For the last 10 years I’ve had a strategy. Possibly it’s working.
Many of you will know that one of my goals is to work towards the day when ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy ministries (who work with people with ‘unwanted same sex attraction’) will eventually cease to exist in Australia. My firm belief is that the enemy we must fight against is ignorance. Ex-gay ministries are run by well intentioned people that attract people tortured by the perceived conflict between their faith and sexuality. So the fundamental problem is not people; it is ignorance about sexual orientation and the historical and cultural contexts of half a dozen bible verses. If we attack the real enemy, ignorance, then eventually ‘ex-gay’ ministries will have no referrals or inquires. It’s like we have killed the tree at the roots. Maybe here in Australia we are closer to that than we realise. (see below)
Contexts of ignorance:
- Religious. For a whole variety of reasons (which I cover in the first session of my seminar) people in churches and religious cultures have not had access or are resistant to new information.
- Generational. A 2004 study Mapping Homophobia in Australia showed that older Australians are considerably more homophobic than young adults. I don’t have the data on this but my perception is that in Australia the majority of people contacting ‘ex-gay’ ministries for help are of an older, less informed generation. Most of the people I work with who are sorting this out are around mid-life and older. On our Freedom2b forum we have a young preacher’s kid who, even though his parents don’t understand, has come to self acceptance at the age of 16. Scott– 18 and openly gay Christian, Ben, who has come out at Hillsong at the age of 20 and was supported by pastors in the church. These young people are sorting out in their mid to late teens what many of us took decades to sort out.
- Educational. 25 per cent of those with tertiary education hold homophobic views compared to 40-50 per cent among those who did not complete high school
- Gender. Perceptions about homosexuality are influenced by gender. Once again, in Australia, 43% of men view homosexuality as immoral compared to only 27% of women. I think we can blame testosterone for that.
My strategy TO OVERCOME IGNORANCE:
- Tell my story
- Educate and inform
- Encourage former ex-gays to tell their story
- Encourage former ex-gay leaders to tell their stories and apologise
- Encourage gay and mainstream media attention
- Create dialogues with those who are questioning
- Create spaces on the internet where people can access honest and realistic information.
- Create and publish articles that closeted people in churches looking for answers can access on the internet
- Encourage research. I now know of at least 10 individuals who are either doing their Honours or PhD’s in the area of faith and sexuality; a couple focusing specifically on the ‘ex-gay’ experience. We are developing a collective of these researchers. Soon we will have the qualitative data.
….and I think it might be working.
Here is an extract from a recent newsletter of an ‘ex-gay’ ministry in Sydney, Living Waters written by Ron Brookman the director.
‘There has been a real shift in society lately. We have detected this through responses to Living Waters offerings, we cancelled a conference recently because only a handful of registered. This year we have fewer Living Waters groups and fewer people in those groups. Our leadership training week at Collaroy appears to be hugely undersubscribed’
The next paragraph begins……’we are not discouraged’………but I was greatly encouraged as it seems my strategy might be having an impact.
Whilst some ex-gay ministries in Australia might seek to expand…..doesn’t necessarily mean they can or will. It’s becoming an increasingly irrelevant message. Let me give you a brief history.
What created this ‘ex-gay’ phenomenon?
‘Ex-gay’ ministries spawned in the 70’s out of a cultural and societal foundation that believed homosexuality was a crime and mental illness within the context of fundamental churches who believed it was a sin not an orientation. I lived for six months in an ‘ex-gay’ rehabilitation centre
in Sydney in the early 70’s before Exodus commenced in the US in 1976. That ministry died years ago. But in the context of a strong religious culture in the US ‘ex-gay’ ministries flourished more than in any other part of the world. Once they began to grown in the US others in this country tried to duplicate the same impact. This has always been unsuccessful and only a shadow of their US cousins.
How the ‘ex-gay’ message has evolved
Phase 1 began in the 70’s, when ‘ex-gay’ ministries commenced, they offered a miraculous cure from homosexuality to heterosexuality. It became evident pretty quickly that God did no such thing no matter how much prayer, how anointed the ministry, how many fasts, how many demons were cast out. Emotional changes may have happened to some but orientation remained the same. Many made claims of healing only to eventually realise that prayer doesn’t make the gay go away.
Phase 2 introduced various forms of therapy that were based on now defunct theories about the causes of homosexuality such as a dominant mother and emotionally distant father and also sexual abuse as the reason people turn our gay or lesbian. Mental health professionals moved on but the Christian ministries didn’t. Prayer, inner healing, masculinising men and feminising women, same sex ‘healthy’ bonding etc etc promised that eventually the same sex attraction would diminish and a person’s ‘true’ heterosexuality would come to the surface. Then the person could marry or getting married along the journey would be a part of their healing. Destroyed marriages and lives have been the result along with mental health issues and the most tragic of all….suicide.
has been the acknowledgement that possibly the gay will never go away (stated on the Liberty Christian Ministries
website) and that the person will spend their lives ‘struggling’ even if they enter a heterosexual marriage.
Another option that has more recently been proposed is suppressing ones same sex attraction and choosing celibacy. This is not a healthy acceptance of one’s sexuality as we know it but is more about denial and self hatred. The latter is unhealthy for a person’s emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. For the ‘ex-gay’ there is no release or the sense of empowerment that we have experienced but a constant sense of shame and condemnation. A life of celibacy is for them, a sentence inflicted because of a fallen creation. They are still sick….still broken.
5 Reasons why ‘ex-gay’ ministries have changed their message over four decades?
- Too many failures……even the supposed ‘success’ stories getting caught out.
- Claims of genuine change have never been able to be verified scientifically.
- The emergence of the Gay Christian movement (the Rainbow Revival) where gay and lesbian people of faith have come out.
- Former ‘ex-gays’ telling their stories of how damaging the time in ‘therapy’ was and that they found peace and resolution through acceptance of self not rejection.
- Ex-gay leaders apologising for their previous ignorance about sexual orientation and the damage that may have caused people in the past.