Traditional Christian theology has held that the Bible condemns homosexuality. This turns out to be a serious but persistent misreading of scripture. Because the church has gotten this wrong for so long, the number of lives of LGBTQ people crushed in terrible ways cannot be calculated.
In her new book, Undivided: Coming Out, Becoming Whole and Living Free from Shame, well-known British-born Christian musician (and now writer and speaker) Vicky Beeching describes her long, painful journey as a closeted gay woman within the evangelical wing of Christianity and her eventual decision in her mid-30s to accept who she is and acknowledge her sexuality to the world.
It's a compelling and important story that can help others come to terms with their true identities. It shines an important light on one of many ways the Christian church has gotten things wrong in its history by misusing the Bible -- things like its approval of slavery, its serious misunderstanding of astronomy (ask Galileo), its treatment of women as second-class citizens and more. She finally asked this: "Why did the church keep getting things so wrong, over and over, constantly finding itself on the wrong side of justice? It had been wrong about the solar system, slavery, women, interracial marriage and other civil rights." Excellent question.
"Since childhood," Beeching writes, "the church had taught me that homosexuality was an 'abominable sin.' As a result, I couldn't accept my own gay orientation. As an adult, my only survival solution was to shelve my feelings, keep them entirely private and assume I'd never be able to date or marry. This way I could still belong to my faith community, keep my livelihood -- the church-music career I loved -- and not risk losing everything and everyone. I was only twelve or thirteen when I first realized I was different, and knowing how 'sinful' these feelings were caused waves of shame to crash over me."
In fact, much of the rest of the book is a recounting of the shame she felt and how she sought to ignore it: ". . .I'd never acted on my feelings for girls -- not so much as even the briefest kiss, despite the fact that I was nearing thirty," she writes early in the book. "All of it was locked away inside as I tried to impeccably do the right thing by my Christian values."
This is a hard book to read without becoming enraged at misguided theology that damages people. At least once, Beeching came close to taking her own life instead of living in a closet full of shame and guilt. And we all know she's far from the only LGBTQ person to face such a stark choice.
The approach to the Bible that leads to this kind of misinterpretation is rather widespread in Christianity. It's a literalistic view that ignores excellent and necessary scholarship and also ignores the many times the church has had to change its teachings because they simply could not stand up to the evidence or to the moral chaos such interpretations caused. Eventually, she writes of the Bible, "I could see it was a far more complex book than I'd imagined."
Beeching tried confessing what she understood to be sin. She went through what she describes as an exorcism when she came to believe that demons were making her understand herself as gay. Eventually, when all that and more failed, "It seemed to me that I must be too broken for even God to fix." She felt psychologically damaged, "trapped and fearful."
It was only when, as a terrific student, Beeching went to Oxford for her college education and began to study theologians whose understanding of the Bible was different from hers that she began to sense a way out of her dilemma, though it took more years of study, prayer and counseling for her eventually to risk her career as an evangelical musician and come out. She was, of course, widely rejected by her faith community, though she began to discover others who made her feel welcome.
Those of you who have read my own last book, The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith, will not be surprised to learn how glad I was to find Beeching open up about her "obsession with having a faith that felt watertight -- one where everything neatly added up. . ." Instead, she learned that "faith should be rooted in mystery and wonder rather than in sterile claims of certainty." And later she writes this: "It seemed to me that a huge dose of humility was needed in all discussions of theology. . ." Exactly.
After she had come out in public and was learning how to survive in a different way, she says she "emerged with a deeper, richer spirituality rooted in mystery and wonder, a more honest faith that had room to breathe."
As I say, this is a compelling and important story. But a good editor would have helped her tell it in a somewhat more understated, less overwritten way. Sometimes, when telling an emotional story, less is more. This book could have used a bit more less.
At any rate, I hope that young people of faith struggling with issues of their own sexuality will find this book and that it will lead them to wholeness.
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HATE THE POLICY, LOVE THE POLICY MAKERS
The pastor of the United Methodist Church that Attorney General Jeff Sessions attends near Washington says the administration's now-altered policy of separating children from families at the border makes her cringe, but she says she'll refuse to dehumanize the architects of that policy. She's got it right twice.