but this rarely comes, and so one lives in a state of shame. You don’t dare share your story, lest you be rejected. So, you keep in and that creates its own unhealthy consequences.
Vicky Beeching is a former Christian singer, songwriter, and worship leader (in megachurches there is the worship leader is a performer as much as a leader). In her book Undivided, she gives her testimony of growing up with the sense that she was gay, that homosexuality was a “sinful lifestyle choice,” and that if she was to be a Christian she couldn’t embrace this sense of identity. What follows is a review, which may reveal elements of her story. If you like to read a memoir without knowing any of the details, beyond what I’ve already revealed, you might want to stop here, and simply order up the book and read her story for yourself. I believe the book is a worthwhile read, for anyone wondering whether one can be gay and Christian. I don’t know if The Guardian newspaper is correct in its declaration that she is “arguably the most influential Christian of her generation,” but her story is compelling, even if you, like me, hadn’t heard her name before encountering the book.
Drawn to music ministry as a young teen born and raised in England, Vicky Beeching began to write music and share it in churches and other venues, apparently gaining a wide following that led to recording contracts and world-wide tours. At the same time, she began to realize that she was gay. These two realities couldn’t be held together. The communities in which she shared her gifts strongly condemned same-sex relationships. One could not be a worship leader and gay. It simply wasn’t done. She made the choice to be musician, while trying to suppress and get rid of this overriding sense that she was gay. It wasn’t until she was in her mid-30s that she finally came out of the closet, which cost her that career that she valued so highly. She had no choice, because years of suppressing her sexuality had led to significant health consequences. All of this is recounted in this book, which, as memoirs are apt to do, humanizes the debate. It is one thing to discuss the topic in the abstract, pulling this or that scripture into the conversation. It is another to see how real people wrestle with their sexuality and the communities that form their understandings of their own sexuality. After my brother came out nearly twenty years ago (he was about the same age as Beeching), I found that reading Mel White's Stranger at the Gate was very helpful. I knew the biblical texts and the ways in which they are interpreted. One can read studies without being personally touched by them, but the fact that Mel White had been a professor at the seminary I had attended, earning two graduate degrees, and had pastored the church I once attended, opened my eyes more fully. His story made clear that this is not something one "chooses." No one would go through the trauma he went through to "overcome" his homosexuality. It was a painful journey, but in the end, he accepted who he was, embraced it, and began living as the person he had been created to be.
Vicky Beeching's memoir has the same feel as Mel White's. Their stories are different, but the core message is similar. The church's message that homosexuality is sinful and contrary to God's design has proven to be damaging to each person’s life. They both had to come to grips with this reality. One difference here is that White had, as many do, married, had children, while Beeching remained celibate, perhaps out of fear, until after leaving the closet. Since this is a memoir, I don’t want to give away too many details. I’ve probably already given away too many.
I agreed to review this book, which the publisher offered to me, even though I was unfamiliar with her name or story. My lack of familiarity with her life and music likely stems from the fact that I haven't been attuned to the Christian music scene for some time. When I think of Christian music, the names that come to mind are Larry Norman, Amy Grant, Andrae Crouch, and Sandy Patty. In other words, in terms of Christian music, I’m stuck in the 1970s and early 1980s. Nonetheless, I chose to read and review this book because I am interested in well-told testimonies told by Christians who happen to be gay or lesbian or bi-sexual or transgender. I am especially interested in the stories of those who come out of the evangelical world, and whose theology is evangelically oriented.
As noted above, Beeching was a beloved Christian musician and song-writer, who was raised in Pentecostal churches in England, and whose songs were sung in churches across the world. Her sense of call to music ministry was complicated by a distinct sense of attraction to to girls rather than boys (at a very young age). She knew she was different, but she also knew that her faith community condemned same-sex relationships as sinful. Like many in her situation, she tried to suppress this identity, believing it to be evil. She bought into the message, even as she knew it didn't make sense. She would go on to study Bible and Theology at Oxford, while continuing in music ministry. That led to a move to Nashville, and more open doors. Again, she had to suppress her sense of identity to fulfill her dreams. But this aching sense that she was gay wouldn't go away. Like many gay Christians, she contemplated suicide. In time, she discovered she could no longer stay in the closet. While, she had never pursued relationships with women, even as she turned away numerous men who were interested in her, finally as she entered her mid-30s, with her health deteriorating, she came to the realization that she could no longer remain in the closet. Her career in music wasn’t worth killing herself with stress. So, she came out. Things went as she anticipated, mostly, but the freedom and healing that came with exiting the closet, proved to be a blessing. As for the details, I will leave them to you.
I can say that the book’s subtitle, which speaks of "coming out, becoming whole, and living free from shame," is an apt description of her story, which I believe is well worth reading, especially if you are struggling either with whether to come out or whether to move into a new understanding of the Christian faith and homosexuality. If you, like me, have already made the move, this is still worth reading.