UNDIVIDED by VICKY BEECHING
UNDIVIDED by Vicky Beeching
From the inner front sleeve:
“Vicky Beeching began writing songs for the church in her teens. By her early thirties she was a household name in Christian music on both sides of the pond, singing in America’s largest megachurches and recording a string of albums. Her songs are used by congregations around the globe and translated into numerous languages.
“But this poster girl for evangelical Christianity lived with a debilitating inner battle: she was gay. The churches she represented on stage staunchly opposed same-sex relationships and saw homosexuality as a grievous sin. Beeching knew that if she ever spoke up about her identity it would cost her everything.
“Faced with a major health crisis, at the age of 35 Vicky decided to tell the world that she was gay. As a result, all hell broke loose. She lost her music career and livelihood, faced threats and vitriol from traditionalists, suffered illness under the immense stress and had to rebuild her life almost from scratch.
“But despite losing so much she gained far more: she was finally able to live from a place of wholeness, vulnerability and authenticity. She finally found peace. Vicky has now become a champion for others, fighting for LGBTQ+ equality in the church and in the corporate sector, and speaking up for mental health awareness. Her courageous work is creating change in the UK and the US as she urges people to celebrate diversity, live authentically and become undivided.”
After the Preface, there is Part 1 which is subtitled: Beginnings. Part 2 is based on Vicky’s time in Oxford, while Part 3 chronicles her life in America. Part 4 is about Returning Home, while Part 5 goes Into the Unknown. There are several Appendix sections at the end of the book.
From the front inner sleeve notes, it is clear that Vicky’s life up to the point of writing the book had been a life of stress and struggle, in a way that most people would never know and nor would they be able to understand. In the Preface, Vicky writes that her book is “a memoir about the battle I’ve fought to make peace with who I am and to unlearn a lifetime of shame and fear.”
In preparing to write this book, Vicky asked the question: “What would you like me to include in my memoir?” and posted the question social media. Hundreds of people responded, and that simply emphasised how important it was that issues like LGBTQ+ should be openly and lovingly discussed and debated.
As a result of the answers that Vicky received, she asks her readers to “prepare for me to share (and perhaps overshare) about the highs and lows of my teens, twenties, and thirties; about how I finally found the courage to come out, leaping into the unknown; and about what life has been like since.”
Even at this early stage in the book, it is clear that Vicky wants both herself and her readers to be real to be honest, and to be authentic in and of themselves, so that what you see is what you get. As Vicky writes, “It’s about finally feeling comfortable in our own skin, not allowing others to make us ashamed or embarrassed of things that are part of our beauty, our diversity, and our uniqueness.” Be yourself; everyone else is taken.
Vicky’s story begins at a time when she was leading worship in front of twenty thousand people, and she recalls the memory of having then been recording and touring for a decade. Yet, in Vicky’s heart even then, she knew that one day she would lose all of that, because she was breaking up inside and simply could not keep going much longer. Heartbreak after heartbreak left “a lifetime of secret sadness” washing over Vicky.
Like many Christians have experienced, church had taught Vicky forcibly over and over again that homosexuality was an “abominable sin.” At fourteen years old, Vicky had already known that she was different, but she had also known all the lights in her world going out as her heart was broken and she sobbed for hours.
Heartbreak followed heartbreak as surely as night followed day, and Vicky got to the point where she really was not sure that she wanted to live. Looking at church and seeing her peers marrying and starting families throughout her twenties, caused Vicky to feel isolated and alone – “frozen in time” as she put it. Slowly, but surely, over those years, Vicky began shutting down inwardly. Suicide was crouching on her shoulder.
PART 1: BEGINNINGS
CHAPTERS 2 to 6
Vicky recounts that her early years were carefree as she lived in the countryside with her family, living in a small village of four hundred people. Two threads were woven through Vicky’s early life, and they were faith and music. Christian faith felt as natural to Vicky as breathing. Vicky’s mum was a prolific songwriter and a worship leader in the local church, but alongside all of the joys went the teachings that were fixed and “right”, and that would eventually become the tool of exclusion rather than the means of inclusion. Nevertheless, Vicky dreamed of becoming a missionary, like her grandparents.
