Reaching out to an Australian ‘ex-gay’ leader

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Reaching out to an Australian ‘ex-gay’ leader

After the recent mainstream media reports on ex-gay ministries in Australia and also the impact of The Cure documentary, I felt it was time to reach out once again to a person from ex-gay camp suggesting that we might meet up and engage in dialogue. My email was passed  on to the Director of the ministry. Below is the brief email I received from him. And below that, is my response. I thought it appropriate to blackout ………………….. names and details that would identify who I was speaking about.

 

Why make this private communication public you might be asking? I make this public in the hope that it will be informative, educational and that there is an appropriate way to communicate with those who oppose us.

Anthony,

I chair the committee that runs ………………….. and am responding to the email you sent to ………………….. April 15th.

I find your claim not to see ………………….. as ‘the enemy’ disingenuous. You argue that ignorance is the enemy, but you refuse to acknowledge the genuine work of God in his life. It is arrogant to claim that ‘you are the Anthony Venn-Brown of some 30 years ago’ when you hardly know him.

The Sun Herald reports you as saying that ‘ex-gay’ programs inflict deep psychological damage, and that you will not rest until every last one has been shut down. You clearly do not understand how our ministry operates and are prejudiced against what we are seeking to do. I am afraid that you are the one who is gripped by ignorance in this matter

……………………….

Director of ……………………….Hi …………………..

Thanks so much for taking the time to reply.

I am glad that my email to ………………………. was passed on to you. I would like to respond at length to some of your comments if I may. It will obviously appear ‘over the top’ …..but I feel it important to address your statements and concerns adequately.

I am sorry to hear that you feel that my statement to ………………….. that I didn’t see him as the enemy as being disingenuous.  I can certainly see that some might perceive this differently but my statement  is genuine.  I have never attacked him publicly. Jesus clearly told us to love our neighbour and treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. So I hold no malice against ………………….. or others that have attacked me personally either via email or on the internet making false claims that I am immoral, a predator and a paedophile. They will have to answer to God for ‘bearing false witness of their neighbour’ and deceiving. I stand by my statement. “The enemy is not individuals, churches, ‘ex-gay’ organisations or political parties; the enemy is ignorance. We overcome by focusing on changing the latter not attacking the former.”

I will continue however to correct false and misleading statements ………………….. and others make such as his recent statements in the press such as “In one study, Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation by Jones and Yarhouse, who studied a number of people who had overcome homosexuality over a long-term period, noted that about six in 10 were able to do so”. Either ………………….. hasn’t read the study or he is purposely fudging the figures as other right wing Christian groups have tried to do.

When you do a thorough, unbiased analysis of Yarhouse and Jones findings you are lucky find 14% who had some degree of change. But of course we need to define what ‘change’ or ‘success’ is. According the study change is celibacy, a suppression of homosexual desires, rejection of a gay identity or having sex with a woman. This is not a change from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation as is often inferred by ‘change’ or ‘success’.

Jones also clarified their findings in an interview by saying “A typical hetero male finds himself attracted to a wide range of females. But among the successful people who reported conversion the typical response was I’m very happy with my sexual responses to my wife, but I don’t experience much hetero attraction to other women. Also, when asked and pressed about whether they still find attraction to men, they will say: ‘Yes, if I let my mind go in that direction.’

I have no doubt that God has done a genuine work in …………………..’s life. But not in the area of changing his sexual orientation. It is clear from his testimony that he has been a very tortured young man. I have noted that he still experiences what he calls ‘ temptations’ and that he hopes/believes God will heal him ‘over time’. Four decades of the ‘ex-gay’ philosophy and teaching has demonstrated this is not true. When ‘ex-gay’ leaders have acknowledged that the gay never actually goes away I have always applauded their honesty as it means they are not raising false hopes that marriage is the goal and answer. I guess we will all have to wait and see what happens to ………………….. and see if his hope of healing over time eventuates. But going by John Smid’s (former leader of Love in Action for nearly 20 years) recent admission at the age of  57…. “I would consider myself homosexual and yet in a marriage with a woman. My sexual desires, attractions and lifelong struggle with common factors relating to homosexuality are pretty much all in the classification of homosexual.”…..this is something he has never admitted publicly before.

