As part of LGBT+ History Month at Southlands College, we’re producing a series of book reviews. Here Nicola Morrison reviews Undivided by Vicky Beeching.
Trigger warning: discussion of conversion therapy
Sexual orientation and religion has long been a contentious issue. Within the two Christian traditions that have formed me (Anglican and Methodist) I have encountered a whole host of theological perspectives that lead to contradictory positions; either embracing, excluding, or seeking to limit the intimacy of those who do not identify within heteronormative structures.
As a heterosexual Christian female I have observed from a place of privilege the very deep pain of others seeking to reconcile faith and sexual identity within traditions that seek to deny (as sinful) rather than to affirm (as fearfully and wonderfully made) their identity. As an adolescent, having been exposed to some pretty prohibitive teaching, perspectives concerning sexuality often seemed to me to be as much about power than they did about reflecting a God of good-life-affirming-creation. This tension always troubled me and when at university, which was where I really started to think for myself, I resolved not to perpetuate a perspective that was capable of administering so much unGodly heartache, but rather to listen to the experiences of those equally convicted of God’s love who also identified as LGBT. Many beloved voices have enriched my understanding of God, scripture and community, and Vicky Beeching in her autobiographical book ‘Undivided’ is in my opinion an absolute champion among these voices; offering an essential testimony on reconciling her evangelical Christian faith and sexual identity.
In her youth Vicky Beeching enjoyed global success as a Christian singer-songwriter. Encountering fame at a young age Vicky was held up as the poster girl of an evangelical church tradition that holds conservative views on both gender and sexuality. ‘Undivided’ is a painful account of Vicky’s experience of growing up in a faith tradition that viewed her intrinsic sexual identity as unacceptable. In it she shares the hidden and traumatic experience of many who feel compelled not only to conceal their sexuality but also view it as abhorrent and something from which they need ‘healed’.* As the title suggests Vicky explores the divide this caused within her own sense of self and the life-denying damage to both her emotional and physical wellbeing caused by the pressure to suppress her true identity in order to be considered acceptable. The book also chronicles Vicky’s exploration of scripture and the discovery of different interpretations, perspectives and communities that affirm rather than deny those that identify as LGBT. Here she found hope and strength which led to her ‘coming out’ and put her on a pathway to self-reconciliation and wholeness, albeit at a cost to her career and her relationship to the evangelical community to which she has belonged since childhood.
For me, ‘Undivided’ exemplifies how identifying as LGBT is compatible with a loving and affirming relationship with God. It is also a shameful reminder that faith communities, the church at least, can sometimes fall so dreadfully short of God’s fundamental command to love our neighbours as ourselves; regardless of theological convictions, Vicky’s story provokes profound and critical questions to those who would seek to condemn and exclude members of the LGBT community. As such ‘Undivided’ is a must read for any who identify with Vicky’s personal experience. It is also a must read for those who do not. For allies like myself it is a story that deepens my understanding, strengthens my convictions and helps me scrutinise my own privilege and power. For those who hold contrary convictions, especially those within the church, it offers an uncomfortable and often silenced account of the common experience of those who identify both with a life of faith and as LGBT. Once known this account should not be dismissed but rather enhance understanding and challenge the destructive ways in which we can relate to others, especially, and somewhat ironically, when seeking to exercise ones belief in a God of love and grace.
As someone who grew up with an appreciation of Vicky’s music I have and even greater appreciation of her courage and insight shared in this book. Author and speaker Rob Bell puts it as well as I ever could: ‘she’s not just offering theological perspective or timely opinions here, she’d showing us in flesh and blood what hope looks like’ (p.i).
Rev Nicola Morrison is Methodist Chaplain at the University of Roehampton.
* Conversion therapies have been condemned by all major UK health organisations as they try to shame a person into denying a core part of who they are, and this can have a seriously harmful impact on their mental health and wellbeing. Learn more and join the campaign to ban conversion therapies.