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More thoughts on 'Undivided'

Depending which websites you look at, and who you do or do not connect with on social media, you may or may not be aware of reactions to Vicky Beeching's book 'Undivided'.  On another platform, and in the context of a conversation responding to some of that nastiness, I wrote the following (which I have slightly edited so as not to identify others) in response to a question I was asked...

I read Vicky's book first and foremost because I thought it was important to hear her voice - it is a memoir, her account, the best she can recall it, of her experiences and, as she notes in the preface, an attempt to share/address those aspects that people had asked her to, including theology, Bible studies and church history.

To me it was a book that showed courage, respect, vulnerability, honesty and even provisionality.

As a straight, celibate, single Christian, I found resonances with my own experiences (how many times did I pray not to feel sexual desire as a late teen/early twenty when, being a good 'evangelical' I was only allowed to date equally evangelical males and there were none around...let alone the 'sin' of masturbation ((there, I said it, and me a good respectable minister person too)).

As a person who has studied theology, I found resonances with the discoveries (and often rediscoveries, my early Christian experience was much less conservative) of other ways of understanding familiar Biblical texts. I also remembered the wise advice to engage with, read and even 'come under the thrall of' theologians with whom I disagreed... not that I should end up agreeing with them, but that I should should understand more, and understand better what I did believe and why (I still recall in a seminar on Mary Daly saying I found her work 'compulsive and repulsive in equal measure'... if I re-read it now I might think differently, but I was so glad to have read it, so sad that she had felt she had to leave the Christian church, and in such deep respect for her that she did)

Having read biographies/memoirs of those in the 'Christian Conference Circuits' what Vicky says rings true... decent ordinary Christians might be shocked or upset by it, but she is far from a long voice in this regard. And we have all seen how quickly those who fail or fall are cast out, often penniless and possibly homeless, with little or no pastoral support. What Vicky says may be uncomfortable to read, but it needs to be read.

Vicky longs to remain part of evangelical Christianity, here lie her roots, here are her family, this is the spirituality that best suits her. As a so-called liberal (by others) myself I found it both slightly hurtful that she doesn't seem to want to accept that she is de facto part of the church that is so-called and totally appreciative of the reality that many (most?) 'liberal' churches lack the dynamism and passion of evanglicalism. Her sense of having no 'tribe' is one that many other Christians, irrespective of sexuality, experience as they seek a worshiping community that is the 'best' or perhaps more honestly 'least bad' fit.

The chronic illness/conditions that Vicky now lives with are among those the Christian church as a whole struggles... ME/CFS, fibromyalgia and depression. It is a widely held view that trauma can trigger these conditions (there is a high incidence of all three in cancer survivors) and Vicky's experiences have been traumatic. That she will 'out' herself as someone with mental health issues is courageous and admirable.

It is true, that part of the motivation of Vicky writing the book is to put bread on the table, and she is open about it in her book.

So, long essay as to why I think the book is worth reading... if nothing else there are some big 'generally applicable' topics to think about.

What do I think about the responses?

I think that people must respond as they feel is appropriate, but with the same gentleness, pastoral awareness and compassion that I see in people such as [minister who asked the question to which I replied]... Among the many gifts I admire in you is your ability to listen carefully and graciously to the views of others. That you and I regularly pray for one another, affirm and encourage each other in very different ministries is something I really, really value.

That's not so easy to do when all you know of someone is a 'public persona' and not easy when you feel threatened, unsettled or even attacked. The written word is only ever partial, we can't see faces or gestures, nuance gets lost, sound bites and out of context quotes can mislead.

Some of what I have read online graciously disagrees with Vicky, some seems gracious at first sight then descends into veiled or unveiled aggression, some is just plain rude and vitriolic.

Alas, some of what is quoted, signposted and even posted by the EA is not very edifying (that's me being polite) and, as an organisation it does seem to have a habit of expelling (or squeezing out) people and organisations (Courage, Oasis) whose general theology is clearly evangelical but who don't tow the line on one topic.

I resigned from the EA at the time Steve Chalke was being vilified for his explorations of atonement, not because of the topic or the person, but because of the behaviour. Some twenty odd years ago, I resigned from a Methodist church not over a presenting issue about which I held very strong views, but about the way it was handled by the denominational authorities. The oft quoted "see how [Christians] love one another' always pulls me up short - we have a lot to learn and a long way to go.

I don't know if that helps - it's awfully long!

Thanks for reading to the end (if indeed you got there!)

And if, indeed, you have got this far, thank you for reading it all, and if you have comments to make, then feel free to do so.

The comments are closed.