Chapter 21 A Life of Unlearning (2nd edition) – Moving forward

The first and second  editions of A Life of Unlearning sold out. Information about the 3rd edition HERE 

The week after the launch of the first edition of A Life of Unlearning, I invited the Honourable Justice Michael Kirby to lunch. This would be a simple way of showing him how grateful I was that he had taken time out of his busy schedule to read my book and write the foreword.

In Australia and overseas Justice Kirby is highly respected and in the gay community has become somewhat of a hero. His appointments in the judicial system have been noteworthy but he is especially known as a Justice of the High Court of Australia. Justice Kirby received Australia’s highest civil honour when he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in 1991. Being a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), the United Nations Special Representative in Cambodia and the President of the International Commission of Jurists are other career highlights of note.

Justice Kirby has been open about his homosexuality since 1999, when he outed himself in Australia’s Who’s Who, naming Johan van Vloten as his long-term partner, now of thirty-seven years. He has often spoken publicly in support of gay rights and as an Anglican has expressed disappointment at his church’s stance on homosexuality. On 2 May 2002, Justice Kirby was quoted in the Melbourne daily newspaper The Age,

‘The churches, especially, must accept much of the blame for the homophobia that still exists in Australia, as in all communities. This is both the puzzle and the challenge. It is a puzzle, because such attitudes seem so incompatible with the basic lessons of a spiritual belief. The challenge is to expedite a change of view and to reiterate the universality of spiritual outreach. In the past there was perhaps an excuse for ignorance about sexuality. Today there is none. Homophobia has to stop. Silence and shame are the means by which oppression continues. That is why people like me must speak up.’ 1

Justice Kirby’s willingness to speak so openly has not endeared him to everyone.  In 2002 one of his critics, Liberal senator Bill Heffernan, under parliamentary privilege, accused Justice Kirby of using government vehicles to pick up male prostitutes. It appeared to many that this was an orchestrated attempt at character assassination, and Heffernan’s evidence to support this claim was swiftly discovered to be a forgery. Senator Heffernan resigned his post as Parliamentary Secretary, and made a statement to the Senate in which he withdrew the claims. Even though the allegations were false I imagine this would have caused the judge personal hurt and stress and understandably deserved some justifiable retribution, but when Senator Heffernan eventually apologised, Justice Kirby simply responded, ‘I accept Senator Heffernan’s apology and reach out my hand in a spirit of reconciliation. I hope my ordeal will show the wrongs that hate of homosexuals can lead to.’ Obviously the title, The Honourable, is not just a title—he is a man of great honour.

We had been corresponding via email for some time and had spoken briefly when he and Johan popped into my book launch, preferring to stand in the background while my daughters launched the book. I’d never met a High Court Judge before and was unsure how to address him. Justice, Judge, Your Honour—all seemed  right and respectful but, being a more informal person, I chose to call him Michael. I must admit it felt a little awkward, but he didn’t seem to mind.

We met for lunch at a café behind the Law Court building. We talked about the possibility of having been on a dance floor at the same time in 1973, before my Christian belief system drove me back into the closet for another nineteen years. I thought for a moment about the contrast between our two journeys and wondered if I’d stayed true to my sexuality from those early days, would I have found a lifelong companion as he had? The conversation paused and he looked at me seriously, straightened up, and his eyes became more intense and focused. ‘Now Anthony,’ I knew I was in for an important statement, ‘writing your book is not the end. Your role is to change the Pentecostals’ view on homosexuality.’ I thought it was a rather tall order and a tad flattering that he thought I could actually be that influential. I had already concluded that my work was done once I’d told my story. Now I could get on with my life, or so I thought. What more could I do?

Justice Kirby reminded me that people in Pentecostal churches are like most people in other denominations who are basically good, loving and Christian people.  Something I had also come to understand and believe from renewed contacts with various people and my years in the church.  Confronted with scientific facts and actual human beings that they are hurting, they will eventually come to appreciate that there is a need to re-examine the scriptural texts presently taken as adverse to homosexuals. Possibly we may never see the dissolving of extremists groups like the Reverend Fred Phelps of and others. Regrettably we have seen too much hatred returned for hatred on both sides of the fence that continues to reinforce stereotypes and clouds rational debate. Justice Kirby continued with further details and as I listened intently to what he was saying, had a strong sense he was speaking prophetically. Deep down inside, his words resonated strongly with me and made perfect sense. As a former leader within the Assemblies of God, and having resolved my personal issues around the conflict between my sexual orientation and my faith, I was best qualified to speak about those issues. But how was I to  do that?

