Sy Rogers is back in the country, speaking on Christian radio, Christian City Churches and the Hillsong Colour Conference.
Since I first published The Sy Rogers Story (An Anthony Venn-Brown Perspective) in 2007 it has become one of the top five most read articles on my site. It’s definitely time for an update.
Sy Rogers was actually at the forefront of the ex-gay/reparative therapy (later to be known as conversion therapy or gay conversion therapy) movement globally and was particularly involved in the setting of up of Exodus here in Australia, Asia and South America. In 1990 he based himself in Singapore and established an ex-gay ministry called Choices.
I first met with Sy in 2007 when he responded to my request for a meeting. He was presenting his Sense and Sexuality seminar at Hillsong Church. When I spoke about my deep concern for young LGBT people growing up in Pentecostal and Evangelical churches, one of the things he said to me was “I no longer preach a re-orientation message” and proceeded to talk about the many years it had been since he had any involvement with Exodus International. Whilst it may have been true that he hadn’t been involved at a leadership level for some time he did speak at the Exodus Freedom Conference in Marion, Indiana only the year before.
Sy’s statement the night we met, “I no longer preach a re-orientation message” of course means I no longer preach that gay people can become straight. This had been his message for decades.
We had agreed on confidentiality at our meeting, so I didn’t feel at liberty to share this revelation publicly. Knowing his audio and video resources were treated as the final word/authority on homosexuality I encouraged Sy via email to state his new belief publicly and clearly. He ignored my requests except once, when he had moved his family into a new church home in Auckland, and said that it was not his preferred time to cause any public controversy.
Over the years, several minister friends have told me that Sy made the same statement to them about no longer preaching a reorientation message. So, the question remains “why hasn’t Sy clearly and publicly stated his current belief?” (If he has done this publicly then I stand corrected.)
Considering his entire ministry has been built on the false premise that he was once gay but is now straight, Christian congregations continue to make very damaging assumptions. His messages are clouded with non-defined spiritual terminology such as sexual brokenness, same-sex attraction and transformation that is vague and far from helpful. The implications of these veiled messages harms way more than just gay and lesbian people themselves. I know Sy Rogers would not preach a completely affirming message, but to no longer say “God makes gay people straight”, is a step in the right direction. This of course also means that the term “gay Christian” is not an oxymoron.
Many people have contacted me whose lives were negatively affected by Sy’s “God can change you” message. A mid 20-year-old man told me that his parents forced him to listen to Sy Rogers tapes. He says these caused immense internal conflict which led to depression. Now he has accepted the fact that he is gay, he no longer has a relationship with his parents. they still hold on to their original position “If Sy can change so can you. You didn’t try hard enough”.
Another, a 40-year-old man who had been involved in Exodus here in Australia for 20 years and used to promote the Sy Rogers story and resources. His words tell it all. “I was sold a very cruel lie’. One my wife and children are currently trying to painfully unravel.”
These are not isolated incidences. There have been four decades of this and it is still going on. A Pentecostal minister from the Central Coast recently said on Facebook “once gay always gay is completely unproven and a lie trapping people into something that is unchangeable….. perhaps you should review the Sy Rogers story as a means of understanding much of what my view is like”
Personally, if I knew that my outdated materials were splitting up Christian parents and their children, creating depression, mental health issues, thoughts of and attempts to suicide, I’d be horrified and do all I could to correct that. It just needs a simple and very clear statement. At the very least a clear and simple statement. What, of course, would be far better would be a sincere and genuine apology for the decades of devastation his message “you are broken, God can heal you” has wrought in the lives of countless LGBT people.
John Smid did it. Alan Chambers did it. Randy Thomas did it.
Sy…..you have my email address. Contact me.
© Anthony Venn-Brown
Any chance you’ve heard from Sy? Your description of his behavior sounds like common two-faced hypocrisy: telling LGBT people and/or progressive ministers what they want to hear while allowing conservative homophobes to continue believing in his earlier message. I hope he comes to the point that the former leaders of Exodus have.
Not at this stage. I’m keen to talk one on one with him privately as we have done before.
One should not attempt to add assumptions as to why Sy has stopped preaching the way he used to. It is not that people can’t change but it is extremely rare in the Times we are in. For people like Sy and myself, we are seen as a threat and responded to negatively by the majority. There comes a time to turn it over in prayer (1 Timothy 2:1) and move on with the message as the Lord leads- for Today.
Seek His face always.
Don’t you think that Sy should clarify his current beliefs as people are misrepresenting him as a ‘former’ homosexual which has a damaging affect on LGBT youth.
As a Christian mum of a trans gay teen I’m very concerned about what people may be hearing this weekend at the colour conference. It’s too late once it’s been said but will you be able to get a copy of his talk? Thanks
Thanks Janelle……and what they might hear could quite possibly reinforce negative preconceived ideas and ignorance on the topic.
