Top positive review
A musical missionary determined to serve God “Above All Else”
3 July 2018
Spoiler alert! Vicky Beeching’s story is well-known due to many interviews, and especially her “coming out” interview in 2014. However, if you do not know her story and would like to read it as the first time, then don’t read on as this review refers to events described in the book.
This is a very moving, at times upsetting, and ultimately uplifting memoir of the life of Christian music artist, Vicky Beeching, who now works as a campaigner raising awareness of LGBT issues and also mental health.
Beeching grew up in a strongly Christian and musical household. She discovered soon that she, too had a gift of music that could reach people and assist them in their worship. It was her lifetime ambition to be a kind of missionary, following in the footsteps of her grandparents, and ultimately to do this via her music.
Beeching discovered in her teens, to her dismay, that she was attracted to girls in the same way that her female friends started to be attracted to boys, talking about who they “fancied”. This realisation made her feel nothing but shame and embarrassment, because her religious upbringing taught that homosexuality was an abominable sin. She made various attempts to “cure” herself of her lesbian feelings, including subjecting herself to an extremely degrading and frightening “exorcism”, which made her even more terrified that she might be possessed by demons.
She decided to throw all her energy into her studies and music. She studied for a theology degree at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, during which time her reputation as a top class Christian musician continued to grow. At Wycliffe, she studied privately what more liberal theologians said about homosexuality and Christianity, but was not yet ready to throw away her deeply held traditional beliefs, and shortly after this, wrote one of her best-known songs “Above all else” in the chapel at Wycliffe Hall, expressing her determination to put God above everything else, including her confusion about her sexuality. Another of her songs, “Undivided Heart” expressing the longing for healing from brokenness, provides the motivation for the book’s title, though the word “undivided” came to have a different meaning for her than the original intent; the only way to be “undivided” was to stop fighting against her sexuality and instead to embrace it.
Her songs became noticed; she was offered a recording contract in America, and after her degree, moved to Nashville, Tennessee to become a professional Christian musician, in an atmosphere that was decidedly homophobic.
One of the overwhelming impressions I get from this well written memoir is of tremendous loneliness and isolation. She found she shut down her emotions and set up barriers between herself and others, of either sex, to avoid the heartbreak of unrequited love of which she dared not speak, or unwanted attention from male admirers, without being able to say why she had to turn them down. Unfortunately she was unable to avoid several heartbreaks, or indeed male attention, in one case with alarming consequences. In the end the stress caused by this inner conflict was too much for her - she developed a life-threatening auto-immune disease that required chemotherapy, and at the same time suffered a nervous breakdown. On at least one occasion, she came close to suicide. To this day, she still suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. For her own sanity she decided she had to face head on the fact that she was gay, and to “come out”, resulting in an abrupt end to her musical career, and rejection by the American “mega-churches” who had previously been much enriched by her music - now seen as tainted.
It is well-known that missionaries suffer greatly for their work, notably from those opposed to their message. In Beeching’s case, it was the “home side” that was the cause of her suffering. One of the most upsetting pages in the book was the one where she described how after she had been diagnosed with CFS that someone wrote to her saying they had prayed to God for her to become ill to punish her for being gay.
But in spite of all the sadness, I find this an inspiring tale of someone determined to serve God “Above all else”, for which she surely had to pay far too high a price. Faced with the appalling treatment she received, many would have abandoned their faith entirely, and the fact that she has held on to her faith is something to be admired, not condemned. It is to be hoped that this book will begin to change attitudes, so that future Christians faced with this particular issue will not have to suffer in the same way.