Many people believe that ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy is a relatively new religiously-based phenomena and that Exodus International was the founder of gay conversion therapy in 1976. Exodus to Nowhere (ETN) explores this myth, follows the thread and joins the dots of the “change is possible” philosophy and practices. Beginning in the homosexual dark ages of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the time of greatest imprisonment and treatments, we see the foundation being laid for modern religiously based conversion therapy. This work reveals something not previously documented – gay conversion therapy practices and organisations from a global perspective.
The belief that “change is possible” has its roots in mid 20th century psychology and psychiatry. The foundations were laid further within American society when a 1967 one hour CBS documentary, “The Homosexuals” was viewed by nearly a fifth of the US population. It presented homosexuality as perverse, reinforced by leading professional “experts” and even followed police in their arrests of gay men. The people arrested confessed their personal sickness. Other gay men interviewed had their identities concealed. From behind the shadows each spoke freely about their shame, unhappiness and being trapped. This was a time when two thirds of the US population said they were members of a church 41% had attended a service within the last seven days.
Meanwhile the charismatic movement in the early 60’s followed closely by the revival known as the Jesus Movement was giving Christianity its greatest shake up since the reformation. American evangelicalism was a alive, vibrant and growing. Whereas the UK had previously been the influencer of global Protestantism and evangelical thought, that had progressively shifted to the US. Globally Evangelicals, Charismatics and Pentecostals looked to the US for answers and leadership. Even before the ex-gay movement became visible books like David Wilkerson’s “The Cross and the Switchblade” were shaping the minds of fervent Christians around the world about homosexuality. Wilkerson’s book, published in 1962, became a best-seller and sold over 50 million copies in over thirty languages. All these things were laying the foundation and framework for the ex-gay message to spring up and spread.
From the shadows, the gay rights movement was slowly emerging. It was a resistance movement not unlike the civil rights movement. Resistance against discrimination and societally imposed shame. in 1969, the fight for acceptance and equality exploded in the gay Rosa Parks moment of the Stonewall riots, New York city.
Research, such as Evelyn Hooker’s in 1957, revealed that gay men, not in therapy, were as well adjusted psychologically as heterosexual men and that all previous studies were biased. It took many years for the findings to overcome the entrenched prejudice within the conservative mental health professions. After consistent lobbying by gay activists, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973. When mental health professionals dropped the baton of healing homosexuals it was quickly picked up within the religious world that believed homosexuality was not only a sickness but a sin…….an abomination. Armed with a gospel of forgiveness and belief in the supernatural power of God they believed they could achieve what man had failed to do.
In this work the author sifts through the maze of politics, personalities, programs, misinformation and media frenzies It’s an intriguing journey we are taken on. We see the foundations of the “change is possible” philosophy, the variety of religious movements and cultures that fed it, how it was high-jacked by the religious right for political and financial gain only to be dumped in the end. Over the forty years Exodus, unknowingly, was actually creating the people who would bring it down in the end. As 2013 unfolded, behind the scenes, the pieces that would bring about its ultimate demise were being put in place. The final result was an apology to the LGBT community from the president of Exodus and a public announcement the organisation which had gained global recognition, was closing its doors.
In various US states and parts of the western world all forms of gay conversion therapy are now being legislated against.
But it’s not the end of the story. Lying under the surface, the beliefs that fueled decades of devastation in thousands of individuals lives still exists like a toxic waste dump in the minds of pastors, religious leaders and churches.
About the author
Born in 1951, Anthony Venn-Brown’s developmental years were during the homosexual dark ages of the 50’s and 60’s. Becoming conscious of his homosexuality as a teenager in the mid 1960’s was frightening. The law said he was a criminal and mental health professionals were using aversion therapy to cure gay men and lesbians. After an attempted suicide and a time in therapy in 1967-68, he turned to God for help in the summer of 1969 and became a born again Christian. Now it wasn’t only a crime and sickness it was a sin….an abomination. The struggle to change now only intensified with much prayer, devotion and even exorcisms. No matter how hard he prayed or tried to change, he could never completely rid himself of his attraction to men. In 1972, four years before Exodus was founded in the United States, in desperation, Anthony entered an Australian residential rehabilitation program to cure him of his “curse”, his homosexuality. After six months he left and, believing he’d developed enough control, was married the year later.
By 1991 Anthony had become a popular, high-profile Pentecostal preacher, speaking weekly in Australia’s megachurches. His homosexuality was suppressed, controlled and denied but never went away. His passion to serve God and the church imploded the night he found love in the arms of a man and Anthony was forced to make the toughest decision of his life – keep fighting or face reality.
Anthony’s personal journey from being a self-loathing homosexual to openly proud leader in the LGBTI community is an intriguing one. In Australia he has been at the forefront of exposing the ex-gay myth and contributing to the demise of gay conversion organisations. In 2013 he was secretly invited to attend the Exodus annual conference to hear the historic announcement that the world’s leading conversion therapy organisation was shutting down.
It is this background that enables the author to share profound insights. The observations and lessons learned during those fifty years are intensely relevant to Christians and churches today still grappling with the “gay issue” and yet to discover it’s not unnatural, a sin, perversion or an abomination. It’s a book you’ll not only find helpful but will find yourself handing to others saying ‘hey read this’.”
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