In 2014, the well-known British Christian musician Vicky Beeching ‘came out’ as lesbian, and has been an ever-present interviewee even on mainstream media since. Grace Dalton (left) asks whether her recent TV and radio interviews reflect the authentic message of Christianity.
Several years ago, Vicky Beeching’s albums were -deservedly – selling well and her music being regularly played on Christian radio. In the last month, she’s been all over mainstream media. A worship singer songwriter on BBC Hardtalk, Lorraine, The One Show, Unfiltered (a podcast from Joe.co.uk, a site with a substantial following), Sky News, and Radio 2? Further internet searching quickly digs up an interview with TalkRadio, and articles in major newspapers. I can think of few things more potentially exciting than a Christian witness all over the mainstream media. Yet I’m heartbroken. These interviews have each been about the supposed evil of the evangelical Church.
“Several years ago, Vicky Beeching’s albums were selling well and her music being regularly played on Christian radio. In the last fortnight, she’s been all over mainstream media. A worship singer songwriter on BBC Hardtalk, Lorraine, The One Show, Unfiltered (a significant podcast), Sky News, and Radio 2? I can think of few things more potentially exciting than a Christian witness all over the mainstream media. Yet I’m heartbroken.”
Of course, it’s vital that our allegiance is specifically to God, so much so that attachment to the Church is trivial by comparison. It is imperative that we all are willing to call out ways in which the Church is definitively deviating from Christ’s teaching. But to many non Christians, criticism of the Church is reason enough never to explore Christ at all. They do not differentiate – it’s all “religion” that they want nothing to do with. Homophobia is one of, if not the very most heinous crimes for which Christianity is despised in our culture today; whilst to affirm and support the LGBT movement is one of society’s most celebrated virtues. Corporations score brownie points by participating enthusiastically in Pride celebrations; media gleefully praises individuals who endorse homosexuality and from pop culture to politics it is universally agreed that the LGBT cause must be lauded.
It’s brilliant that most people within our society want to be supportive of minorities and despise the unacceptable bullying that gay people have experienced in the past. I cannot brush past this: some gay people have been genuinely abused, and as Christians with a commission from God to seek justice and to be good Samaritans, we have greater reasons to speak up against such evil than our atheist contemporaries whose ideology reduces every human to a random amalgamation of molecules.
But fundamental distinctions need to be recognised between different treatments of gay people. To disagree with a person’s sexual choices is different from harassing or attacking because of them.
In Vicky’s interviews, she and her hosts deplore the Evangelical Church for how she has been mistreated, yet the foremost example of this she offers is being prayed for — at her request — at a Christian festival. She describes this as an exorcism, but an exorcism is either a meaningless hoax, or an affront to real spiritual forces, as Jesus practised on numerous occasions. Exorcisms can involve throwing “holy” water and forcefully restraining people whilst they spasm, but this is not what happens during prayer ministry at Evangelical festivals in the UK, nor what Vicky describes. Claiming to have undergone an exorcism is disingenuous; she’s misleading listeners who are unfamiliar with prayer ministry into imagining a scene from a horror film.
For years afterward, she describes having undergone “more subtle conversion therapy” entailing simply talking with Christian councillors who asked about past trauma. This is entirely unlike the forms of conversion therapy that have been rightly condemned. It’s reported that some gay conversion therapy victims were struck with electric shocks or induced to vomit whilst being shown images that would arouse the same sex attraction — the aim of which being to link homosexual desire with pain or disgust in their subconscious. Vicky mentions that some victims suffered “corrective rape”. It’s obviously right for these practices to be condemned, and the perpetrators whose “therapy” was not requested by their subjects, jailed. But it is very, very wrong to conflate these mistreatments with consensual, compassionate conversation. By maligning Christian counselling and imploring the government to ban it, Vicky is cruelly cutting off a potential lifeline for others.
“The ultimate tragedy is that Vicky, though claiming to still be a Christian, is fervently deterring listeners — literally millions of people around the UK and beyond — from exploring Church. Thus, effectively, from exploring Christianity. She doesn’t even argue that Jesus is in fact loving and accepting; she simply bashes the Church.”
The ultimate tragedy is that Vicky, though claiming to still be a Christian, is fervently deterring listeners — literally millions of people around the UK and beyond — from exploring Church. Thus, effectively, from exploring Christianity. She doesn’t even argue that Jesus is in fact loving and accepting; she simply bashes the Church. Her interviewers are understandably confused as to why she continues to affirm Christianity — and she does nothing to testify to the awesome gift that we are offered through Christ, the evidence supporting theism or the joy God can give. It’s not my place to pass judgement on her relationship with God — but I can’t comprehend how someone who truly loves Him could pass up the opportunity to proclaim The Good News and would instead essentially forbid people from people exploring Him.
