Sunday, 21 September 2014

Vicky Beeching’s challenge to evangelicals about same-sex marriage

Christianity magazine has just published an interview by editor Justin Brierley with British Christian singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching (left), who self-identified as ‘gay’ in a high profile ‘coming out’ on 14 August.

Beeching, who is a media personality in her own right and has over 52,000 followers on twitter, has listed over 70 almost exclusively positive media reports covering the event on her website.

Earlier this year she joined the group Accepting Evangelicals, who back same-sex marriage, as a patron.

At one level it is not at all unusual today for Christians to admit to feelings of same-sex attraction or to identify as ‘gay’.

Furthermore, those who do, perhaps unlike in earlier generations, are in my experience, generally now treated in evangelical churches with warmth, grace and understanding. Having said this I fully accept that this is not always the case and Vicky's own early experience bears this out.  

I personally know many Christians who would describe themselves as either same sex attracted or having a homosexual or bisexual orientation.

In fact a number of prominent evangelical leaders, in order to help others, launched the Living Out website last November to share their testimonies about their own personal experience of same sex attraction and to explain how they had handled it.

But whilst the ‘Living Out’ leaders express their intention to remain committed to biblical teaching on sexual morality in practice (see my earlier post ‘Should ‘gay’ Christians be true to their feelings?’), Vicky Beeching says she intends to marry a same sex partner.

‘My goal is to find a soulmate and get married; that is what most of us are made to do. God said it is not good that people are alone.’

Furthermore she believes she can do this without relinquishing her claim to be an evangelical. This is what has attracted so much media attention.

‘People have told me that I don’t have the right to that name (‘evangelical’) any more as I’ve spoken in support of same-sex marriage, but for me evangelicalism is rooted in many things: loving the Bible; having a high view of scripture; a passion for social justice; wanting to share the good news about Jesus.  These are all things I hold true to. So I don’t see why there should be a black and white issue that casts me out.’ 

I do not doubt Vicky’s sincerity and indeed share her professed love for the Bible, passion for social justice and her desire to share the good news about Jesus. But I believe she has crossed a significant rubicon with respect to her expressed views and proposed actions on sexual behaviour. At the same time she has laid down a significant challenge to evangelical Christians and must not be simply ignored.

I’ve previously reviewed the Bible’s teaching on sexuality on this blog and Robert Gagnon and Ian Paul (see here and  here) have more recently published some helpful reflections responding to Beeching’s biblical arguments in support of her stand.

I’ve also previously listed on my blog six excellent resources giving an evangelical perspective on homosexuality.

In short, the Bible teaches that the only moral context for sex is within a life-long monogamous heterosexual marriage relationship. All sex outside this context constitutes sexual immorality (Greek porneia). This includes all sex between two people of the same sex whether legally 'married' or not. 

‘But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.’ (Ephesians 5:3)

‘It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;  that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable….For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.’ (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8)

I am not intending to revisit this teaching in detail here. Rather, especially for those who accept the biblical teaching on this issue at face value, I want to look at what the Bible teaches about Christians endorsing or practising what it classes as sexual immorality.  I have deliberately included Bible quotes rather than just giving references as I am convinced that many evangelicals are genuinely not aware of what the Bible actually says. 

First, the Bible is clear that sexual morality is not a ‘secondary issue’ on which Christians may legitimately disagree and on which there are a variety of acceptable views. Rather continuing in sexually immoral behaviour can put one’s own salvation at risk:

‘Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men… will inherit the kingdom of God.’ (1 Corinthians 6:9,10)

This is not to suggest that we are saved by good works. Rather it upholds the biblical teaching that genuine faith is evidenced in moral behaviour (more on this here). Furthermore, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that God views sex between two women in the same way that he views sex between two men.

‘Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.’ (Romans 1:26, 27)

The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that God views those with a Christian testimony who willfully return to habitual sin very seriously indeed:

‘ It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.’  (Hebrews 6:4-6)

‘If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left,  but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God... How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?’ (Hebrews 10:26-29)

‘If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.’ (2 Peter 2:20,21)

Whilst the Bible is very clear that Christians should not judge those outside the church, dealing with those inside the church is a different matter altogether:

‘I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.’ (1 Corinthians 5:10-11)

It might be objected that Vicky Beeching, and others who share her views, have not yet moved from publicly endorsing same sex marriage (and all that it involves) to participating in it herself.

But the Bible is equally clear that teaching a specific sin is admissible is at least as serious as practising it:

‘Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.’ (James 3:1)

Jesus was very clear about the seriousness of leading young ones astray through false teaching:

‘If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’ (Matthew 18:6)

The epistle of Jude warns about ‘ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality’ (1:4) and warns that ‘Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality’  and ‘serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire’ (1:7).

