Undivided

I bought Vicky Beeching’s Book Undivided to read on holiday last month. Despite my plan to have a leisurely read by the pool, it was so compelling that my first reading was finished before I got off the plane, and the second before I got on another plane to come home. Vicky’s memoir tells the story of her rural church beginnings, and follows her journey from Oxford student to worldwide Christian music celebrity. Beneath her incredibly successful career, however, she carried the secret of her sexuality, knowing that if she came out as gay she would lose everything she’d worked for and loved. As the chapters go on we read of her failing health and the decision to come out in 2014, the news of which went viral overnight and attracted a huge variety of response, from love and support to undiluted abhorrence. Four years on, Vicky is still providing the church with plenty to talk about as she aims to close the gap between the LGBTQ+ community and the family of God.

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Undivided is a beautifully written and well-measured book. Vulnerability flows from each page, throwing the reader without warning into the pain of living in secret for so long. And yet Vicky doesn’t fall into the woe-is-me helpless victim trap – a major achievement considering the exorcism, stalkers and death threats she’s experienced. Interspersed with the story telling is Bible commentary – accessible even for the most confused of us, despite her Masters in theology. Perhaps it’s because Vicky and I are the same age, but her description of how harmful the True Love Waits abstinence programme was to young people also struck a chord with me. Whatever our orientation or gender, many of us were damaged by the movement – I think I’d only been a Christian a couple of weeks when I discovered I was too blemished to get a good, Christian husband.

My overwhelming response whilst devouring her story was that I wish I’d been there. From the first page I wished I had been able to grab her hand as she neared the edge of the station platform, handed her a guitar with a knowing smile rather than an ignorant one, and helped to screw up and burn the letters that told her she was ‘an omen of the end times’.

I thought I knew a fair bit about the struggles people come across when struggling to reconcile their sexuality with their religious beliefs, Christianity or otherwise. I have good friends living out and happy, and other friends living semi-closeted but content. Vicky has opened my eyes again to the fear of retribution associated with coming out in church, and I’m left asking myself how many friends I might have living in the closet, afraid to come out for fear of the consequences.

People have often asked me whether writing a memoir is cathartic and healing. My answer is yes – until people start reading it and telling you what they think. I was fortunate – I had no public persona to uphold, or any celebrity following to lose. I was a nobody, writing a book without the risk of Facebook, Twitter or over-keen bloggers tearing it (and, by extension, me) apart. But I still had some backlash – I remember one specific letter telling me about how self-harm was the work of the devil, and that I was ‘showing young people the path to Satan’ (it’s no ‘omen of the end times’, but still…). At times I wondered whether it was worth writing it in the first place. I imagine Vicky has had moments of feeling similar; I hope and pray that those moments are short lived.

Much has been said about Vicky’s book. Unfortunately, much has also been written, large amounts of it vitriolic, insulting and wildly unloving and un-Jesus-like (feel free to search for WeeFlea and Evangelical Alliance articles – I’m not providing links for them here). Many seem to have forgotten that a profile picture represents an actual person, and have adopted a license to say what they like, not just about the book itself, but about Vicky’s faith and character. I’m hoping that this post will be a soothing balm to those who have read such articles, which are not only hurtful for Vicky, but for her many readers – because everything said to Vicky is said to all of us who don’t buy into traditional church views on orientation and gender.

Vicky’s story doesn’t end neatly. She makes no pretence that life has become easy for her since coming out. She doesn’t hide the physical and mental health conditions she has been left with, or the financial struggles of someone whose livelihood was snatched away by one newspaper article. And in a way, that is healing for me. The journey doesn’t stop. Life continues to happen, with all its pain and sorrows, but Jesus never steps away. Whilst people may fall by the wayside, God’s love never yields, and that’s a lesson to take away.

Undivided is available in print, ebook and audiobook format on Amazon, Eden or various bookshops.

Follow Vicky on Twitter and Facebook, and visit her website to see what she does.

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