In the two years since the book’s publication I have received a steady stream of correspondence, often beginning the same way—‘your story is my story’.   These readers then go on to tell me of their own journey, in a one-paragraph email or a ten-page handwritten letter. Many felt that up to this point they could not talk to anyone about the ordeal they have gone through. Like me, their sense of shame and failure kept them silent. Not all yet have found the resolution I have, but they are on the way out of the dark and terrible closet that has kept them living in fear, shame and self-contempt. Looking at this overwhelming response, the picture is very clear. There is not one good thing that has come from the church maintaining the outdated, ill-informed belief that homosexuality is a sin, a perverse choice, or the result of a dysfunctional upbringing.

There was Trevor who told me how he had helped his Christian father build their multi-million dollar home, only to be disinherited when his father found out he was gay , giving everything to his heterosexual brother and sister. Or Greg, an ex-Baptist minister, who detailed his trip to a national park to gas himself in the car where he was saved only by a passing ranger. Jill and Trish recounted how they were in ministry in a mega-church and fell in love. When it became apparent, even though they had not slept together, they immediately had their positions of leadership stripped from them and the humiliation drove them from the church. Brian, who had done an ex-gay program and developed mental health issues, said that whilst struggling to be an ex-gay he attempted suicide three times. On a disability pension, he was unable to buy my book so he went to the city and read it in the reading room of a major bookshop. He was embarrassed as he sat and wept whilst reading, but returned the next day to finish the story. The resolution he found on those pages has somehow led to his healing. Every symptom of his illnesses are gone, he has a job and is living a wonderful life as a gay Christian. Jesus did say, ‘You will know the truth and the truth shall set you free’ (John 8:32).

Nineteen-year-old Reece told me about how his parents sent him to a Christian counsellor who put him on a lie detector as a way of monitoring his ‘transformation’. His sister told him that unless he changed, he would not be allowed alone with her children. Reece eventually had to leave home. Peter and I had known each other in the ministry (I had never guessed he might be gay) but we had lost contact over the years. We reconnected after he had read my book, revealing he was living a tormented, closeted life. What would happen if he told the church leaders or his children? After marriage, serving in the ministry, some sexual involvement with another pastor who also suppressed his homosexuality, multiple physical and psychological problems, therapy, and depression, Peter was seriously considering that he should end his life. One night, I felt a strong impression to call him again and I’m glad I responded to that prompting. As a result of that phone call Peter has finally come out at the age of fifty. Though we’ve spoken of regret and what his life may have been like had he done this in his teens, he is at least now living free of the destructive, emotional and psychological consequences of his suppression.

Anthony broke down frequently as he read me the letters his twenty-six-year-old lover Michael had written to his Christian parents begging them to love him as he was and to accept Anthony, the man he loved, as his partner. In Michael’s letters he pleads for acceptance but the response always comes back, ‘We love you but … we don’t want you to be gay. We love you but … we don’t want you to be with Anthony.’ That one word made all the difference to Michael. ‘BUT . . .’  A small word that means the world of difference between love or rejection. What Michael’s parents should have said was, We love you, Michael. FULL STOP! No conditions. Then they would have been showing God’s love. A person in the church in Perth had told Michael, ‘If you don’t change then you’ll be dead before you reach twenty-six.’ These words, like a curse, played on Michael’s mind and even though he had a partner and friends who loved him, the inability to resolve his relationship with his Mum and Dad meant that when Anthony came home to celebrate Michael’s twenty-sixth birthday, he found him dead in the car in the garage. Anthony doesn’t think much of Christians. Christine, the mother of a thirteen-year-old boy, revealed that her son spent six months in psychiatric treatment because his Christian teacher told him all homosexuals will burn in hell, then showed the class films of hell. She called it spiritual abuse and regrets ever sending her child to a Christian School.

I could compile a book of several volumes from the stories I have received. If my motive was to be sensational or cause scandal there are enough secrets in that correspondence to cause major embarrassment to some denominations. My motive, though, is not to seek revenge or to create more heartache—I want change.

Finally, this email from Charles, twenty-three. When we met, I could see he was a lovely young man with great heart and potential. He had been previously serving God as a youth pastor at his local church, but knowing his church’s official position on the great heresy, he no longer attends whilst trying to resolve the issue of his sexuality: 

Dear Anthony

I still have my doubts about what it means to be gay and Christian. I have just started seeing a guy. He’s soooo amazing, and he really likes me. It’s really great! We’ve got a great beginning of a relationship. It’s kinda cute. So, I told my parents about him. We’ve been seeing each other for a few weeks, and I met his family, so I was thinking mine should know about him also. It was good to tell them, but at the same time, it’s really hard. I normally talk to my parents for hours, but since I’ve not talked to them much at all. They told me that they still don’t believe I’m gay. It’s not the way God made me, and that it’s not right. They have even offered to hire a prostitute for me, so I can try being straight. (my emphasis). I think this is ridiculous, but hey, that’s what they’re saying! What is really hard, is that they’re pastors. It was expected after my baptism and years of Missionary work, that I would carry on the work. Obviously I can’t, but I just don’t know what to do! I’m really struggling to find what’s right.

