Between ‘Yay’ and aggravation… An attempted response to Vicky Beeching

posted in: Being Human | 0

I’ve been following with interest (and, arguably, have been since before I was blogging, due to personal and social interest in the topic) the emerging phenomenon of people identifying as evangelicals and shifting on issues like sexuality. One of the [formerly Vineyard] Pastors I most admire, Ken Wilson, wrote a book which I’ve reviewed comprehensively, and he has travelled a similar path to Peter Fitch in Canada, and English leader Steve Chalke (who was part of, and gave a public lecture at, a conference I presented at recently). Most recently, I’ve been reading with interest the recent work (and tweets!) of Vicky Beeching, a well known worship leader and research student at Durham. Having changed her mind and publicly declared her support (as an evangelical Christian) of same-sex marriage, Vicky has written a number of posts, her first explaining her situation, a second introducting ‘LGBT Theology’, and the most recent starting to explore ‘What does the Bible say?‘. It is the most recent post that I want to try and engage with today.

Firstly, a word about this post. I’ve been following Vicky on Twitter for a number of years, and have appreciated her voice, standing up for different things, in equal measure to the occasions when I have been somewhat exasperated, or puzzled, by things she’s shared/tweeted. I’m also a fan of her worship songs, and will continue to sing them (though, not being a pastor or anything, me doing so will have no real effect beyond personal worship), in contrast to some who have apparently boycotted her work. I’m also aware of the personal cost of having an opinion online, and I don’t write this post to bully Vicky, but merely to push back, on something of a theoretical/theological level, regarding her recommendations and the content of her post.

So what am I not trying to do in this post? I don’t want to dull-down the importance of discussions about Christianity and that LGBTQIA* community/discussion/theological discourse. I’m also not (at all) trying to ignore the stories and experiences of many from all sides. And I am definitely not trying to persecute, aggravate, or insult Vicky personally. I think bullying of any kind is evil, hence my recent rare agreement with Stonewall. I’m merely trying to offer some alternative resources, and ask/raise some questions about Vicky’s piece. I write as someone who also self-identifies as an evangelical, who longs for the Church to be a place of welcome and love, but differs from Vicky in what that looks like.Â

Regular readers will know that, if nothing else, I like reading. And on the vital and controversial and emotive and important question of the relationship between sexuality and the Church, I’ve read quite widely. I’ve compiled a reasonably extensive bibliography, which I and some friends are working through, and have written reviews of a few of those books on this blog. I’m grateful for Vicky’s recognition of what she is doing; “I don’t claim to be presenting a balanced list of resources here at all – the above books are all ones that explore LGBT Theology from certain standpoints that I’m keen for you to ponder“- but I’m concerned that this in itself limits and stifles debate. Certainly – as I observed in conversation with a pastor friend yesterday – I’ve read more ‘affirming’ than ‘traditional’ books recently, and I hope my bibliography reflects something of an emerging balanced selection. With that in mind, I’d like to offer few suggestions in addition to Vicky’s.

Most importantly, those books which engage directly with the text of the bible. I was disappointed that Vicky’s post didn’t actually do any exegesis – and some of the books recommended (such as Matthew Vines and Jeffrey John) have been found wanting in this area – and so I want to redress that balance. Firstly, the Old Testament. A key text from my reading, and magesterial in its treatment, is Robert Davison’s epic The Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament. This 800+ page doorstop is briliantly thorough, and gracious in tone. For the New Testament, the work of William Loader is vital to read. Loader is ‘liberal’ on this topic, but his exegesis is superb, and he is honest that his position is a hermeneutical move away from what the Bible says. As an introduction, I’d recommend his Sexuality in the New Testament: Understanding the Key Texts, which is a relatively accessible introduction to his varied output. For how this ties into the wider ethical sense of the New Testament, I think Richard Hays The Moral Vision of the New Testament is still the best book out there.

There are many more books I could recommend on the biblical texts, in different ways, and commentaries and technical resources that really focus on what the text means, but those can be found in my aforementioned bibliography.Â

One thing that I think is notable in these discussions is how rarely any books regarding the ‘T’, ‘B’, ‘Q’ and so on of the acronym are mentioned. This is partly because there is very little, relatively speaking, on these topics, at least compared to the ‘L’ and ‘G’. That said, my studies and reading have turned up a few things. Most helpful for evangelicals, I think, is Peter Sanlon’s little Plastic People: How Queer Theory is Changing Us. I often think that Vicky and other ‘accepting evangelicals’ can be ever so slightly disingenuous regarding the sources of their theology/hermeneutics (Matthew Vines’ usage of sources was a demonstration of this), and Sanlon’s little book is, in my mind, a helpful unpacking of the important (whatever you might think of it!) collection of concepts around queer theory. The ‘T’ is even more complex, and I am still working through its component questions in my own thinking. One book I have found stimulating – though I disagree with the authors’ conclusions in many areas – is Rachel Mann’s Dazzling Darkness, which tells the authors’ story in relation to disability, sexuality, illness and faith. If you are willing to stomach a swiss-army-knife style overview written by an American Baptist, then Denny Burk’s The Meaning of Sex is a very good primer on a whole range of complex issues. The work of Susannah Cornwall is also fascinating (if under-engaged with) on a range of topics, including the inter-sex question.

These are just a few suggestions, however. I’d want to push back on Vicky’s recommendation of Matthew Vines’ book, particularly as it is problematic regarding the Image of God. As mentioned above, I found Jeffrey John’s book unconvincing too, as did my friends at Living Out. I agree with Vicky, however, that Andrew Marin’s excellent Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community is a useful resource, and that Marin’s model of bridge-building is urgently needed, and Christlike. It remains to be seen where Marin will take his ministry.

Finally, I’d echo Vicky’s words that blogging is an inadequate means for communication – which shouldn’t surprise us, based on what kind of being we are, as I argued in a conference paper – and that real people are at stake here, not ‘others’ or robots. I’d go on to say that Vicky is absolutely right that anyone and everyone is welcome in the Church. The challenge, I believe, of the Gospel is that everyone is made in the Image of God (and so it matters when any human is damaged, abused, or violated), that sex(uality) is not enough to define who we are, and ultimately, our brokenness isn’t enough… I hope that Vicky, and others who share her view, will read and consider this post and some of the recommended resources. I’ve bought the one book on her list I didn’t already own (Eugene Rogers) and look forward to reading it. I hope, too, that all those on every pole of the compass/spectrum of opinion will continue to talk to each other, read each other, and respect each other as we dialogue in a range of forums. Do check out my aforementioned and alluded to bibliography here.

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