A primer for non-believers on this week’s most important newsmaker you’ve probably never heard of.
Who is Vicky Beeching?
She’s one of contemporary Christianity’s most impressive Renaissance Women. She first rose to prominence in the early noughties as a singer and songwriter but has since then become a theologian (with a particular interest in technology) and something of a media darling.
She’s also close to a clergyman you might have heard of called Justin Welby.
Why are we talking about her?
She’s just come out as a lesbian. In an interview with the Independent she recounted growing up in an environment where she was taught that her attraction to other women was sinful and at one point even went as far as being exorcised. However, after the stress of being in the closet triggered a degenerative disease she decided to come out.
Obviously, it’s a big deal for her but does it matter more broadly?
Emphatically so. Much of the media coverage surrounding Beeching’s revelation has dubbed her “a Christian rockstar.” That’s not technically accurate because her music is more country than rock but it gives you a good sense of her profile amongst at least a subsection of believers.
Music of whatever kind is pervasive in Christian worship. You might assume that when believers go to church it is the sermon that has the greatest theological impact. But that’s probably not the case. Songs generally take up a larger part of the service, are a much more participatory experience and they gain impact through repetition. What is more, while a sermon is generally only delivered to one church, some worship songs spread to tens of thousands of congregations. This allows songwriters to become some of the most recognisable and influential figures in the Christian world.
And Beeching is emphatically amongst that select group. Pretty much any church which uses modern worship songs will have something by her in their repertoire. However, as you might imagine the audience for Nashville inflected Christian music is greatest in the Bible Belt and her music is most popular with the charismatic congregations which often derisively dubbed as “happy clappy” churches.
Beeching matters particularly in this world because it’s a rather anarchic. There are myriad different denominations with no central hierarchy to pull them together. In the absence of formal structures, informal figure heads can become especially important. Beeching’s music unites charismatic Christians as anything else!
The upshot of all this is that it puts Beeching in the unusual and potentially powerful position of being a liberal Christian with a mostly conservative audience.
What will the reaction in the Bible Belt be?
Minds are not going to change overnight but this does feel like an important moment.
There was already a boycott of her work arising from her expressing support for equal marriage. But I don’t think the point is that her coming out was going to immediately find support amongst those who had up till then thought homosexuality to be a sin. Rather it is that it is nigh on impossible for them to ignore what she’s saying. Nor is it going to be possible to just dismiss someone whose songs you’ve been singing for the past decade. So she may well have help to generate debate in communities where homosexuality has previously been a settled matter.
Furthermore, it comes at a time when conservative Christian stance on homosexuality appears to be in flux. Both in the pews and the pulpit there does seem to be a burgeoning sense that a grave mistake may have been made. This has most obviously manifested itself in a stream of evangelical leaders coming out in favour of equal marriage.
So Beeching might just be the right person in the right place (theologically) at the right time.