High school was a new experience, but the school’s musical emphasis was a slice of heaven for Vicky. Her mum heard Vicky playing at home in her bedroom, and some months later Vicky played guitar and sang one of her own songs in church. However, as is usually the case with schools, her fellow girl pupils began to talk about which boy they “fancied” and that only served to increase Vicky’s embarrassment. It also caused further internal turmoil as her growing but hidden inner feelings clashed up against the strict Bible teaching, and left her struggling to find a firm base on which to stand.
Music, songs, and those growing inner feelings were in Vicky’s life even as things started to happen with Vicky’s songs as her music hobby took on a more serious significance. That meant that, despite the exciting musical doors that were opening, Vicky was feeling “less and less enthusiastic about life.” Could her heart be broken over and over again and yet not show to the people around Vicky?
Vicky was growing in music, but she was also nursing a repeatedly-broken heart and her inner feelings of “shame, heartache and isolation” were her constant companions, even if they were not her best friends. Desperate to be “healed” and desperate to be “straight”, Vicky cried to God to help her to change. Then, in a big meeting, Vicky saw a girl being “set free from the sin of homosexuality.” Surely as Vicky went forward for prayer ministry, God would answer the cry of her heart?
Immature, basic, black and white teaching on sex and sexuality is so very easy to do, but it rarely helps those people whose inner self is being ripped apart by feelings that they dare not share. Equally unhelpful are teaching that the ways of the Spirit and the ways of the flesh (sex) are opposed to each other. Any person who is taught that their sexuality is their enemy is on a road to inner destruction and lonely despair. Vicky experienced all of that first-hand. There followed for Vicky a deep and extensive study of Scripture for herself. Would such a study bring the freedom that Vicky so desperately needed?
PART 2: OXFORD
CHAPTERS 7 to 14
Vicky had never believed that she would be able to study at such a “well-respected university.” Within the university was an evangelical college called Wycliffe Hall and this struck Vicky as perfect, since she would live with fellow evangelicals and could also be an undergraduate at Oxford. Would this bring the inner help that Vicky ached for as she lived in the midst of godly evangelicals?
Vicky found The Vineyard church in Oxford that felt a lot like the Pentecostal church that Vicky had known, but its teaching on women and sexuality was the traditional position, even though the church was otherwise fairly modern in its ways of worship and conducting services.
During Vicky’s second year at University, Vineyard Records got in touch with Vicky and invited her to a training retreat for “Christian songwriters who showed great potential.” During a university vacation, Los Angeles, California was the next destination. On her return to Oxford and the university, Vicky left a piece of her heart in the USA.
Hours of homeworking had meant that Vicky could now read the Scriptures in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, and this allowed her to have “the necessary skills for serious study of this ancient text.” It was reading the Scriptures in relation to slavery that shook Vicky up and sent her deep into Scripture and deep into the context and culture found throughout the books in order to understand and evaluate for herself the arguments that Christians had historically used to support the practice of slavery.
Returning a couple of borrowed books to a friend in a nearby college gave Vicky a shock that caused her re-evaluate what she had previously seen and heard. Having extensively explored the subject of the church and slavery, Vicky now turned her attention to the hot topic of Christianity and women’s equality. Quickly added to Vicky’s research was the very hot topic of being gay and Christian. Would Vicky’s research reward her with the inner light that she needed in order to dispel the inner darkness?
Further studying related to sexual behaviour and homosexuality in particular followed for Vicky and the song “Above All Else” took shape as doors continued to open through Vineyard Records. Then came the new class of Contemplative Spirituality, and well-known thinkers and reflectors who would guide Vicky over the coming months.
Over time, Vicky became convinced that theology could not be explained in a neat theology textbook, but rather that theology was fluid and ever-changing. Final exams loomed large and close. Vicky was twenty-one years old and the future beyond Oxford was just ahead of her – but what did that future hold?
The immediate answer was an internship with Vineyard Church and, career-wise, things were happening fast. Vicky’s first album was recorded, and the USA beckoned. Christmas at home even while Vicky’s heart was in the USA awaiting a decision from an EMI executive about a recording contract. A new beginning was knocking at the door.
