One True Voice?

different-views-joshua-wardYesterday I talked a little about the importance of sexuality and the difference between the gospel’s understanding of life and the world’s. I’ve had a few questions and emails asking if this has been prompted by the debate surrounding Vicky Beeching: a Christian who has recently come out as gay and has been speaking about her experiences. I’ve followed the media coverage with interest and I think it’s great that she and others are talking about these issues. But I haven’t  commented on her, because a)  I don’t know her and b) I don’t think this debate is about one individual.  Or more accurately, I think it’s about lots of individuals, not all of whom share her perspective, or her platform.

Beeching’s courage is to be applauded – not least because she’s in the firing line for criticism as well as support. But hers is not the only story. Many others feel as she does but have reached different conclusions about what the Bible says and how they respond – and these people are courageous too.

Homophobia is disgusting and wrong. Beeching is absolutely right to highlight and condemn it, especially within in the church.  But the problem with the media coverage is that it often puts Christians into one of two camps: those who ‘agree with Vicky’ or those who are anti-gay, (and often anti-sex). In reality there are a wide  range of opinions within the church: including those who identify as gay, hate homophobia and disagree with her conclusions about what this means for life. I say ‘her’ but this is precisely the problem: it’s not about ‘what Vicky thinks’  – it’s about what  the Bible says and how we try to read it faithfully. This is not to undermine Beeching or her story (which is of real value), but to recognise that the debate goes beyond any one individual.

Yesterday the Guardian argued that Beeching has done more to advance the cause of homosexuals in the church than anyone else. She is to be commended for highlighting injustice and for having the guts and vulnerability to share her story. But here’s the problem.  Hers is not being portrayed as one voice among many. Instead we’re presented with a one woman warrior, standing alone against a poisonous organisation. This posits a false dichotomoy between a church that hates (homo)sexuality and one which embraces every expression of it. It also ignores many within the church who have been and continue to support their brothers and sisters – irrespective of sexuality or anything else. (See for example Living Out).

My problem is not with Vicky or the ways in which we agree and differ.  My problem is with the media’s depiction of Christianity as a rule instead of a relationship and the reduction of a loving community to the prejudices  of a minority within it. The danger  is that the  focus is taken off Christ and placed upon someone who is no doubt brave and lovely, but also human and fallible.  Within the church there are many with stories every bit as brave as Vicky’s, and these voices deserve to be heard as well.

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6 thoughts on “One True Voice?

  1. Thanks Emma, a good post. I agree. Although, maybe I’m naive but I do think most Christians here have heard the stories of people with same-sex attraction who retain a traditional stance on same-sex relationships. People like Ed Shaw, Jonathan Berry, Vaughan Roberts, Wesley Hill, Mike Davidson, Sam Allbery etc do have voices that are already being heard – many of us will have heard at least one of these stories. Vicky’s story is different which I find quite refreshing in terms of the wider conversation. She has not glossed over the hard stuff. As a gay Christian I can identify with so much of what she went through – the shame, the secrecy, the sobbing, the coping mechanisms like workaholism. If people can forget about whether or not they agree with her theologically, and at least learn from what her experiences can teach the church, that alone could be of enormous benefit in helping move the church forward. Sometimes it feels like the church just wants to point at same-sex attracted people who have chosen celibacy and say “Look – they can do it. So should you.” As if that somehow addresses the myriad of fundamental issues experienced by same-sex attracted Christians in our churches. I’m afraid I’ve grown rather weary of being preached at by people with no desire to learn from the negative impact churches have had on gay people. Feels very much like they’re tying a heavy burden onto people’s shoulders without lifting a finger to help. But I suspect you’re already more aware of the issues than most, so I’ll leave it there. Thanks Emma for your insights.

  2. Thanks Sam. In this, as in so many other issues, there are no neat answers. And (as you know all too well) a church packed with sinners will make a lot of mistakes! But as we hear from Vicky, Vaughan and others, we can hopefully learn – and offer ongoing and compassionate support. Hopefully the current debate will be a part of this change, (without demonising either the church or individuals within it).

  3. Hey Emma

    I read your post with interest, just as I listened to the ‘breaking news’ when Vicky Beeching publicised the fact that she was gay.

    I have always been reluctant to comment on this topic as it is just so loaded. I guess I’ve taken the ostrich approach, more easily done as I am heterosexual and therefore have not had the seemingly impossible task of negotiating my faith and my sexuality. However, I have been thinking about the issue more over the past few days (thanks to the media) and trying to work out my ‘stance’ on the issue.
    Too hard.
    So… I commend your thoughtful and careful post here.
    As with most things, the media are guilty of making a difficult subject even more provocative, even more explosive and even more damaging. Tabloids gleefully attack the church and its followers, maximising the potential to cause mayhem in the minds of both believers and non believers.

    What it all comes down to is this: a band of beliefs as broad as it is long. A continuum of acceptance and condemnation, of agreement and disagreement. But when brought before Jesus, this mighty ribbon of belief, all the thoughts and opinions along it, just disintegrate, dissolved and absolved by his passionate love.

    I’ve written too much. Sorry! This is my belief. My hope.

    Firefly
    (WS)
    xx

  4. Hi Emma,

    These last two posts have been so helpful, thank you so much! It’s really prompted me to sort out a lot of the conflict I have in me about how I should deal with such issues in my everyday conversations. Here’s some things I find tough…

    I totally get what Firefly wrote…how can I comment on such things when I know absolutely nothing about such struggles with faith and sexuality? So I often remain silent on the topic. When the opportunity presents itself though, I relish the chance to share the love of Christ with my gay friends, but I always feel like I’m glossing over what the Bible says about homosexual relationships because I’m afraid of causing offence, but they deserve to know. How would you go about discussing these things?

    Also, I’m so conflicted about how I should deal with the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Personally, I don’t agree that it should be legalised based on what the Bible says, but again, who am I to impose what I think on an entire nation of people who should have the free will to live whatever way they like? I understand why so many Christians are emphatically active in protesting against it, especially as it hasn’t been legalised yet in Northern Ireland, but the result of that is always taking the focus away from Jesus and making people feel that Christians are homophobic and trying to enforce their beliefs on other people. But do we have a responsibility to uphold the Word of God? Do we have a duty to fight against laws that are contrary to it?

    SO MUCH CONFLICT

    Any advice or opinions would be super helpful. May Jesus’ name be glorified in all that we say and do x

  5. Hi Ruth
    Great questions – and I wish I had simple answers!

    In terms of talking with gay friends, I think we point back to the God who offers a much bigger and more beautiful version of life than this world’s perspective on sexuality. We’re honest about what the Bible teaches: but talk about how it changes the way we view all of life/sex etc – not just for one group, but for everyone.

    For legalisation of same-sex marriage, here’s an interesting article from Paul:
    http://christthetruth.net/2012/03/14/legal-recognition-of-marriage-and-the-way-of-jesus/

    Hope this helps

    emma

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