In a similar vein the Apostle Peter warns that ‘if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell…’ and ‘condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly’ then ‘the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority’. (2 Peter 2:4-10)

It is striking that in both these instances (both in Jude and 2 Peter) there is a specific reference to Sodom and Gomorrah where the sexual immorality involved was homosexual (see also Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13).

The Apostle John in Revelation records Jesus’ words to the seven churches. Two of them (Pergamum and Thyatira) he warns specifically about not tolerating teaching which endorses sexual immorality:

‘Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.’  (Revelation 2:14)

‘Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.’ (Revelation 2:20)

I was told recently by a Church of England Bishop that Scripture nowhere commands us to stop people teaching heresy (false teaching which puts personal salvation at risk) in the church. But it seems to me that this is exactly what Paul instructed Titus to do:

 ‘For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach….’ (Titus 1:10-11) 

From the above Scriptures it is clear that:

1. All sex outside (heterosexual) marriage constitutes sexual immorality
2. Continuing in sexual immorality puts one’s salvation at risk (see also Revelation 21:8 and 22:15)
3. Teaching that sexual immorality is acceptable is very serious and deeply damaging
4. Tolerating such teaching is also contrary to the explicit teaching of Jesus Christ
5. Those who teach or practise such things whilst claiming still to be Christians should be subject to church discipline.

The implications are clear.

I do not know Vicky Beeching personally and as I have said earlier I do not doubt her sincerity. But my fear is that as a result of the warm affirmation she has already received for her endorsement of same sex marriage, including from many Christians, she is heading on a very dangerous and damaging course indeed – both for herself and for others.

I understand that she has so far ignored the sincere but serious warnings she has received from well-meaning Christian brothers and sisters.

We need to pray that she changes her course and that her teaching does not lead others astray. But more than this, those responsible for her pastoral oversight must ensure that her teaching is not tolerated in the church and that she is appropriately disciplined.

We owe it to our young people, many of whom will have been confused by what she is saying, and not least to Vicky herself. 

24 comments:

  1. Thankyou Peter. It's just so tragic to read of someone going astray like this. I feel very sad for Vicky Beeching and others like her.

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  2. Thank you Dr Peter - this is probably the most clear and concise summary of the orthodox position I have read!

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  3. Can anyone post that doesn't agree with you out at they just deleted?

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    1. I think that anyone can post. My concern with the responses to Vicky Beeching is not that I disagree with them, but that I agree, but wish to be sure that I/we are not interpreting scripture to fit our own agendas - for many years christians used the Bible to support slavery, apartheid, lack of women's ministry, and more. Secondly, many of these passages also refer to other sins in the same breath (greed, slander, swindling - or carrying out unfair economic transactions in modern parlance) which most writers seem to brush over without any discussion. Nevertheless, I can not believe that same-sex attraction fulfils God's plan for us (whether a sin or not, it comes out of sin and the fall), and Jesus clearly said "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." which applies to each of us in our own particular way, and for some folk particularly in terms of their sexuality and relationships.

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    2. My current blog settings allow anyone to post including anonymous users. I don't moderate comments. Occasionally I delete comments if they contain obscenities or are from trolls/spammers but not simply for disagreement. This post has so far had 945 views but only four comments.

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    3. Thanks Andrew. I try to deal with the question of the difference between homosexual erotic attraction - which I see in its initial stages as temptation rather than sin - and homosexual erotic acts in my earlier post ‘Should ‘gay’ Christians be true to their feelings?’ which is linked above.

      I agree that Christians have misused the Bible with respect to slavery, apartheid and with some aspects of women's ministry but would not attempt to do justice to those issues here. This post is about homosexuality and I take an orthodox evangelical position and draw out its practical implications. The biblical case as to why same sex erotic acts are morally wrong is unpacked in more detail elsewhere.

      I fully agree that we should take the other sins listed alongside sexual immorality in scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 5:10,11 and 6:9,10 and Revelation 21:8 and 22:15 much more seriously in our churches.

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  4. What i don't understand is why God don't changed her life, obviously she suffer with this, is like a psychological sickness, I don't agree with her about teology, but read her interview broke my heart.

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  5. Much damage has been done by this teaching to those who are homosexual. By their fruits we shall know them Vicki had an auto-immune illness & many have had mental health problems. The fruit of such teaching is destructive & does not provide good fruit to others. That is the problem of your unloving words however biblical.

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    1. In response to the above...I would have to disagree that these are "unloving words". They may be difficult to accept if you hold a different view but are not unloving. They are an accurate summary of Biblical teaching, God loves you no matter what your view or actions but He does set out truth for us to live by. We can't walk in fellowship with God and know his blessing if we disregard his instructions

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    2. The real question here is what one chooses to do in the face of feelings of same-sex attraction. I do not think that we can necessarily conclude that Vicky's not adopting a gay lifestyle caused her auto-immune disease. As she explains in her testimony the angst she suffered was over keeping her feelings secret.

