Vicky Beeching: 'Same sex marriage should be celebrated'
Vicky Beeching has a varied portfolio these days – from Thought for the Day on Radio 4 to paper reviews on BBC and Sky, she's exploring a world quite different to that of leading worship in some of America's megachurches.
Her recent support of same-sex marriage has been unpopular with many of her evangelical followers (she talks about a barrage of criticism and abuse she has received online since beginning to speak up). But it has won her fans and friends in other places – she has recently been nominated for a National Diversity Award as 'Positive Role Model Award – Race/Faith/Religion', and become an ambassador for Accepting Evangelicals, alongside Steve Chalke.
In light of these recent developments Vicky caught up with Christian Today, sharing what she's been up to, her thoughts on evangelicalism and whether she thinks we'll see the Church fully accepting gay people in our lifetime.
CT: How do you feel about being nominated for this diversity award?
VB: I was really touched to be nominated. It's a ray of sunshine in what's been a very difficult couple of months since I started speaking out in favour of LGBT rights.
CT: There's something quite significant about an evangelical Christian being nominated – they're not known for being a very diverse bunch, are they?
VB: Exactly. Not many evangelical Christians hold the theology hold that I do in affirming that same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage is acceptable to God and can be celebrated.
CT: Why did you decide to be an ambassador for Accepting Evangelicals?
VB: Since speaking out about LGBT theology I felt very isolated by the evangelical Christian community – I needed to form new links with people who are on the same page. There's very few of them, but Accepting Evangelicals has been around for a decade. They've really laid the groundwork, and were having that conversation [about sexuality] long before the Church was.
CT: Tell us more about what they do.
VB: They're a hub for anyone that wants to see the conversation happen. They have a membership and they equip people with resources to further the conversation in their churches about biblical perspectives on sexuality. They're also a support system.
CT: Do you still consider yourself an evangelical?
VB: It's important to me to retain evangelicalism as part my Christian identity. I don't think the two [evangelicalism and supporting same-sex relationships] are incompatible. I don't want to lose what evangelical means; there are so many good aspects of it. The Bible is as important as ever; my LGBT theology comes from a high view of scripture, not throwing the Bible out the window. People have accused me of watering down what the Bible says, but for me it's about using the brain God has given us to put the verses [about homosexuality] into their proper historical context.
CT: What are you seeing/hearing in the way UK Christians are discussing issues around homosexuality?
VB: In the UK Church it is still very much taboo to talk about sexuality. Lots of people privately have more open minds than they're willing to admit to in public. I think there's a fear within big Christian conferences that if that subject is on the agenda it will affect attendance numbers and finances.
I've posted three blogs about my support for same-sex relationships and equal marriage. I was amazed at the engagement – over 30,000 hits and almost 500 comments per post. The tone of those comments and of the many emails that have been pouring into my inbox is disappointing to me. It was quite vitriolic and quite personal. I wanted to host a genuine debate, with people talking to, rather than past, each other.
CT: Where are you going to take your blog series next?
I'm not sure. I think the agressive commenting has left me with lots to think about. I think forums like Twitter and blogs aren't conducive mediums for discussing something as sensitive as sexuality. For some people it's not [abstract] theology, it's a lived experience and a very painful one at that.
CT: Some Christians are asking for a biblical exegesis of the texts in question. Why haven't you done that on your blog?
That was a really specific decision for me. The conservative commenters on my blog get very aggressive.
I wasn't willing to have my LGBT readers, who bravely share their personal and vulnerable views in the comments section, ganged up on by aggressive, conservative readers - many from the American Bible Belt - in a way that feels insensitive and inappropriate. I love blogging but have had to come to terms with the limitations of the format. I have recommended a whole load of books and resources on the topic and will be writing a book.
CT: How do we learn to reconcile a support for diversity/equality with what many regard as the traditional biblical orthodoxy?
VB: People looking into the Church can think it's a really homophobic environment, but there are a growing number of people like me who are desperate to see it change. I've been encouraged to see the Church of England launch an initiative to stand against homophobic bullying; I'm looking forward to the day when we will see the Church of England offer equal marriage in church for LGBT Christians because people of faith want to get married in their own churches. There's a long way to go, I want to add my voice to seeing that change within my lifetime.
CT: You've talked about the need for gracious engagement – where have you seen good examples of that?
VB: I've been so impressed with the work of David Porter, the Archbishop of Canterbury's Director of Reconciliation. He helped the Anglican Church navigate the tensions around women bishops. He's doing a really good job encouraging peaceful dialogue between all the different factions.
He and I both agreed that although doctrine, ie what we believe, is crucial, as important is the spirit of love with which we treat one another. Paul says in Corinthians: "If I...can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing". In that context, however right we think we are, if we're right without love, it's worth nothing in the eyes of God.
CT: What would you say to people with more liberal views about the way they engage with those holding a traditional evangelical view of marriage?
VB: I'd say that change comes out of relationship. Getting to know people with different views can be transformative. I would encourage people to sit down with people who think differently and allow each other to share perspectives. It's in a context of relationship that I think we'll see the Church begin to change its doctrine.
CT: Where do you think this is heading? Will there be a split in the Anglican Church, or can we find a way to be together despite our disagreements?
VB: We're not just talking about the Anglican Church in UK, we're talking about the whole Anglican Communion, and within that the average churchgoer is an African woman in her 20s. She's from a very different context and culture from modern day Britain. I think it's difficult to imagine having a church globally that can cross such different cultures. I wouldn't be surprised if we see that prove itself to be impossible.
I believe that standing up for LGBT rights is an issue of Christian justice. Many LGBT people in places like Africa are treated dreadfully – they're persecuted – so the more we can do here to stand up for them, the better.
CT: What's been the reaction generally to you speaking out?
VB: Since I've started speaking up for LGBT rights, initially on Clare Balding's show and Sky News, it's been very shocking the kind of messages I've received. My previous job in America for almost a decade was music –my songs are some of the most frequently sung in American churches. Since speaking out and blogging about equal marriage there's been a boycott of my songs. My income comes from royalties, so unless they're sung, I lose my income, which has been difficult. It's been deeply painful to see people writing off 15 years of my work, saying that it's now tarnished.
CT: What's your favourite song from your back catalogue?
My most well-known song in America is 'Glory to God forever'. One section of the song says 'Take my life and let it be / All for you and for your glory'. In making this decision to speak out, those words still ring true as much now as they ever did.