It would be easy to be angry with Charles’s parents but this situation only serves to remind us the enemy we fight is not people but ignorance. Receiving emails like this one regularly, I find it impossible to sit back and do nothing. Hopefully in some way I can make a difference. I think one of the most powerful things I can do is be. Be who I am. A person who loves life, loves God, and loves my tribe. As a former leader in the Assemblies of God and now Australia’s first openly gay Pentecostal, I am an enigma to many people because apparently I am not who I am supposed to be. The problem is that I am happy, I enjoy the most  wonderfully fulfilling life, I have an abundant network of quality people in my life, I have no mental health issues, no anger, no bitterness, just peace … and I’m not going to hell. I like to think of myself not so much as an activist, but as an ambassador.

Returning to the Pentecostal scene, I have discovered that change is occurring at the grass roots level. Some people have changed their attitudes, and some even their beliefs. These people have not yet acknowledged publicly their more informed belief about homosexuality because by doing so, in the current climate, that will mean loss of employment, rejection by friends or reprisals from leadership. They are not gay so why should they have to pay the price? I believe that things will change eventually, further up the hierarchies and even officially. I was surprised to find that gay and lesbian people exist in the congregations and have come to the understanding that their sexual orientation, although an issue to others, is not to them or their God. There are already Pentecostal churches in the United States and United Kingdom that are welcoming of GLBTI people, and a few with a lesbian or gay man as pastor. Despite many churches maintaining their outdated beliefs, God is moving amongst gay and lesbian people in what some have called ‘The Rainbow Revival’. Gay Christians are a new phenomenon, but a growing one. A Google search of ‘Gay Christian’ results in about 281,000 pages today; tomorrow it will be more. However, while we wait for others to catch up, people are suffering and some of them dying. As some surveys have shown, GLBTI young people can be up to six times more likely to suicide; it’s been estimated that one succeeds every five hours and forty-eight minutes in the US.

Some individuals reflect the change I’ve been speaking of, like Guy Sebastian.  He used to attend Paradise Community Church in Adelaide, one of the largest Pentecostal churches in Australia with over 5,000 members, and now attends Hillsong in Sydney. Guy rose to stardom when he won the first series of Australian Idol in 2003. In a news article 2 in September 2006, he talked about the homophobic remarks, the derogatory comments regarding his music career, and the physical harassment he’d received from members of the public. This so affected him working on his third album that he considered quitting singing altogether. Guy (a heterosexual) was experiencing something that GLBTI people encounter regularly. Rather than being offended morally by the gay taunts, however, Guy was offended because ‘thirty per cent of my friends are gay.’ Fifteen years ago, Guy would have been reprimanded by church leaders for making a statement like that: Christians don’t mix with gays. As a high-profile Christian young person, Guy is to be commended, and his comments reflect what I’m discovering behind the scenes—things are changing.

Receiving so many emails I felt it was important to send a letter to the National Executive of the Assemblies of God in Australia. My hope was that they would set up a committee to examine sexual orientation on a scientific, psychological and theological basis and do something about the terrible suffering people are experiencing unnecessarily. The majority of the men on the Executive were once my peers and closest friends. I met with them on  23 November 2005 as a response to my request to meet I offer this as an open letter to any church, Protestant or Catholic, that still maintains the belief ‘the Bible says homosexuality is a sin’, because that belief will be creating the same results in your worlds as well. You have the power to change these injustices.

3 May 2005

Dear Executive Members

I’m writing to see if there is some way I may be of help to the Assemblies of God in Australia which will eventually assist those members and families facing difficulties and even alienation because of the issue of sexual orientation.

I never imagined I would be writing to you after all these years. In fact, I didn’t expect to be alive. After leaving the church, my relationship with God, and my family, I planned to commit suicide before the age of 50 as I saw no hope in my life. I considered myself to be such a failure there was nothing to live for. Through a series of miraculous circumstances God has been the centre of my life again since 1998 … something I thought impossible. That’s quite a long story which I’d be happy to share with you any time. There was a time when I considered all of you to be friends and I trust that, as Christian men, you will relate to me with Christ’s love and forgiveness.