James O’Brien is one of my favourite journalists, he’s usually remarkably quick witted, and can do a remarkable job of critiquing, but can also be amazingly empathetic. Most often, he’s hosting daytime phone-ins on LBC radio, but his interview with Vicky is part of a podcast series of his for Joe.co.uk, a magazine website for millennials. James grew up attending a Catholic school, and thus is familiar with aspects of Christianity — but hearing him and Vicky trash the Church stings. After discussing Vicky’s family background in the Church — which, in the absence of any further testimony from Vicky as to how she became a Christian, elicits scepticism about whether she ever personally chose to commit — James asks her what Evangelical means. “It’s a form of Christianity, which is quite modern in its expression, you may have heard it referred to as Happy Clappy… still have quite traditional theology… that same sex relationships are sinful.” No mention of the Evangel – that Evangelicalism is first and foremost about spreading the Gospel. Most listeners will be relatively or completely unfamiliar with the word — and Vicky is defining Evangelicals by the issue that causes most controversy with the outside culture and which is barely discussed within Evangelicals, at least this side of the pond.
“Does not loving Jesus, as Vicky Beeching claims to do, not prompt us to trust that His disciple, who wrote about a quarter of the New Testament, shouldn’t simply be overruled to suit our preferences?”
They laugh at the fact of tea and biscuits in Church services and mock the speech of Bible Belt preachers. But what is truly disconcerting is their criticism of Paul, who James suggests is responsible for the problem of Christianity’s disagreement with homosexuality, and Vicky has no objections. Does not loving Jesus, as she claims to do, not prompt us to trust that His disciple, who wrote about a quarter of the New Testament, shouldn’t simply be overruled to suit our preferences? Similarly, she equates herself with the first disciples — and even compares herself with Christ — in a speech at an “LGBT Christian” conference (now on Youtube), as she tells her audience that they are moving towards acceptance by the Church, but must persevere through being hated and persecuted for the sake of their mission, as did the apostles and Christ on the cross.
“It’s entirely unjustified to conclude that Jesus would accept homosexuality on the basis that He is not recorded as having directly addressed it. The fact that Jesus is not recorded as having mentioned it does, however, compel us to avoid making it a paramount issue.”
“Jesus never said a single word, not a syllable, about homosexuality,” James proclaims — but the New Testament contains only a tiny selection of Jesus’ words, and they are those which were most relevant to the readers at the time. It’s very possible that He said something about homosexuality during His 33 years that wasn’t recorded; or that He had no need to say anything about it, in either case because the people amongst whom He lived and spoke were agreed that God had outlawed homosexuality. Jesus decried divorce when asked about it — demonstrating that there were things to which He was opposed but which He discussed only when asked. It’s entirely unjustified therefore to conclude that Jesus would accept homosexuality on the basis that He is not recorded as having directly addressed it. The fact that Jesus is not recorded as having mentioned it does, however, compel us to avoid making it a paramount issue. I would conclude that, whilst some Levitical laws — such as consuming shellfish and wearing mixed fabrics — are no longer binding because they were given to avoid specific pagan rituals and health risks at the time; laws against homosexual practice are ongoing (for Christians) since the acts are not forbidden on a situation specific basis, and whilst the New Testament voids the ceremonial laws, it reaffirms sexual purity laws. However Jesus’ focus was that hearts be turned to God. Turning to God might lead to those hearts seeking to adhere to God’s guidelines; but it is un-Christlike and nonsensical to debate sexuality with those who are not yet interested in following God. This makes it particularly inexplicable that, if Vicky does love God as she claims, she would choose to make this debate public; if she believes that the Church is wrong about sexuality, why not focus her efforts on trying to make change within it and make the Gospel the focus of conversation with the wider world? Instead she seeks to sell books by reiterating to the public prejudices they have long held about the Church.
“As Christians, we have a duty to scrutinise ourselves and our Churches to expose and eradicate words and actions that may have contributed to anguish amongst LGBT people; but it is unqualified to assume that her psychological struggle would be primarily the fault of the Church.”
Vicky ascribes her affliction of scleroderma to the stress that she endured because of hiding her sexuality. If it were proven that Vicky’s condition was the consequence of emotion, it would be fallacious to presume that the Church was responsible. LGBT individuals are continually found to be at higher risk of mental health struggles, without involvement with Churches. 12% of lesbian women have reported experiencing long term mental health problems, compared with 4% of heterosexual women. Musicians too are far more likely to suffer severe stress. As I type, news headlines are circulating about well known rapper Mac Miller having committed suicide. The same day would have been the birthday of multi-platinum DJ Avicii — but he took his life earlier this year. The history of the music industry is dense with mental breakdowns. As Christians, we have a duty to scrutinise ourselves and our Churches to expose and eradicate words and actions that may have contributed to anguish amongst LGBT people; but it is unqualified to assume that her psychological struggle would be primarily the fault of the Church. Furthermore, if God had in fact communicated to Vicky that she is correct about sexuality, why would she inwardly feel extreme turmoil to the point of developing physical manifestations? Is internal anguish not more associated with guilt?
Moreover, what, I wonder, is the basis of her assertion that stress is the cause of her scleroderma? Consensus on Medical websites is that causes are unknown:—
NHS: “It’s not clear why this happens.”
