How celibacy became the new ex-gay

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How celibacy became the new ex-gay

There are three ways you could understand how celibacy became the new ex-gay. You could have lived through the evolution, you are a researcher/historian, or you can read this article.

I was born in 1951. In the 50’s and 60’s gay men were either imprisoned or institutionalised as they were considered sexual perverts. Mental health professionals came to the ‘rescue’ around this time.  Individual psychologists, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts vied for the number one position to find the cause of homosexuality and hence find a cure. They failed miserably and in the early 70’s mental health organisations removed homosexuality from their list of disorders to be treated.[1]

But during the 50’s and 60’s seeds were being sown in evangelical, charismatic and pentecostal (ECP) Christianity that would eventually become parachurch organisations that would offer hope for the terrible curse of homosexuality. In the ECP world homosexuality was viewed as more than an illness or perversion it was a sin; an abomination in fact. Deliverance, forgiveness and healing was promised and readily accepted by troubled and desperate Christian gay men and lesbians.

By 1976 a small number of formerly isolated individuals and groups met in Los Angeles and founded Exodus. One of those groups was called EXIT Ministries (EX-gay Intervention Team), founded at Melodyland Christian Centre in 1974. The term ‘ex-gay’ was coined by Michael Bussee who was running EXIT.

Four years before the founding of Exodus, in 1972, when I was in a residential program[2] to change my homosexuality, it wasn’t known as ex-gay, reparative or conversion therapy. I just wanted to be free of the sin of homosexuality that had taken control of my life. During heights of emotional freedom I testified that I was a ‘former homosexual’[3].

The term ‘ex-gay’ stuck for many years, giving the impression that these people, once gays and lesbians, were now heterosexual. The label ‘ex-gay’ was worn with pride. The term for the experience would change several times over the decades; 10 times in fact. These name changes are significant as they reflect a number of things which are developed further in ‘Exodus to Nowhere – the quest to cure queers’.[4]

Over the next four decades, hundreds of individual organisations (under Exodus International) in the USA and around the world , offered ‘hope for homosexuals’ and the promise ‘change is possible.’

The message of all the groups under Exodus was the same.

  1. Homosexuality is abnormal/unnatural
  2. Homosexuality is against God’s chosen order i.e. Adam and Eve/man and woman
  3. Homosexuality is caused by improper development or sexual abuse. You are broken.
  4. Homosexuality can be cured through prayer, faith, therapy, personal will-power or a combination of these. Homosexuals can become heterosexual.

During this time, one statement we heard repeatedly was that 1,000’s have left the ‘homosexual lifestyle’. Claims were even made that there were 100,000’s .  Statements about large numbers ‘leaving homosexuality’ were boldly declared regularly by religious leaders and organizations such as Focus on the Family,  Family Research Council, Exodus, Charisma Magazine, Parents and Friend of Ex-gay (PFOX) – to name a few.

Here in Australia the same claims were made by Rev Fred Nile of the Christian Democratic PartyBill MuehlenbergRon Brookman – Living WatersPeter Stokes – Salt Shakers and Margaret Court.

The credibility of these claims was constantly challenged by:

  • ex-gay survivors (people who’d come out the other side unchanged, except for the harm)
  • the consistent revolving door in the ex-gay world – many giving up when they found love
  • the public scandals of high profile ‘healed’ gays
  • the stream of apologies from former ex-gay leaders who said it didn’t work and they were sorry for the false hope and pain they’d brought to so many lives.

Denying the facts, and with a vested interest in maintaining the myth, ex-gay/reparative/conversion ministries fought on still offering people false hope.

Finally in 2012, Alan Chambers, former president of Exodus International, admitted that ‘99.9%’  of the people he knew ‘have not experienced a change in their orientation’.  Even though Alan Chambers statement was pretty much the last nail in the coffin for Christian ex-gay ministries remnants remain.

Eventually ECP people have had to face the reality that gays don’t change. So what is the answer? It’s easy. We just accept that you are gay BUT you can never act on it. It’s called celibacy. You know, like nuns and priests (clearly that has worked well for the Catholic church over the centuries).  From the ashes of the failed ex-gay movement comes the new celibate gay Christian movement.