I can assure you the intention of well intended Christians is to continue the “Sy Rogers story” of redemption from homosexuality. I was invited to a Sy Rogers message at a South Australian church a few years ago by a well meaning fellow worker. At the time she did not tell me Sy was the speaker. To assume I needed to hear his story was the height of Christian arrogance. I “played the Pentecostal” game and many who don’t know me thought I was an exemplary evangelical example. Suffice to conclude I was offended by my inviter and Sy Rogers ultimate message; while he didn’t specifically spell it out, the implications of his story remain unchanged. As a ‘mature aged’ person I can deflect the confusion this would cause for someone less spiritually, emotionally, and mentally mature.
I remain unimpressed by both Sy and any church that seeks his message.
Thanks for sharing this. This is HUGE! I did my time being lied to at Exodus conferences, massaged by Colin Cook (Homosexuals Annonymous co founder) and counseling with a couple of Exodus board members for about 5-6 years back in the 80’s. Joseph Nicolosi died 2 months ago, and an American prime time (“20/20”) segment on reparitive therapy aired in March. Your news re: Sy and his deliberate doublespeak is
fraught with important implications for vunerable youth and “You can become straight” party line of so many churches and quack Christian counselors! Incidentally, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard that Sy, (on the “downlow”) has backpeddled on his message in private with some Christian heavy hitters! Thanks again, Gary
thanks Gary….if it is true as a number of us have either heard or are assuming and Sy continues to keep it out of the public arena….well I guess we would all have to come to our own conclusions as to why he would do that.
The message ‘You are broken, God can heal you’ is for us all. It is devastating to humanity to suggest that we be proud of our brokenness.
Brokeness has nothing to do with your orientation Jules. Just like your eye or hair colour. You are not broken because you are straight. You are broken because you are human
I don’t understand that if “homosexuality” can be integrated into Christianity, why all other sins, theft, drug addiction, peadophilia, murder, adultery, pride, cowardice, etc cant be reconciled and accepted as well. If God isn’t big enough to renew homosexual minds, why should be expect him to be big enough to change anyone else’s? That is just hypocrisy to say your willing behaviour is more acceptable than others. When the Jesus says “If you love me, you will obey me”. He didn’t say we wouldn’t battle, or it would be easy…. maybe that is why “the path to destruction is wide, and the gate to life is narrow, and few will find it.” Where our minds go we go…. please explain how you reconcile this?
You will find the answer to your question in this article I wrote some years ago Andrea https://www.abbi.org.au/2012/01/gays-pedophile/. The answer lies simply in some peoples lack of understandiing of sexual orientation.
Andrea, I don’t understand why, if “heterosexuality” can be integrated into Christianity, all other sins, theft, drug addiction, peadophilia [sic], murder, adultery, pride, cowardice, etc. can’t be reconciled and accepted as well. If God isn’t big enough to renew heterosexual minds, why should we expect him to be big enough to change anyone else’s?
One thing I don’t understand is that one of the definitions of love is that it is not self-seeking ( 1 Cor 13:4 & 5), but I don’t think that I can find a more self-seeking attitude in the so-called open and affirming Christian group!!! I tried but I failed poor me it’s not myself that has the problem it’s everyone else I am so self-aware I cannot even see that my motive is not unselfish soul-seeking but I want to have sex with someone with the same body as me, it is so blantently absurd it beggars speech!!!
David, it is good to see that you have such a good grasp understanding sexual orientation (said in a sarcastic voice)
So let’s choose what we want and don’t want from the Bible…..
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Grabiella…I have no idea why people like yourself feel the need to cut and paste bible verses here as if we’d never heard of them. It’s rather silly isn’t it. I suggest you either read this or listen to the audio https://www.abbi.org.au/audio-resources/what-does-the-bible-really-say-about-homosexuality/
I’m having an online back-and-forth with someone, at the moment, who mentioned Sy Rogers and I quickly Googled him for more information, which brought me to your (excellently-written) article.
I don’t know if this means anything, but I can only tell you my personal story. I knew I was gay when I was 14, but I’d grown up in a deeply religious household. So I made the decision to be celibate. I didn’t date, I didn’t let myself fall in love, I never did any of that stuff. No kissing, no holding hands, I went out of my way to avoid any friendships with other gay people. And I stuck with it, for as long as I could. Because I was convinced that this was the right thing to do. That having a romantic or sexual relationship with another man would be a mortal sin, something that God would disown and punish me eternally for doing. I stuck with this for 20 years.
Do you know how many times I tried to commit suicide, in those 20 years? How many times I tried to mutilate myself, in those 20 years? I don’t even remember, I lost count. It didn’t matter how much pain I was in. It didn’t matter that I was living a life of daily torture (where I had to watch everyone around me live their lives like normal, healthy adults … knowing that I could never have any of that. Knowing that I had to be alone, forever), it didn’t matter how much pain I was in every single day of my life. I stuck with it, for 20 years, until it just about killed me.