Scleroderma.org: “The exact cause or causes of scleroderma are still unknown.”
Mayoclinic: “Doctors aren’t certain what prompts this abnormal collagen production [scleroderma], but the body’s immune system appears to play a role. In some genetically susceptible people, symptoms may be triggered by exposure to certain types of pesticides, epoxy resins or solvents.”
Medicinenet: “The cause of scleroderma is not known. Researchers have found some evidence that certain genes are important hereditary factors, but the environment seems to also play a role.”
Medicalnewstoday: “It is not known what causes scleroderma possibly environmental factors, but this has not been confirmed.”
Scleroderma Research Foundation: “The cause of scleroderma is still unknown. Scientists are working diligently to understand what biological factors contribute to scleroderma pathogenesis….Some research suggests that exposure to some environmental factors may trigger scleroderma in people who are genetically predisposed to it, but evidence is far from conclusive.”
Scleroderma News: “Scleroderma does not have a known genetic cause. … Some evidence points to possible environmental triggers of scleroderma. For example, infections by some bacteria or viruses and long-term exposure to some chemicals, such as pesticides, silica dust, or polyvinyl chloride, are thought to be linked to the disease.”
“When James O’Brien asks if there was not something about the cliché of ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin,’ Vicky says that this is something that the Church came up with to pretend that it’s not homophobic. In fact it’s a fundamental principle of the Gospel. God loves us — so much that Jesus gave His life — but He hates our sin. As Christians we should be guided by this in our relationships with others.”
As Vicky describes growing up, she recounts “epic loneliness” because she couldn’t tell anyone about her sexuality — but why should this prevent platonic and familial relationships, so much as enforce loneliness? Even the feelings, she opines, were condemned as sinful by her Church community. Were this indeed the message conveyed, I agree that her Church was in error; the Bible forbids the action and does not mention the orientation. However when James asks if there was not something about the cliché of “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” Vicky says that this is something that the Church came up with to pretend that it’s not homophobic. In fact it’s a fundamental principle of the Gospel. God loves us — so much that Jesus gave His life — but He hates our sin. As Christians we should be guided by this in our relationships with others. The failure of some Churches to love the sinner needs to be dealt with, but loving the sin is not the answer. Vicky claims that this is impossible, since one cannot sacrifice this part of who they are — that is, one’s sexuality. Our secular society would agree to this dogma; but we follow a man who lived without sex, and accept the writings of an apostle who did the same. Nuns and monks have lived celibate, and some Christians have remained so because homosexual orientation. “It’s hard to be told that you are loved if your potential way of loving others is said to be hated,” Vicky laments, as though the love of God, the love of friends, and sexual love are all the same. Did she not consider rejecting Christianity, rather than sexuality? James ponders; no, she expounds that too much of her life was tied up with it. Family, Church and Christian classmates were her reason for clinging to Christianity; she makes no mention at this point of God.
Apparently keen to avoid seeming too biased against Christianity, James recites what he deems to be the positive points of Christian teaching: “Be excellent to each other; love your neighbour; do unto others as you would have them do to you;” and Vicky chuckles, “Good summary of the whole religion.” But it isn’t a good summary at all! Has she truly missed the Gospel? She moves on to state (rightly) that The Message was that we’re all sinful, but Jesus came to die for us, “so the place of shame in Christianity is really only supposed to be the bad news before the good news — but then, for someone like me, there is no good news.” I find this thoroughly bemusing. The salvation Jesus offers, such that we can eternal life in joy with God, is The Good News; the potential to have sex isn’t.
“In her best known work, Vicky sang ‘May I never lose the wonder of the cross.’ And that is, literally, the crux of the matter, which she appears to have forgotten — the wonder and majesty we are invited to look upon is genuinely far superior to sex.”
Vicky professes, “My mission is to set people free, to be themselves, before it’s too late” — the tragic irony here is painful. Jesus came to set people free, and we are called to proclaim Him to them before it’s too late. Too often, we lose sight of this, and we should be reminded by Vicky to refocus on the great commission; but it’s heartbreaking that she’s reached a point of avowing commitment to something entirely separate from The Good News. Does she truly believe that sexual liberation is the greatest thing humans can experience?
I fear that this ramble of mine has all come across as far more harsh than I mean to. I’m certainly not unconcerned about Vicky’s experience; rather, I’m deeply unsettled by the potential for her interviews to deter listeners from Churches where they might meet God. In her best known work, Vicky sang “May I never lose the wonder of the cross.” And that is, literally, the crux of the matter, which she appears to have forgotten — the wonder and majesty we are invited to look upon is genuinely far superior to sex. We need to be proclaiming it to our world, not squabbling about fleshly functions. We need to — urgently — humble ourselves to consider when we’ve been un-Christlike in our treatment of LGBT individuals, and to repent of judgementalism. But we need to prioritise God over popularity, by attesting to our world that He is infinitely greater than sexual fulfilment.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”…
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
(John 8:3-11, NIV)
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