The news that Vicky Beeching, the former Christian recording artist and now LGB commentator and activist, has decided to take some time off social media after a meme with her image on it was apparently shared over 20,000 times should come as no surprise.
The meme had one of Vicky’s promo pictures with the words “You may be Gay or You may be Christian. But you cannot be a Gay Christian”.
When people are constantly criticising (and sometimes more than criticising – Vicky shared a nine page hand written letter she received for someone calling on her to repent of lesbianism) one of the most important parts of your identity, it’s little surprise that you would want to hide yourself away for a while.
One of the drawbacks of social media and the internet is that negative things can be spread very quickly and there’s very little you can do to avoid it.
The question as to whether Christians who are homosexual should call themselves "gay" is one that has been debated for quite a while. Among those who would see themselves as conservative on the issue of sexual practice outside the marriage of a man and a woman, there is still disagreement on this question. For some, to use the language of "gay Christian" is to choose an identity that is rooted in a sexual desire for a sinful act (gay sex, of whatever form) and therefore not acceptable for Christians.
But for others, "gay Christian" honestly describes their sexual and emotional desires without actually endorsing the temptations that they experience.
What do we mean when we use the word "gay"? Does it simple describe how someone experiences their sexual and emotional relationships, or does it imply living out those attractions? Is there a particular "gay" experience of being a Christian? These questions strike to the heart of key questions of Christian identity and discipleship. Christians who agree on key doctrinal positions can disagree on these issues, but should they fall out over them? Even if someone is wrong that it is acceptable to call one’s self "gay", does that mean that they are no longer a Christian?
Questions like this strike to the heart of our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. At the core of the gospel is the understanding that we are saved by putting our trust in Jesus’ work on the cross. Even if someone is wrong about whether they can describe themselves as gay, if they are relying on Jesus and only Jesus for their salvation, are they still a Christian? If they can’t be on this issue (human sexuality) what about others, and why?
Those who claim that it’s not possible to call one’s self gay and still be a Christian need to engage with these complexities.
Regardless of these questions, the one thing Christians should be able to agree on is that trying to victimise someone because of their beliefs or sexuality is something that Christians shouldn't do. It’s one thing to say to someone privately that you think they are wrong about something, but it’s another altogether to encourage others to single them out for repeated harassment. Jesus told us to love our enemies, so when we’re dealing with people who we think are wrong, or even are wolves in sheep’s clothing, we should consider these words of our Lord very seriously.
Some who want to change the Church’s teaching in this area have a tendency to cry "homophobia" the moment they are criticised or questioned about anything. This however isn’t a reason to be aggressive in response or to accuse people of not being Christian. We should seek to have our words and actions in the area of human sexuality be full of grace and love, even when we vehemently disagree with others who also claim to be Christian. When we single out particular individuals and encourage others to publicly mock them, are we really doing what Jesus wants of us?
A different way
Let’s pray for Vicky, even if we disagree with her. By all accounts she’s had an incredibly hard few years with illness and losing a large part of her income from recording royalties and worship engagements. We can also think about correcting those we see engaging in actions that are questionable, especially on social media.
There’s enough stacked against conservative Christians in a Western society that has rejected biblical truth, without us making our position even worse by engaging in disrespectful behaviour.
By all means let’s talk about the issue of what the Bible does or doesn’t say about sexual behaviour and identity, but the question as to whether someone knows Jesus and is saved is not one we can answer. All of us will probably find ourselves corrected on something when we meet Jesus face to face – let him decide at the final judgement whether someone who cried “Lord, Lord” was or wasn’t a true disciple. Instead, let’s concentrate on showing the same kind of sacrificial love that Jesus showed on the cross, blessing those who curse us and praying for those who mistreat us, in words and actions.
Surely that’s something Christian we can all agree on?
Rev Peter Ould is a Church of England priest based in Canterbury. You can find out more about him at peter-ould.net