Undivided: A Review of Vicky Beeching's New Book
FOR THOSE WHO DON'T know, Vicky Beeching is a former Evangelical worship leader from the UK who came out in 2015 as being gay and in support of 'same-sex marriage'. Those who share her views see her as a reformer within the church. Those who disagree with her views see her as a misleading teacher.
Her book ‘Undivided’ came out this week.
Because my book review will be mostly from a place of disagreement, I wish to say a sympathetic word to begin with: she has been through a rough time. Beeching has been in the unfortunate position of carrying a secret and feeling unable to share it―the result was a sickening sense of shame which crippled her. Anyone who cannot read her book and feel some compassion for her is a rock―even if they disagree with what she is trying to argue.
Beeching’s struggle is genuine. As a young person, she had same-sex attraction (SSA) and didn’t feel she could talk to anyone about it. That is tragic regardless of how she now chooses to interpret these events in terms of Christian doctrine.
A Deconversion Tale
In some ways, Beeching’s book is not unique. In the last few years, a sort of cottage industry has been built up on the foundation of quasi-deconversion stories. These tales involve various Christians―usually (former) Evangelicals or Catholics―recounting how they left a historic or orthodox understanding of the Christian faith, for something more in keeping with modern attitudes. Feminism and LGBT world views are often the topic upon which the change is based. It’s not that they don’t identify as Christians anymore. They do. But they renounce certain historic Christian doctrines that many in the church feel are quite central to being a Christian.
Surprised at Trolls?
In her book, Beeching expresses shock at the fact she gets a lot of push back for challenging the historic understanding of marriage. In this manner, her book is similar to other deconversion tales and it is an element that puzzles me. Really? What should we expect when we challenge something so central and historically important to people of a faith community? A welcome mat? She mentions all the negative social media comments she gets. To her credit, she doesn’t play the ‘victim card’ to the same degree that some others in her position have―though at times it seems she comes close to doing so.
Beeching makes much of the trolling she has received as if something strange has happened. Beeching’s network is substantial. Her Twitter platform is a substaintial 66k followers, yet even my more modest account of 20k gets plenty of trolls. A few recent comments on my tweets and blog articles include:
‘This is the most simplistic piece of writing I’ve seen in a long time.’
‘You’re teachings are dangerous.’[sic]
‘You are an out and out misogynist and false witness.’
‘When will you ever stop talking crap about things you have absolutely no understanding of?’
But I'm sticking my head out and addressing controversial topics. I expect no different. I'm in no way a victim.
The difference between a true reformer and a false teacher is a matter of direction: one is taking us towards greater faithfulness to Scripture and the other is taking us further away from it. But both must expect to wade through plenty of reproach in order to get to their destination. Let no one who wants to bring about significant change be shocked to find they must wade through the swamps of toxic opinion.
Your Orientation or Your Teaching?
Beeching writes about her coming out, ‘People I’d known my entire life suddenly saw me as different because my orientation did not match theirs.’ But is this really the case with the UK church? Do we reject for teachers for their orientation? Or, because of what they affirm the nature of marriage to be? We have respected leaders such as Sam Allberry and prophetic voices like David Bennett who both experience same-sex attraction. Most believers do not reject others simply for having a different 'orientation'. We reject (or should) public teachers who declare that marriage can be between two people of the same gender.
The book is largely her memoirs. Many of these, the account of her American friend’s attempted suicide in particular, are very emotive. But the book is also peppered with arguments seeking to persuade us of the compatibility of homosexual acts with Christian teaching. She often uses ‘trajectory arguments’―the belief that the church, over time, is progressing in its understanding of what the Bible teaches and what God desires of us.
These are not new, but it’s fair of her to point out that some issues, like slavery, which many people thought were clear, were not so clear upon closer examination (a truth that cuts both ways). If her only point was that we need a bit of hermeneutical humility from time to time, I would ‘amen’ her. But it's not.
Beeching gives many citations (like a good Oxford grad) of Christians in the past who have had different views on issues like slavery and women’s suffrage (Galileo’s name was even invoked). Like most others who have used this line of reasoning, Beeching tries to lead us to the conclusion that we are progressing in our understanding of the Bible and that, given enough time, we too will soon accept ‘gay marriage’ just like most of us oppose slavery and (some) think it’s perfectly fine for women to be ordained ministers. But such arguments are not new and many of us who have heard them before remain unconvinced―both in terms of the idea of ‘progressive understanding’ in general and the comparison between slavery and gay marriage in particular.
There are other arguments she recounts, such as the supposed lack of clarity of the Greek word ‘arsenokoites’ for homosexuality, but there is really nothing new here. She uses an ‘inclusive hermeneutic’ to do an exposition of Acts 10 and 15 (comparing gay identity to circumcision). She writes, ‘Just as the Gentiles could fully join God’s family, now LGBT people could too.’ Just as non-kosher food is now sanctified, now gay sex is ‘clean and holy’.
