Last year, the prominent religious broadcaster Vicky Beeching (presenter of Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 and frequent reviewer of the papers on Sky News) asked me for an interview on Catholic perspectives for her faith and feminism website.
As is standard practice these days, she used the medium of Twitter to publicise her various interviews. At that point, my personal painful story of abortion was not common knowledge, however a former friend whom I had confided in, sent Vicky a series of messages in which she informed her of my secret and claimed it as proof that I had probably had multiple abortions (not true) and was secretly pushing a pro-choice agenda.
Again and again she messaged Vicky, her messages becoming increasingly urgent and demanding in tone, “what about her abortion, how can you interview her as being pro-life” the recurring theme.
Thankfully Vicky paid no heed and published the interview here, one which, I hope does give a good account of Catholicism in relation to women. Almost within 5 minutes of the interview being posted, another woman who has displayed obsessive tendencies in terms of her strong and frequently posted contempt for me, wrote a comment in which she too, mentioned my abortion, accusing me of hypocrisy, of sanctioning abortion for myself and no-one else, failing to understand that my experience of abortion made me realise what a terrible thing it is, for mother and baby alike.
Though healed, at that time I was still in the early stages of the pregnancy with Raphael (who died in utero) and not ready for this information to be outed, especially not on in the comments box of such a public website.
I therefore asked Vicky to remove the comment and she immediately edited it, much to the chagrin of the original poster, who repeatedly hectored her on Twitter “why did you delete my comment about Caroline Farrow’s abortion”.
Perhaps it was a coincidence, but shortly after the interview was published Vicky repeatedly found herself tagged into a series of vitriolic and very personal comments, about her appearance, her intelligence and her motivations by the person who had messaged her, using the pretext of something else Vicky had said publicly, with which she disagreed.
Vicky could, if she was unprincipled and unscrupulous have published all this information, in an attempt to show me up as a hypocrite and undesirable person whose position on abortion was untenable, especially as she herself has a pro-choice view. The fact that she didn’t speaks volumes about her honesty, integrity and decency as a person. As does the fact that she also passed a series of radio interviews my way about the forthcoming papal conclave back in 2013, feeling that I would make a better pundit on the subject.
I’ve only met Vicky in the flesh once, (when she told me about the trolling she had received in relation to me) but found her to be an immensely charming, genuine and sincere person, who has treated me with utmost Christian kindness, despite the fact that she must have found my views on same-sex marriage difficult to accept, and going by her interview in today’s Independent, in which she comes out as same-sex attracted, potentially quite hurtful.
A lot will be written by many Christian commentators about this, but I’d like to publicly offer my love, prayers, support and thanks to Vicky who has modelled Christian behaviour, tolerance, compassion and understanding to someone with whom she is ideologically opposed. I owe her at least as much.
To support Vicky in her coming out, is not to necessarily endorse any of the choices which she might make, but to accept that what she has done is extraordinarily brave, not least because many of her target audience will strongly disagree with her. There has been talk of boycotting her music and this admission could well affect her commercially, although I suspect it will consolidate and further her position in terms of mainstream broadcasting. It must also have been difficult coming out with parents who take the traditional and orthodox Christian view of homosexuality. I should imagine she will also be subject to a fair few salacious and sexually derogatory comments, especially from certain newspapers and media outlets.
Vicky’s experience of public exorcisms are not the way in the Catholic Church, most would agree that this is no way to help and support anyone struggling with feelings of same-sex attraction, however it does highlight the plight of many young Christians who believe themselves to be gay.
Reverend Peter Ould in his response on Facebook, offers some typically sensible thoughts:
1. It’s almost always better this side of the closet. Locking away such a huge part of your emotional life leads to the kind of stress Vicky describes. Being truthful about your feelings is normatively liberating and tends to be much more about living with yourself than living with others (and their perceptions of you).
2. Coming out as LGB does not necessarily mean endorsing a particular sexual ethic. It is perfectly possible to be open and honest about your sexual attractions and still hold to a traditional position on sex and marriage. The sign of an emotionally and intellectually stunted and repressed person is not that they don’t act on their attractions, but rather that they think a person has to act on their attractions and emotions in a particular way to be spiritually healthy.
3. Coming Out narratives, with their accompanying emotions, need to be reviewed with the passage of time. As C S Lewis so clearly indicates with the story of the Queen of Glome in “Till we have Faces”, the victim narrative many of us tell is in fact often a denial of responsibility for our own sinful decisions and responses that have shaped who we are today. It’s too easy just to ignore inconvenient facts from yesterday that distort (even contradict sometimes) the picture you’re trying to paint today.
4. When Vicky says “The Church’s teaching was the reason that I lived in so much shame and isolation and pain for all those years” and then describes that teaching as ” I am attracted to people of the same sex and I’ve been told God hates that”, it’s worth pointing out that such a teaching is not Biblical. The Bible has plenty to say about the sinfulness of some sexual practices but it does not say that God hates people for being gay. And if we shape our future theologies and lives on a reaction to incorrect previous ones, we need to pick up “Till we have Faces” again.
(The Catechism of the Catholic Church says similar and goes on to say that people should never be treated unjustly on account of their sexual orientation)
Peter goes on to note the choice of Patrick Strudwick as interviewer, who is certainly no friend to either the Evangelical or Catholic churches as a result of their teachings about homosexuality. A few commentators describe the choice of interviewer as a ‘punch in the gut’ and highly political.
Peter Ould wonders whether or not the Independent would be prepared to run full and front page spreads of the equally brave testimonies of those who publicly identify as having same-sex attraction but have chosen to live celibate lives?
I might disagree with Vicky about the direction in which she wants to take the Anglican church, but from her testimony it is clear that more needs to be done to help young gay Christians identify their true vocation and not to alienate them from God, who, as she says, still loves loves them regardless. If nothing else, certain denominations ought to seriously re-think the practice of public exorcisms or the idea that a sexual orientation is indicative of demonic possession!
I strongly believe that when it comes to Christians who are attempting to reconcile their sexuality with a strong love of the Lord, as in Vicky’s case, Pope Francis’ words are the most salient “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge”.
It is not for us to judge the heart and mind of another Christian, all we can do is explain our own stance and why we believe God has asked us to live a certain way and leave the rest to Him. I certainly can’t claim that my heart is any purer than any other Christian seeking to deepen their relationship with the Creator and who at the same time wishes for a lifelong partner.
I disagree with many of Strudwick’s narratives and assumptions, which are coloured by his personal judgement, but I am sorry that Vicky has experienced such a tortuous and painful time, including a debilitating illness and like many of my good Catholic friends, I have no interest in eschewing her on account of her sexual preferences.
Talking of her parents’ attitude to the theology around homosexuality, who disagree with her, but love her all the same she says “it’s a picture of what is possible, even when you don’t agree, that love can supersede everything”
A sentiment that we all ought to bear in mind.