PART 3 – AMERICA
CHAPTERS 15 to 19
The moral clause, though common, was a loose brick in the wall that kept Vicky’s success in the USA tempered with real anxiety. As the months rolled by, the intense work schedule became exhausting. Was Christian music in the USA a machine that ate you up and had the potential to spit you out? Was exhaustion to be helped by Tylenol PM? Was the dream of success in the USA a heavy price for Vicky to pay inside of herself?
Photo opportunities and high pressure. “I was loving this new career, but it was taking a big toll on me.” It would take its toll on her band, too. “In stark contrast to all this inner turmoil, on the outside my life looked fantastic.” Issues related to sex and sexuality were never far away, and Vicky was being pressured in ways that only increased her inner struggles.
Reputation and appearance were everything in the USA’s Christian music scene. Friends and worries in equal measure, and an uncertainty of what those friends could see in Vicky, alongside the shifting political scene in both the USA and the UK. Saddleback beckons and the concerns over health meant that Vicky had to stop running – but how could she do that? And what would the consequences be?
PART 4 – RETURNING HOME
CHAPTERS 20 to 25
Sickness, hospitals, and a body divided against itself as extreme stress took its toll on Vicky’s body. Sobbing that lasted for weeks and a fragility that seemed to be never ending. Books, study, and a need to know for herself. Study and more study, and the voice of God. Being equal but different. Courage and an ‘Undivided Heart’ as Vicky prepared for great loss. LGBTQ+, the House of Commons, TV appearances and tears. Family, friends and more. Rainbows and a story.
PART 5 – INTO THE UNKNOWN
CHAPTERS 26 to 33
Media explosion, the front page, “And we’re live.” Emails, interviews, and condemnation. Back on American soil, protests, problems and pressure. Relationship, shame and fallout. Cathedrals, church and illness. Preparing for ‘Undivided’. Radio interview. Lambeth Palace, writing and looking on.
In her book, Vicky book is frighteningly honest about what she has been through, and what she actually still goes through. Her experience, and it is still an ongoing experience, is a powerful plea for the church of Jesus Christ to live as the one body that it really is, and for that true church to be truly inclusive. Vicky’s testimony deserves to be read with open hearts that long to reconcile people in the love of Jesus.
Throughout the book, Vicky’s open heart strongly tugs at the heartstrings of the reader, but this is not about feeling sorry for Vicky – rather it is for the need of the church to welcome the outcast, for the church to embrace the rejected, and for the church to love those it sees as different. Human beings are human beings for all that.
This book must have taken Vicky a long time to write with all the recollection of pain and remembrance of pain that would have been needed to have been relived, but it must have taken a whole lot more courage to write it, knowing how a lot of people would react to it.
Reading of the hatred and abuse that has been flung at Vicky since she came out as gay is heart-breaking. When will those who call themselves Christians truly know that we do not contend against flesh and blood and that Jesus is inclusive not exclusive? Two thousand years have passed since Jesus walked on earth, and still the church simply does not comprehend what it really is as revealed by its dogma, prejudice and hatred.
Why is so much black-and-white thinking and so much negative emphasis put on sexual matters like being gay, when lying, cheating, killing, slander, bigotry, exploitation, and so many other hateful practices that happen in church are completely ignored? How can churches and even denominations split over issues of sexuality and yet simply ignore so many other malpractices that are rampant in their midst?
As I read your book, one thought occurred to me for you Vicky, and it is this: You really are a missionary Vicky, just not in the way that you thought that you would be when you were very young.
I am sad that writing songs, leading worship and music are no longer a part of Vicky’s life, and I pray that they will come back to life in her and for her someday. May the treasure that has been lost be rediscovered in a renewal that is even more anointed than it was first time around.
I hope and pray that Vicky finds the strength and courage to go on, but I pray even more that church will learn that Jesus calls all people to himself, and that he does not discriminate in any way, and nor does Jesus demand that people behave in a certain way in order for him to accept them.
This book is worthy of being read, reflected on, debated and discussed – but, more than anything, it shows that people who are labelled as LGBTQ+ should be welcomed, accepted, and loved, for the simple reason that they are human beings. Jesus is for integration – not separation. Jesus is undivided.
[Review published 25th November 2019]