And perhaps this will disappoint some on both sides of the debate: Beeching gives us nothing new in terms of theological argument. If you have been following the debate of LGBT ideology in the church, then it is only her story, not her arguments, that will be new to you. These arguments have been dealt with in countless academic debates already and found wanting. I respect the honesty of queer theologian Pim Pronk who, after acknowledging various arguments that Beeching attempts, confesses in his book Against Nature?, ‘To sum up: wherever homosexual intercourse is mentioned in Scripture, it is condemned. With reference to it the NT adds no arguments to those of the OT. Rejection is a foregone conclusion.’ Pronk goes on to argue for acceptance of homosexual acts―just not on the basis of the Bible. He makes no pretences of having an Evangelical view of Scripture.
About 2/3 through the book the tone shifts and we see a more militant Beeching. Through her memoirs she seemed to be asking for understanding for her journey. But when it comes to the subject of Christians who have left behind them a gay lifestyle, the tone shifts. She seems dismissive of all of those who claim to have had genuine change in their lives―not only in terms in regards to sexual desires―but sexual practice as well.
I think Beeching is smart, so I’m not going to let her off the hook so easy for conflating issues like ‘SSA’, and ‘Ex-Gay’. They are nowhere near the same things. She writes, ‘Conversion therapy, reparative therapy, or even just prayer ministry for people with SSA. The goal was the same; either to change someone’s orientation or to reinforce their need to reject their attractions and stay single.’ Those are two very different things. Implying that conversion therapy is comparable to someone who identifies as a ‘celibate gay Christian’ who denies acting on their sexual desires in order to honour Christ with their bodies is appalling. I may disagree with Beeching on several issues in her book, but this is perhaps the one place I am unable to respect her. She is too smart for this to be a slip of the pen. She is lumping issues together that should be dealt with separately and thoughtfully.
Even though the church is filled with countless unwed, celibate, heterosexual Christians, Beeching feels it is not right to call people with SSA to this same standard of celibacy. She responds to this argument in the book saying, ‘If you’re a straight Christian… that still gives you the hope of finding a person of the opposite sex, a life partner, and committing to them. But if a Christian gay person can’t have sex outside of that heterosexual paradigm, there’s no hope for them to have a life partner ever.’
Yes, some heterosexuals may have the hope of getting married and having sex. But some never actually do―even though they badly want to. Some live their lives in self-pity. Some go out and have sex outside of marriage thinking it will satisfy them. Still others, realise that love and intimacy need not be sexual―and go on to find fulfilling spiritual relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ.
Beeching argues forcefully that being gay and called to celibacy is entirely different from being a heterosexual who is unable to find a partner and who needs to ‘control their lusts’. But I found her line of argumentation unconvincing here. (If you wish to follow her logic, you can find these arguments at Kindle location 2966―or about ¾ through the book)
Beeching argues that the call to celibacy is ‘the equivalent of the red tape loaded on the early gentiles―above and beyond what God required and leading to loneliness and isolation rather than abundant life.’ Here I believe Beeching is putting far too much confidence in romantic and sexual relationships as a cure for isolation and loneliness. Sexual love is not the highest form of human love. Jesus, our role model, was celibate and lived a fully human life. Paul was single, and he was thankful for it. One wonders if Beeching is subconsciously more influenced by Freud here than on what the New Testament actually teaches about the celibate life.
We can live without sex. We can’t live with without intimacy. It is fuzzy reasoning that conflates the two.
Of the title, Undivided, she writes: ‘Being undivided meant accepting both my faith and my sexuality.’
But this raises the all-important question that undergirds so much of the wider discussion: did Christ come to affirm us in our entirety, or did He come to change us and separate us from ourselves?
What are we to make of it when we read that Christ came with a sword that separates ‘spirit and soul asunder’? Or that he holds a winnowing fork with which to ‘separate the wheat from the chaff’? Christ says ‘deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me’. Don’t we need renounce some parts of ourselves in order to embrace Him? This isn’t about denying our broken condition or hiding the truth of how we feel. It’s about letting Him be our master.
Beeching writes ‘Its about finally feeling comfortable in our own skin.’ But is this really the Gospel? To feel comfortable? Is it to be affirmed just as we are? Or, is it to be transformed into something new? We do not deny the existence of our orientation (in the broadest sense of the term we all have an orientation towards sin), but we do deny that we will make such orientations our master. We cannot serve both God and our sexual desires. We do not keep our sexual desires in secret denial or anxiety. But we do not have to obey them either.
Beeching, I’ve never met you, but you seem to be a likeable person and we are the same age. As a trans-Atlantic, Earl Grey sipping, theologically minded introvert myself, I would love to meet you some day. I would want to listen―and then probably seek to persuade you as you have sought to persuade so many through your book.
I don’t know if you’ll ever read this review. But, if you do, my thoughts of you centre on what you wrote about yourself in chapter four, that you’re ‘never one to go half measure.’ How true! You've swung from one extreme to the other. You’ve gone from being part of a strict, Pentecostal church environment into the throes of gay activism. Does the idea of being a celibate Christian who is open about her same-sex desires seem too middle of the road for you? May we both embrace the hermeneutical humility you call the church too.
[For those who desire a complimentary memoir to read alongside Beeching’s book, I would recommend that of my friend, David Bennett, who took the opposite journey. He went from living as a gay activist to being, as he describes himself, ‘a gay, celibate Christian’ Evangelist. His book is also on Amazon HERE ]
For more, please check out our book Elijah Men Eat Meat: Readings to slaughter your inner Ahab and pursue Revival and Reform