Vicky Beeching comes out

Vicki Beeching is a rising star in the evangelical pop-music world. Her music is played in churches and on Christian radio all over the US and UK and she has told the world that she is gay and that God loves her just as she is.

Beeching is an Anglican. She is a regular commentator on the BBC and Sky News, is an Oxford-trained theologian, a PhD candidate, and has been influential in the Anglican Church’s debates on gender. She personally told Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby that she was gay.

She came out to Patrick Strudwick of the Independent:

…Beeching, normally enlivening Radio 4’s Thought for the Day or any number of Sunday morning TV discussion programmes, sits opposite me in a café in Soho. She pushes a piece of paper in my direction. It is a précis she has written of her background: of growing up in a conservative Christian household in Kent, first in the Pentecostal Church then in the evangelical branch of the Church of England, of going to Oxford to study theology, of the EMI recording contract that sent her to Nashville 12 years ago and launched a successful singer-songwriting career… and then a line that jars and jolts. I turn the piece of paper over and look up to see her smiling nervously.

“I’m gay,” she says, confirming what is written. She has never said this publicly before – a handful of people in her private life know. She has only just told one her closest friends, Katherine, and Katherine’s father, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The enormity of the political ramifications of this disclosure scarcely have a second to sink in – a theologian who spends holy days with the Archbishop, whose God-fearing lyrics are sung by millions in America’s Bible Belt, coming out as a lesbian – before I begin to reflect on the implications for her personally.

Jonathan Merritt at RNS interviews her:

Christian musician Vicky Beeching has written songs that have reached Gold status and hit the top 100 iTunes chart. But now the 35-year-old British musician is singing a different song about her sexuality. Beeching told “The Independent” that she is gay in an interview published on Wednesday….

…RNS: What do you want to say to those in the American church who’ve sung your songs but now feel conflicted or at odds with you? What’s your message to them?

VB: I’d ask them to believe I’m still the same person I’ve always been. To believe that I mean the words of the songs I’ve written as much as ever. My sexuality doesn’t define me, and my sexuality shouldn’t dictate whether my songwriting is useful for the church or not. I’d encourage them to rethink their views on LGBT Christians and explore whether they may need to grow in flexibility. I’d also say that there are probably people in their congregations who are wrestling with the secret of knowing they are gay, and can’t speak up. I hope my story encouarges conservative churches to break the silence and allow the conversation around sexuality and faith to happen in places where it previously has been taboo. I’m not angry at the church, or bitter, but it has been a long an difficult journey. I hope that my story touches their hearts somehow and that they know I extend peace and friendship to them and hope they can somehow do the same to me.

RNS: Your parents hold a conservative view of homosexuality, but you have remained close. How might this teach others about maintaining a relationship despite disagreement?

VB: My parents are great. It came as a real shock to both of them when I told them about my sexuality. We had the conversation at Easter this year, and I was very moved by their response. Even though they still hold a traditional view, they have shown me that their unconditional love for me as their daughter makes it totally possible for us to still be close. They’ve gone out of their way to make me feel deeply loved and accepted. I think that demonstrates that it is possible to disagree on some things, yet not have to lose the entire relationship. That’s unconditional love in action.

Peter Ormerod talks about why this is matters:

In 2014, this shouldn’t be a story. But since it may lead to change in Britain’s constitution and save lives, everyone should pay attention.

With 45,000 Twitter followers and a regular slot on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, Beeching is arguably the most influential Christian of her generation. She is, among other things, a singer and songwriter, and has long been admired by conservative evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic. She has been a star of the Bible belt and a mainstay of the British evangelical scene, from where she hails.

A perception remains that the C of E’s only relevant contribution to national life is as an organiser of village fetes and purveyor of cake. But it also has a confident and thriving evangelical wing. This often does good in the areas it serves but is part of the barrier to gay people who want to marry in their local Anglican church. Opinions within it vary widely and many evangelicals abhor homophobia. But two truths apply almost invariably to its churches: that they are members of the Evangelical Alliance, which appears equivocal on whether homosexuality is inherently sinful, and that they view Beeching as one of their own. Since knowing a gay person often changes people’s minds on the issue, there can be hope that Beeching coming out can help shift the centre of gravity and end an institutional and constitutional injustice.

But this issue extends beyond the C of E. Beeching’s experience of homophobia among Christians has left her literally scarred: her forehead is marked by a disease resulting from her turmoil. Some have fared even worse – a young gay American killed himself following an alleged “exorcism”, while concerns have been expressed about the effect of homophobic preaching on others who have taken their lives.

Today in Britain, the US and elsewhere, gay young people are being told by men and women in whom they place their trust that their feelings result from demonic possession and can be prayed away. Beeching tells of being “exorcised” at a festival for young Christians. I know gay Christians who speak of similarly scarring experiences. Emotional and spiritual abuse has been and is being perpetrated against gay young people. It must stop.

Church leaders understandably don’t want to appear obsessed with sex but this is a matter of life and death. Festivals for young Christians, such as Soul Survivor, must be explicit about their acceptance of homosexuality, and the wider church’s words on the issue must be matched with actions. The campaign against homophobic bullying in C of E schools is welcome, but when the church itself fails to treat gay relationships as equal to heterosexual relationships, its message is undermined.

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