Simon Reader reviews Vicky Beeching’s new book, Undivided: Coming out, becoming whole and living free from shame.
I had the good fortune of meeting Vicky Beeching a few times when I worked for Linda Woodhead and the Westminster Faith Debates – Vicky had interviewed Linda for her Faith in Feminism project, and thereafter attended a few of our debates in London. She also very kindly agreed to speak at one of our debates in Oxford on the future of the Church of England. As I greeted her there at the University Church, she asked if there was somewhere quiet she might have a moment or two to pray and gather her thoughts before the debate. Vicky is someone who takes her faith and the future of the Christian church extremely seriously, and her recently published memoir Undivided is a testament to that.
However, it’s also a heartfelt and deeply moving account of Vicky’s torment at being unable to reconcile being gay with what the Christian church has taught about human sexuality, particularly from within the evangelical tradition she grew up in. Vicky’s story is remarkable – as a prominent and popular figure within American contemporary worship music, her professional success hung on being in harmony with a view of sexuality and relationships that was inflicting profound harm upon her mental and physical health. As such, coming out in 2014 meant the loss of her Christian music career and place in the evangelical faith community, as well as inviting the homophobic invective of some of its more extreme elements.
Undivided charts Vicky’s life from growing up within the evangelical church tradition, through studying Theology at Oxford University, before moving into a breathless and, at times, dramatic life at the forefront of Christian worship music in the USA. It describes numerous painful episodes of inner agony as her church and much of her fan base subscribed ardently to a theology that abhorred or claimed to be able to ‘cure’ the person she knew she was.
Yet as her health was pushed to the brink, Vicky’s faith never seemed to waver; she found in scripture and theology a more affirming and loving God, giving her courage to be herself and to turn her experiences into something redemptive. Although her music may now have taken a back seat, this memoir is something of a redemption song.
I remember when Vicky came out as gay in 2014, and I remember the ways in which her story shed light for many on the experiences of young LGBT+ people being brought up in Christian communities. Even those within the more liberal Anglican tradition who might have condemned the language of outright homophobia, realised that their silence around homosexuality had left young LGBT+ people to draw their own conclusions – that they were outsiders, that they were irreparably broken, that church couldn’t really be a place of welcome for them.
Like Vicky, I grew up under the pernicious Section 28 legislation, when this silence was shamefully echoed for my generation in schools and classrooms across the country, with the support of Christian churches. The journalist Patrick Strudwick – incidentally the same journalist Vicky entrusted with her coming out story – wrote recently on the 30th anniversary of that legislation about how the public war between LGBT+ activists and politicians was well documented, but the private battles of the children it so malignly affected was not. Likewise, the Church’s public disagreements about sexuality are well known enough, but Vicky’s book brings to light the grievous and sometimes fatal harm that it continues to cause young LGBT+ Christians.
So long as the Church of England continues to kick this debate into the long grass, it should know that it is kicking people there too.
Although there is great sadness and regret in the book, it is also full of hope and optimism – along with one or two very funny anecdotes (the one about meeting the CEO of the biggest Christian radio network in America made me laugh out loud). Considering everything she has been through, it’s miraculous both that Vicky found the courage to tell her story, but also that she continues to have faith in the future of a Christian church that has done her so much harm. Some might say that a church which is not willing to embrace the gifts and the gumption of people like Vicky does not deserve to have that future at all.
Undivided ought to be widely read by those Christians who find themselves as yet unable to affirm the equal rights of LGBT+ people to marriage, happiness, family life and the church’s welcome. They may not realise the untold damage they have been doing; after this memoir there can be no excuse. But perhaps Vicky’s book is of greatest value in the hands of young LGBT+ Christians suffering in the same way that she did. I have no doubt her story has been a lifeline to very many young people already, and she tells it here with a raw honesty and an engaging style that teenagers will be able to connect with.
The book is dedicated to Lizzie Lowe, a fourteen-year-old girl from Manchester who tragically took her own life in 2014 because she feared telling her Christian community that she was gay. Vicky has honoured her memory here with bravery, intelligence and grace.
Vicky’s book Undivided: Coming out, becoming whole and living free from shame, is available to buy here.
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