Today I feel extremely blessed to have walked this path, one I would never have chosen but maybe in the wisdom of God the one set out for me. God’s call to serve Him is once again profoundly strong and I am currently honouring that in an informal way.

If asked what was the most important thing I’ve learnt in my 54 years on earth it’s that God loves me as I am. My sexual orientation is not an issue to Him, only that I live my life according to His will and purpose.

You will sense, from the tone of this letter, that there is no aggression, bitterness or resentment but rather genuine concern to find a way forward and ensure we don’t keep repeating the mistakes of the past.

I’m writing with a request. My unique situation means many people have told me their stories and it’s important I bring to your attention these concerns. Over 500 emails, letters and phone calls show the consequences of our long held, uninformed and dated beliefs about sexual orientation. Although 500 may seem a small number, it is significant, considering the percentage of Pentecostal Christians who are same-sex-attracted. The emails continue to come with different stories but in essence contain similar themes.

The common themes are:

Suicides. This would have to be the most horrific result of our church’s current understanding of homosexuality. I know only too well the dark place that one can find oneself due to the conflict with your sexual orientation and your relationship with God. Too many have taken their lives because they were told God would never accept them they way they were and were unable to become heterosexual. I know of one AOG church in Melbourne where three young men (aged 18, 23 and 26) suicided in the space of two years. I’m under the impression that even some pastors have lost their sons this way. One life lost is one too many.

 A few weeks ago I received an email from a student in a Pentecostal bible college that you would all know well. He tells of his passion to serve God and the mental torment he is going through because he is same-sex-attracted. He has been considering suicide. I’ve tried to meet up with him and talk about how he might resolve his situation but he is too scared at this stage. I email him regularly to check if he is okay and see if he’s comfortable about talking. He has sworn me to secrecy as he is very afraid of what might happen. I have to honour that confidentiality but it would be a terrible thing if he takes his own life.

I think it’s tragic that people kill themselves when I know that it’s possible to live a rewarding, fulfilling life of purpose as a gay man.

Parents rejecting their gay children.  There are very few Christian parents who know how to respond when their child is either exposed as gay or they pluck up the courage to tell the truth. Parents often feel a sense of shame and insist that the child must change, quoting scripture and sending them off for counselling or other therapies. Some kids have just left their homes knowing from the comments of their Christian parents or in the church that they will never be accepted and are destined for hell.

Recently I’ve read a book called ‘Prayers for Bobby’ where a Christian mother tells her story, based on her son’s extensive diary chronicling the highs and lows of his four-year struggle with being gay and trying to live a Christian life. At the age of 20 he back-flipped off a freeway overpass, timing his leap so his body would be struck and killed by an oncoming truck. For four years before his death, his mother encouraged him to “cure” his homosexuality through prayer, constantly quoting scriptures and telling him that God didn’t what him to be that way. Today Mrs Griffith has a very different view and has dedicated her life to helping other parents so they will not lose their children as she did. 

Men and women marrying to solve the ‘problem’ of same-sex-attraction.  Many of the stories received tell of them marrying with the belief that this action will and must change their attraction to the same sex. Whilst these marriages may last for years, eventually and most frequently in mid-life when all the unresolved issues must be dealt with, everything simply falls apart. One email, from a man in Perth, has just experienced this at the age of 62 after 27 years of marriage. It’s difficult for most people to comprehend why you would bother at that age unless you were the person who lived a lie all your life. This leaves the partner and children with a terrible sense of betrayal that takes years to work through and resolve. Very few people would be aware or understand the issues that Helen, Rebekah and Hannah and I have had to work through as well as our wider circle of family and friends. Recently, in the foyer at Hillsong, I overheard a young man announcing his engagement to his friends. This young man displayed some key indicators that suggested he was probably gay – another tragedy in the making. My heart went out to him and the fiancée knowing that the marriage is doomed to failure as a result of this attempt to become ‘normal’. 

Deep emotional trauma. The emails are, at times, heart wrenching as people speak of their traumatic experience when churches, pastors and other individuals have handled the disclosure unwisely. Sadly, many of these people still live with a very deep resentment towards the church and God. Something that would not be happening if there was love, grace and understanding. Philip Yancey speaks so beautifully about this in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace. These people could still be vital members of our congregations and have a relationship with God. 

Another tragic result of this emotional trauma is that people are often left with feelings of self-hatred and low self-worth which frequently leads to self-destructive behaviour. Some have shared with me that their initial reaction when leaving or being rejected by their churches was the contributing factor to them being HIV-positive today. 