Most former leaders in Australia have made similar admissions. Many are living openly today in same-sex long-term relationships. I met recently with another person, who was leading an Australian ‘ex-gay’ ministry. After over 20 years of marriage and now living as an openly gay man his words to me were ” we were sold a very cruel lie. And after nearly two decades later, a lie that myself, wife and children are now paying for”. I am hoping he will soon add his voice to the other former leaders who have spoken out about their experience and current understanding. We have been constantly told there are 1,000’s of people who have walked away from homosexuality. They must be living in a very huge closet somewhere as it seems extremely difficult to find them. If they had had such an amazing transformation by the grace and power of God from homosexuality then it would be remiss of them to hide it. After all didn’t Jesus say “If you deny me before men I will deny you before my Father which is in heaven”.

I have to respect, and I do, …………………..’s choice to be married. But it wouldn’t be difficult for many to question his motivation for seeking marriage as he states in his testimony…… “At the time I again turned to God, humbling myself by even lying prostrate on the floor and begging Him for strength. In my solitude I began to realise that I needed a wife who I could express my sexuality with although I never really knew why I wanted it. All I knew was that sex belonged in marriage and since I’d lost control of myself I must need a wife whom I could do it with. So in my despair I asked for a wife, not really knowing if I’d ever be given one.”

From my own experience and many others I have spoken to or worked with, these marriages are unsustainable and this is something I cannot and would not recommend to another person. Maybe ………………….. will be able to sustain this over life but it is extremely rare. I have worked with men who are coming out in their 60’s ans some have never acted on their same-sex-orientation. I guess this begs the question…..why bother potentially turning your entire world upside down like this in your 60′s. Would it be that you are desperate for gay sex? I don’t think so…..it is far more fundamental than that. It is because all their lives they have known something about themselves they have either chosen to hide, deny or suppress. But finally they realise that it is better to live one day on this planet being true to themselves and others than an entire life which is a lie. This is integrity and to say they have ‘given into the struggle’ or been ‘overcome by their homosexuality’ is cruel and heartless. The journey to complete acceptance and authenticity can be an extremely painful one. Especially when you live in a world where everyone is telling you the opposite to what you have discovered.

I know ministries such as yours would be disappointed by the recent press, It’s not so much that the journalists are biased but that stories like ………………….. and ………………….. are becoming increasingly incredulous to the general public who have gay and lesbian siblings, friends, sons, daughters and parents. I have also invested a considerable amount of time getting to know ………………….. through his writings and his lengthy testimonial and we shared time together in media appearances. In his testimonial particularly I can see myself several decades ago and hence was prompted to make that statement ‘you are the Anthony Venn-Brown of some 30 years ago’. 

His sexual addiction stands out. I know exactly what this is like. The most surprising thing that happened to me in my journey was that that the sexual addiction died 20 years ago this year…..when I came out and accepted the fact that I am and always will be gay and no amount of prayer, faith or marriage will ever change that. I also know from working with many people in this area this is not an uncommon experience and is exactly the opposite to what we expected. I often wonder what my life would have been like had a pastor told me at 18, when I became a Christian, that I needed to accept my gay self as a part of me instead of hating, suppressing, denying or trying to change it. I would have been  saved 22 years of torment but I also would not have been the source of pain to so many people.

Yes the report in the Sun Herald quoting me saying that ‘ex-gay’ programs inflict deep psychological damage, and that you will not rest until every last one has been shut down…….is true. What is missing is the rest of the quote which is ‘but this will happen not by me attacking them but because eventually sanity will prevail and churches will realise that homosexuality is an orientation not an abomination and people will no longer seek out or be referred to these organisations’. I detailed this in Is my strategy working?  back in 2010 ….that strategy has not changed.

