Announcing that you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender to family, friends and work colleagues is often stressful, frightening and risky. There are fears of rejection, confrontation or ridicule from those we love, care for, or work with. It is a step which we should never underestimate.
Yet at the same time, it is a step which also brings huge benefits. Feelings of liberation, freedom, personal integration, and relief are commonplace. The liberation of no longer having to live a lie, or exist in the shadows. The freedom to truly be yourself with others. The relief at having faced up to the fears and conquered them are often overwhelming – even when the revelation has resulted in conflict or rejection from some.
But it still requires courage.
Last month, one of our Patrons, Vicky Beeching took that momentous step. And her ‘coming out’ was not done in a quiet limited way – she came out to the world. In national newspaper articles, TV interviews, Web posts and social media she proclaimed her sexuality publicly for the first time. If by some chance you missed this – here is the news-breaking article in The Independent and video in The Guardian.
The response has been mixed while many have welcomed her openness and honesty, others have reacted with varying degrees of shock and dismay. The Christian Post began its response with the words, “Believers throughout the English-speaking world were shocked and saddened to hear that Vicky Beeching, a greatly loved songwriter and worship leader, has announced that she is gay” and advised its readers to be restrained in their reactions, “To lash out at her now in immature ways will only drive her further from the cross, and while it is fine to speak the truth to her in love… praying for the Holy Spirit to convict her of her error is even more important.”
And yet the next morning Vicky tweeted, “Waking up & knowing you can truly be yourself is such a refreshing feeling. Slept better last night than I have in years. #Grateful.”
Through her courage and the strength that God gave her, she had found a new freedom in life and faith – the freedom to be herself after decades of being made to feel she had to live a lie.
According to the CofE briefing paper, “Under the direction of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director for Reconciliation, Canon David Porter, a team of around 20 trained facilitators will support a process of conversations across the Church of England. They will bring the skills necessary to ensure that the process provides a safe place for all viewpoints to be expressed and to keep the conversations to the objective of seeking understanding rather than having any predetermined trajectory. The process will begin at the meeting of the College of Bishops in September where the bishops will spend two days working in small groups with facilitators.”
These shared conversations are essential for the Church of England, but they will only work if the conversations are truly open and honest. That will take courage.
There are many Bishops who support same-sex relationships but have been too afraid to say what they really think. As one diocesan Bishop said to me at General Synod, “Benny, you know what I think, but I’m chicken – I am too afraid to say it!”
There is also a sizeable minority of the Bishops who are gay themselves. For many of them it is an open secret – one which is only protected by the loyalty and compassion of others which will not ‘out them’ to the world. How stressful must it be for them to continually keep quiet or deflect the conversation or sign up to statements which strike at the very heart of their being.
If the shared conversations next week are to move the Church forward, there must be a greater honesty, greater courage, and greater grace at work than ever before.
Women are renowned for their moral courage, and although there are no women Bishops in post yet, perhaps the courage of people like Vicky Beeching can inspire and challenge our Bishops to have a more open and honest conversation next week. It is certainly long overdue.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)