Reading Vicky Beeching’s Undivided and the story of her coming out, becoming whole and living free from shame evokes a whole range of emotions. Her story is by turns painful, moving, challenging, sad and inspiring. But the one emotion that will not go away is anger.
How can the Church cause so much hurt? The Church almost breaks Vicky because of her sexuality, her career is lost, her friendships are destroyed and her health is damaged. How can Gospel “Good News” cause such damage? And it is not just her story but those of so many others who, inspired by Vicky, are now telling their story. It is colleagues who must decide between marriage to the person they love and their call to ordination, it is those who feel rejected when the Church cannot marry them, it is 14yr old Lizzie Lowe who took her own life rather than tell her Church she was gay, it is the anonymous, desperate messages that appear on the prayer board from those who because of their faith are struggling with their sexuality. When I see the Church by its teaching hurting people I cannot help but feel angry.
And it is not just on the issue of sexuality. I have seen people feel rejected because the Church would not marry them because one of the couple was divorced. I have witnessed as women have struggled to find acceptance of their call to ministry, people who are differently able who have been patronised and excluded. And then the Church’s terrible, terrible cover up of abuse. When a Church that is meant to heal causes hurt, the anger spills out.
One of the most moving moments in Vicky’s story is her meeting with her grandfather after she has come out. She adores him but he cannot accept her coming out. The best he can hope is that she will stay single and celibate; he cannot accept her interpretation of Scripture. Then she shares a quote from Billy Graham: It’s God’s job to judge, the Holy Spirit’s job to convict and my job to love. Then she turns to her grandfather and asks: Can you leave it with God to judge me, if he needs to, and just focus on you and I loving each other? The atmosphere in the room changed, their differences remained but they had found a bridge across them.
My instinct is to want to build bridges, to find common ground and reach out in love and understanding. And where others who hold different views are similarly able to reach out then new possibilities emerge. In anger it is too easy to dismiss the other, to judge and to condemn. But to keep reaching out can also be acutely painful when it is met in turn with rejection and judgement – when others knock down the bridge as fast as you try to build it.
When it came to the ordination of women the Church of England made alternative provision. It has kept us together but what is the ongoing cost of some part of the Church being able to deny the validity of women’s ordination. And if a similar path emerged to enable the Church to handle the issue of sexuality, would that be right? If such arrangements were about transition, if they were time limited to enable to adjust, but is it right that we legislate for difference? In doing so are not both sides fatally damaged?
There has to be no limited to reaching out in love and in forgiveness – even seventy times seven – and the cross shows us that we can never be surprised that it is costly. And Gethsemane reminds of how lonely it can be too.
Nevertheless, if I am honest, I am with the woman interviewed about the Pope’s visit to Ireland when she said: I have lost faith in my religion but I have not lost my faith in God. I struggle with a Church that can cause so much hurt in people’s lives. I own the anger I feel as I try to hold on to love. I give thanks for the example of people like Vicky Beeching. I weep for the pain she has endured and rejoice at the role model she has become. I pray that I may have a little of her dignity when I encounter a Church that hurts rather than heals.