I reached a day, when I was 34, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. Doing the right thing, obeying the Bible, making the sacrifice because it was the right thing to do? It broke me, as a person. Utterly and completely, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.
It feels like conservative Christians only suggest two things, to deal with the uncomfortable truth of gay people. (1) is “You chose to be gay, so you should just choose to be straight!” I heard someone say this to me, once, and it was utterly baffling. Every gay person in the world will say that’s nonsense, and gay people know more about their own lives than other people, so they deserve to be listened to. (2) comes back to, “Well sexual activity is the sin, so you should just be celibate.” I tried that. It was a life of daily torture. Forcing people to be alone forever is an act of inhumane cruelty. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I remember praying once, and the overwhelming message I felt was, “You weren’t put on this Earth to be miserable your whole entire life.”
I’m 37. I had my first kiss when I was 34. So, I’m getting there, slowly but surely. But this all still weighs on me. I’m trapped, between two completely opposing ideologies, and there are zero easy ways to reconcile them. I guess, I just hope in the end that this all turns out okay.
But I guess, that’s the point. Christians like to lecture gay people on the lives that we’re supposed to be living … but they have no idea. They have no idea of the pain and hurt, that they inflict. Why would I choose this life, for myself? Why was doing the “right thing” such a miserable exercise in hatred and depression? If only, if only, people could understand just what it’s like, to be gay, and understand the pain and hurt that we go through. If only Christian preachers could just listen, or maybe try to understand.
Because too few of them do.
Hi, Peter. I resonate with your story. I had my first gay kiss at the age of 49. I had been able to function in a straight marriage. But it was killing me, draining the life out of me, just as enforced celibacy was draining the life out of you. I came out 10 years ago, and today I am the happiest I have ever been.
Reconciling spirituality and sexuality is not an easy thing. It takes a lot of patient work. I used to be a pastor. My journey has taken me to an interspiritual place, drawing from several traditions including Hinduism and Christianity. Please understand, I’m not suggesting you follow me in that — just that we can each find our way to reconciliation. There’s something about being marginalized in all these religious communities that is, I think, really a gift in terms of being able to connect with the God who is really there. It seems God is especially close to the outcast.
I want to be one more voice assuring you that you are profoundly, passionately, infinitely loved by God. That is my experience of who God is. I wish you much peace on your journey. — David
“Reconciling spirituality and sexuality is not an easy thing.”
No, it’s not. I appreciate your kind words, though, and I’m grateful for them.
thank you so much for sharing your Peter…….it has definitely been a challenging journey for you. Glad you made it through. It gets better
I’m glad he wouldn’t spend the time to try and fix me down in Timaru. I don’t think I’d be alive today if he ‘did’
Thank you for doing the initial article and this revisiting follow up.
I’d read round one at least once maybe more than once before, it’s good it’s still getting responses (even if mostly negative 15 years later.
It was a podcast recently where the guest praised sy’s videos.
To the effect his take away was if God could work with that old queen, than other people are less of a mess.
Of course you’re right, if sy had evolved from the caustic messages and/ or change is possible implications he should have done similar statements to these other people, I believed in that, but now my experience hasn’t seemed to match the claims, promises suggested and implied through out.
The bigger problem was his promoters having him on the stages with that as THE only story, that you had to superimpose over yours to be in place that was recognised as walking with God (the church).
By ignoring the train of destruction these guys leave in their wake, it’s rinse and repeat, now younger change promoters tinkering more and having new phraseology but dealing the same toxic ideology.
I guess now it’s Becket cook, last year preaching ‘change of affections, the opposite of homosexuality is holiness’ and related barrage.
“It was a moment in Paris six months earlier. I was at a fashion party and just felt empty: I had done everything in Hollywood, met everyone, traveled everywhere. Yet I was overwhelmed with emptiness at this party. It was one of the most intense “is that all there is?” moments in my life. I had already been wrestling with questions about the meaning of life, searching for it in all sorts of ways. But I knew God was never an option, because I was gay. It was off the table. I wasn’t confused about what the Bible had to say about homosexuality. I knew it was clear. But I was still searching for meaning.” BECKET COOK
Feeling empty and questioning life is not a gay only experience.
Heterosexuals feel empty all the time when they have built their lives on the superficial and chased things they’d assumed would make them happy.
You don’t have to become a christian to find meaning nor to do you have reject being gay to become one either.
That’s right, that alot of heteronorm people have feelings of emptiness and pack of meaning.
Away from the stages and appearances, he must have times of what the f6ck am I doing, propping up anti gay orgs and rhetoric.
I was going to say but forgot to that the instance I referred to was a gathering of 3000 teens and young adults that filled an auditorium.
No doubt lgbtq people messed up in that gathering, heteros affected by his ‘testimony’ and resulting ‘solutions’ for pastors if and when people in their church start I’m gay, think I’m gay conversations.