Here’s the NEW message:

  1. Homosexuality is abnormal/unnatural
  2. Homosexuality is against God’s chosen order i.e. Adam and Eve/man and woman
  3. Homosexuality is caused by improper development or sexual abuse. You are broken.
  4. Homosexuality can be cured through prayer, faith, therapy, personal will-power or a combination of these. Homosexuals can become heterosexual.

This  rebranding of the ex-gay philosophy is being promoted rather vigorously in ECP churches. Alan Chambers, former president of Exodus International, in his closing address in 2013, said that one of the options they had rejected was rebranding. Rebranding ‘would be like putting lipstick on a pig. When they changed Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC, they still sold fried chicken.’ he said.

Of course I’m grateful  that finally people have accepted the reality that people don’t change orientation and being gay is not in conflict with a person’s faith, but the new message ‘but you can’t act on it’ (celibacy) is problematic. The message now is essentially ‘you can never fall in love or have a life partner like others in the church’. You are called to singleness[5]; to shut down a fundamental and beautiful part of your God given humanity. I believe this ‘you are broken’ message continues to have a negative impact on young gay and lesbian people in churches.

This new celibacy message has been adopted by the former ex-gay organisation Liberty Christian Ministries[6] and by the new kid on the block Living Hope[7].  Both these organisations remain a part of Exodus Global Alliance[8] which continues to promote the outdated ‘change is possible’ myth.

Some of the people proclaiming the celibacy message to ECP churches include Wesley Hill, David Bennett, Eve Tushnet and Sam Allberry. Sam Allberry is currently touring Australia.[9]

If Wesley, David, Eve and Sam choose to be celibate themselves I’m fine with that. It’s their life and I don’t have the right to them how they should live it. What is not acceptable though is for that message to be preached in ECP churches to young LGBT people, their friends and families as God’s solution to a same sex orientation.

The most profound experiences we can have as human beings, such as love and intimacy, flow from our same sex or opposite sex orientation. As with being gay, love should never be something we are ashamed of.

Like the old ex-gay message, the new celibacy message has a limited life span. I doubt it will be four decades though as some of the original preachers of the message have already changed course. More about that in my new book.[10]

And a little message to those choosing the new ‘can’t act on it’ message. Make sure you put a tight lid on your emotions because love has a way of catching up on you.

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[1] http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/

[2] A Life of Unlearning Chapter 7 Rehab with a twist – my ex-gay experience

[3] A Life of Unlearning – a preacher’s struggle with his homosexuality, church and faith http://amzn.to/1RIpTkH

[4] “Exodus to Nowhere – the quest to cure queers” will be out shortly. To be updated, receive pre-publication copies and special offers please subscribe here http://tinyurl.com/ETNTQTCQ

[5] http://www.liberty.sydney/category/resources/singleness/

[6] www.libertychristianministries.org.au/

[7] https://www.livinghopesa.com.au/

[8] http://www.exodusglobalalliance.org/regionalcontactsc876.php

[9] https://www.trinitycity.church/events/living-hope-sa-god-anti-gay/ and http://www.liberty.sydney/2017-liberty-conferences/

[10] “Exodus to Nowhere – the quest to cure queers” will be out shortly. To be updated, receive pre-publication copies and special offers please subscribe here http://tinyurl.com/ETNTQTCQ

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).

One Comment

  1. Good Girl Guide August 23, 2017 at 2:57 am - Reply

    I am completely blown away by your honesty and integrity of the articles that you publish which speak about the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer) community. It is amazing to have come across your articles, especially since you have been voted twice as the “‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009)”! I am a content editor and would love more than anything to interview for an article on the milestones in your personal lifestyle and what people can actively do within their community to support the LGBTQ community. It would mean a lot to me to get your message out there.
    The issues of discrimination in the past have caused the LGBTQ community to become polarised and marginalised from society. There was a social stigma that was attached which has had a negative impact on their mental health. I feel that this stigma has faded away in the media and the community to provide a sex positive environment where people are able to express themselves, learn about safe sex practices and meet up with other people who are experiencing similar issues. This is important so that they are able to work through their problems and find people who share similar beliefs who they are able to share moments in their lives together. Though the issues within the religious community are quite different with people compartmentalising their religious beliefs and their sexual lifestyle choices, so that they are able to be happy but still follow their faith.
    It is essential for people of all sexualities to have a place which is safe to visit especially in time of distress. I am grateful that there are services like Headspace, ACON and the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby which have shared knowledge on these issues. It would be a great honour to talk to you.

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