      The way of resolving this was to be honest about her feelings to friends and family which she has now done. But being honest about one's feelings is a very different matter from engaging in homosexual behaviour. Do read my earlier post on ‘Should ‘gay’ Christians be true to their feelings?’ which is linked above.

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    3. I had a mental breakdown after following the teaching that Peter Saunders is advocating :( Time and time again I come across this blog and am appalled by the wickedness that he promotes. This stuff damages us irreparably and yet he's still promoting it. Know them by their fruit and all that I guess.

      A gay relationship is a lifeline to people who have suffered at the hands of evangelicals, and I'm glad that Vicky now has a girlfriend. I wish her much blessing for her future and pray that she recovers from the hurt that has been poured onto her by unrepentant evangelicals.

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  6. I think this is a very narrow view on scripture when there are many other, well-documented, understandings of the verses that you quote. Vicky is acting out of integrity and has explained her reasoning very well, so I don't think you really mean what you say when you say that 'young people will be confused', I think you mean that some young people will agree with Vicky's argument and disagree with yours - this isn't confusion, it's just how millions of people have moved forward in their deeper understanding of God as he's continued to reveal himself over the years.

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    1. It is not narrow to believe that a text cannot be saying two mutually contradictory things at the same time. There may be different 'well-documented understandings' of a particular scripture but its meaning is found in the author's intention rather than the reader's interpretation.

      No one is seriously doubting the sincerity and integrity of Vicky's testimony and experience - it is how she gets from this to an endorsement of same sex marriage that is unexplained and unclear. She seems to be interpreting the Bible through her experience rather than interpreting her experience in the light of the Bible.

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    2. "There may be different 'well-documented understandings' of a particular scripture but its meaning is found in the author's intention rather than the reader's interpretation." This is exactly my point. You're effectively saying that you have found the 'author's intention' and those who disagree with your interpretation haven't and that's the problem with the argument, Vicky is saying that she feels she has found an alternative, and yes different, intention. To write off the counter argument with 'well that's not what God says in scripture', is an unfair and lazy criticism. Surely you can concede in the possibility that she MAY be correct in her interpretation?

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    3. I think we are yet to hear Vicky's interpretation and how she uses the texts to support her position. That is what people are really waiting for.

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    4. I think that Anonymous is unfairly viewing it as unlikely that we can find the author's intention. On the contrary: very often the author's intention will be broadly clear. There is a kind of fundamentalism which says that every single Bible passage (why not passages in other books too, then?) must be opaque and hard to understand. But find me a single scholar who would agree. Scholars would all agree that the difficulty of passages is on a sliding scale from very easy to very difficult. Whereas Anonymous is kind of assuming that they are all very difficult, which is quite an assumption when you think about it. The Biblical writers' wholesale strong opposition to same-gender sexual behaviour is not in doubt, and that is after all the main point (though smaller exegetical points may and must be debated). I speak as a Biblical PhD. Alternatively, one can examine the conclusions of the commentators (those who have spent thousands of hours with the texts and with the backgrounds to the texts), and see whether they are broadly in consensus. Christopher Shell

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  7. Peter I thank God for your faithfulness in teaching and defending His word. I always find your blogs and responses to be gracious and uncompromising on truth, as I believe Christ would be and is. I have found your teaching on this particular matter to be extremely helpful and biblically faithful and pray that you will continue to be given grace, boldness and insight (and no doubt time!) in the defence and proclamation of God's glory and truth.

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    1. I agree! Thanks Peter for your clarity, wisdom, grace and willingness to say what seems so unpalatable to many of us with our current cultural blinkers on.

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  8. Although I have a different reading of the warning texts in Hebrews and 1 Corinthians, seeing them as warning of loss of inheritance rather than loss of final salvation, I do agree with the overall content of the post, namely that the Biblical context of sexual activity is clear, and that attempts to redefine sexual conduct is a major problem in the church.

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  9. A fine balanced and truthful post. Thank you

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  10. Thankyou Peter for that, a good source of instruction which may could do with reading.
    I have listened to a sermon preached by Geoff Thomas, on this kind of subject, and he mentioned that a student asked him "doesn't she have the right to express her love for her partner" (girlfriend).
    Hi response was interesting he (as far as I can remember) said that her only right was to "Worship God", and from that a life of truthfulness will flow - which would show her the error of her ways.

    We need to empower churches to guide people in worshiping God with all their Heart, Soul, Mind & Strength, I believe the Holy Spirit will lead them in paths of righteousness.

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  11. OMG really more uninformed drible, quoting a 1650 year old book write in a time that condoned slavery, domination of women and child abuse, I don't see you justifying that, fact God loves everyone, why, because he made us, you hate gays, why, because your ignorant and unintelligent, point is, why do you care what I do in my bedroom with my partner, oh and stop using God to justify your own propoganda

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  12. Oh sorry if I seem intolerant but that's called karma, now you know what discrimination feels like, oh BTW your Scripture also teaches love and compassion, try practising some

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