In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality as a mental illness from its diagnostic manual.

Whilst mental health professionals faced the reality they were wrong, and moved on, much of the Christian Church was not having any of it. In their eyes, homosexuality was more than a mental illness. It was a God forbidden practice, a choice, a sin, an abomination and against divine order. They had the first chapter of Genesis and six other Bible passages to “prove” it. Within three years, the first formal organisation preaching a “change is possible” message, Exodus, was founded in 1976.

The term “ex-gay” stuck for many years, giving the impression that these people, once gays and lesbians, were now heterosexuals. Ex-gays wore the label with pride. LGBTQ opponents often put inverted commas around the term, to indicate doubt.

Over the next four decades, hundreds of individual organisations under Exodus’s umbrella, came and went, offering “hope for homosexuals” and the promise “change is possible“.

The message of all the groups 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 had left the “homosexual lifestyle”. Claims were made that there were 100,000’s . Religious leaders and organizations such as Focus on the Family,  Family Research Council, Exodus, Charisma Magazine, Parents and Friend of Ex-gay (PFOX) regularly declared that large numbers were “leaving homosexuality”. Here in Australia, Rev Fred Nile of the Christian Democratic PartyBill MuehlenbergRon Brookman – Living WatersPeter Stokes – Salt Shakers and Margaret Court  made the same claims. They lied.

Their claims were constantly challenged by ex-gay or conversion therapy survivors (people who’d come out the other side unchanged, except for the harm),  many giving up when they found love, the public scandals of high profile ‘healed’ gays and 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 “therapy” 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”.

Eventually the ex-gay/reparative/conversion “therapy” ministries had to face the reality that the “change” they’d been preaching and promising wasn’t happening. So what was their answer? The message switched from change to accepting the fact that you are gay………BUT…….. you can never act on it. It’s called celibacy. You know, like nuns and priests, which obviously worked so well for the Catholic church over the centuries.

From the ashes of the failed “ex-gay” movement came the new celibate gay Christian movement.

The NEW message was:

  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.  You must suppress ALL your same-sex thoughts and feelings. You can never act on them. 

It’s essentially the same false and outdated message except for the expected outcome.

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 “you can’t act on it” (celibacy) is problematic. The message now is “you can never fall in love or have a life partner like others in the church”. You are called to singleness; to shut down a fundamental and beautiful part of your God given humanity. The “you are broken” message continues to have a negative impact on young gay, lesbian and trans people in churches.

Some of the people proclaiming the celibacy message include Wesley Hill, David Bennett, Eve Tushnet and Sam Allberry and others

In Australia, Liberty Christian Ministries used to be one of the prominent ex-gay/reparative/conversion “therapy” organisations (although they regularly denied it). They quietly closed down over 12 months ago and emerged rebranded as Living Faith (a celibacy ministry). As stated on their website, “Living Faith’s goal is not ‘orientation change’, but for individuals to have a life-transforming, personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the Lord of glory.” To the non-believer that sounds ambiguous, to the believer, it’s plain and clear.

If individuals and ministry leaders 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’s not acceptable, though, is for that message to be preached to young LGBTQ people, their friends and families as God’s only option for same-sex oriented people.

The most profound experiences we can have as human beings, such as love, tenderness, affection and intimacy, flow out of our orientation; whether that be the same or opposite sex. As with being gay, love is something we should never be 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, like Randy Thomas and Julie Rodgers featured in Pray Away, already changed course.

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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