I believe that as a Christian you are also a man of compassion. I am sure you are moved by the emails you  received at your organisation. But if you had been in my position I am sure you would also be moved as I have been by the 100’s and 100’s of emails I have received from readers of my autobiography. They detail the untold suffering they have experienced including depression, other mental health issues, thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts, rejection by Christian friends and family and being thrown out of churches. You can read a small sample of extracts at the end of my presentation ‘A Glimpse into Australia’s Ex-gay World (pages 27-35) or more stories here. Some of these were experienced whilst going through ex-gay programs such as yours and I know that yourself and other leaders would never get these emails.  I have heard Australian ex-gay leaders like …………………. and ……………… claim that they don’t know of anyone who has been harmed going through these programs. This reflects either denial, a complete lack of understanding of the impact they are having on individual lives or poor duty of care for those who walk away. I understand the challenges you would face following up.

Yes I do have a goal. Yes I am driven. Driven by a passion to ensure that not one person, spends one day in the terrible unnecessary torment I lived in for 22 years.

You have suggested that I “clearly do not understand how our ministry operates and are prejudiced against what we are seeking to do”

I believe I do know how your organisation operates. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Fundamentally it works on the premise that same sex orientation is a flaw in human nature. And that you believe it can be ‘same-sex-attraction’ happens through the lack of balanced parenting or sexual abuse and therefore not innate.  You believe that same-sex-orientation is against God’s will and that He has the power to change that through prayer, faith and a strong relationship with God. You work with people who have unwanted same sex attraction’ or ‘sexual brokeness’.

Quite a number of the people (possibly the majority)  who are referred to or come to you also come with sexual abuse or sexual addiction issues (these of course are played out in same-sex activity because of their orientation). These issues are difficult and complex to deal with and should only be handled by fully qualified mental health professionals. I am not aware that …………….. has such a qualification.

It is interesting to note that heterosexual people (as  well as homosexual people) can also have addiction and abuse problems but heterosexuals don’t feel the need to blame their orientation for it or to change it. The problem is the addiction or the abuse…..not the orientation. This inability to separate the issues is a fundamental flaw and is often reflected in the testimonials of ‘ ex-gay’ poster chidren like ……………………The fundamental premise that organizations like Exodus and yourselves are founded on (that same-sex-orientationis flawed), is no longer a belief in the majority of society and all mental health associations reject the notion. The gay Christian movement is growing exponentially making the ‘ex-gay’ ‘sexual brokenness’ message increasingly irrelevant. I rejoice that young Christian people are finding out in their teens something that that many of us didn’t come to realize till our 40’s or later; that our morality is a choice but our sexual orientation isn’t and that we can live open, honest and honourable lives before God and others as gay and lesbian people. This is now the new reality and the growing number of stories on the freedom2b forum (Telling Our Stories ) reflect that. In telling my story it has not only helped people for find resolution it has encouraged others to do the same….now they are telling their stories. Some of these had previously gone down the path that is provided by organisations such as yours but ultimately they found freedom in acceptance.

My hope is that one day …………….. and others like him will find the same. 

I do know when that happens that some in the gay community will delight in his ‘fall from grace’  and humiliate him…..but there are others of us, like  myself, who will say to …………….. your journey to self-acceptance is over…….welcome home.

I am happy to discuss these things further with if you feel it would be of mutual benefit.

Sincerely  Anthony Venn-Brown Founder and Director of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International

 

About the Author:

Anthony Venn-Brown
Anthony Venn-Brown is one of Australia’s foremost commentators on faith and sexuality. His best-selling autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning – a preacher’s struggle with his homosexuality, church and faith', detailing his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia's growing mega-churches, such as Hillsong, to living as an openly gay man, has impacted 1,000's globally. Anthony was the co-founder and former leader of Freedom 2 b[e], Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the 'ex-gay' myth. Anthony is the founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International and has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009).

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