Inadequate counselling. It appears that most pastors are inadequately equipped to counsel members of their congregations with same-sex-attraction. The worst case I’ve been told about involved a pastor suggesting, after his months of counselling had failed, that the guy try sex with a prostitute. Almost unbelievable I know, but true just the same, and demonstrates just how ill-equipped some of our leaders are to deal with this issue. Many people are given an endless number of strategies to deal with their temptation but find themselves living in constant failure when those strategies don’t work. Others are simply told to pray about it and ask God to change them. When the answers don’t come he/she is left with the constant feeling that I mustn’t have enough faith or God has failed me. In my case, there probably was not one day I didn’t pray and ask God to help and change me. Every time I sought help from pastors I can honestly say, not once was the situation handled in an intelligent manner. 

The damage and failure of ex-gay ministries. The ex-gay ministries and Christian counsellors don’t keep records of their success rate even though claims have been made of a 95% success rate while others say it’s more like 10%.

Exodus International has been operating now for three decades and even though there have been people who claim to now be heterosexual, history tells us this is not true. People sometimes change their behaviours but not their orientation. Sixteen years of marriage didn’t change me. Recently when the leader of the ex-gay ministry ‘Living Waters’ and I were interviewed together, he freely stated that he got sexually aroused just reading my book. He may be married but he is not free from his homosexual orientation, even though he claims that Jesus can do that. The promotion of this false hope leads people to years of unnecessary mental torture, interminable confusion and struggle.

Another email tells me of one person’s three suicide attempts, whilst in the Living Waters program, when his failed attempts to change kept him in depression. There is no scientific evidence that says sexual orientation can be changed permanently and that it is in fact damaging to try and change it (see below).

American Psychological Association –,

American Psychiatric Association –

Attempts to suppress, deny or reject one’s true sexual identity are potentially harmful and often lead to mental health issues, addictions and/or deviant behaviour. This has become evident in some recent scandals involving ministers within our movement. It is my firm belief and experience that this would no longer happen if individuals are given proper counselling about accepting their sexual orientation and how to live that in the light of God’s Word. 

The suffering, trauma and even deaths talked about above are the direct result of the churches stand against homosexuality. I hope that you see these as important concerns for individual pastors and also for you as leaders of the denomination. These people were/are members of your flocks. 

Reaching the Gay Community

I’ve been in the gay community for 13 years and quickly discovered that all my beliefs and preconceptions were untrue. Popular misconceptions such as gay relationships not lasting, homosexuals being more promiscuous than heterosexuals, and gays and lesbians being sick and perverted are simply not true. I live, work and play with these people and I’m proud to call them my friends because of the lives they live and the kind of people they are. I love them dearly for their continuing support when it has to be honestly admitted that my closest Christian friends ceased having any contact with me in my greatest time of need. Something I’ve never been able to understand in the light of the teachings of Jesus.

If it wasn’t for Helen’s constant reminder to my daughters ‘no matter what’s happened he is still your father’ and the unconditional love of my girls, we would be estranged today. This practical demonstration of God’s love is an example for others.

The individuals within the gay community need God just as any human being walking this planet. Unfortunately the gay community has often not seen God’s love because the majority of Christians have alienated themselves from them. Having already negatively judged gays and lesbians, it’s difficult for Christians to reach out as love and judgement cannot exist in the heart at the same time. It’s hard for gays and lesbians to see the love and grace of God when they are condemned at the first meeting, in the media or from the pulpit.

For years, we’ve  quoted the words ‘love the sinner hate the sin’ but the gay community has rarely seen this love because the church focuses on hating the sin and blocking every attempt gays and lesbians make to gain the same rights enjoyed by heterosexuals. Possibly, there is coming a day when the church will have to ask forgiveness for their attitude towards, and even hatred sometimes, of gays and lesbians. Before that day is reached there must be a change of attitude. I encourage you to foster that.

The general impression is that the gay community is being targeted by our churches. I don’t believe this is true, is it? Regrettably there is never any discussion. It’s like a boxing match with each camp in the corner, the bell rings and we both come out to exchange blows. It would be more constructive for us to sit down at the table and dialogue. If we are going to reach these people with God’s love, it’s essential that an informed approach be taken and turn this situation around. It would be wonderful for the media and the general public to see the church with their arms open and saying ‘Come’, instead of you are evil and we don’t want you.

Just last week there was a three page article titled ‘Scary as Hell’ in DNA, one of the major gay publications on the Assemblies of God, Hillsong churches and Family First (with a full page picture of Brian and Bobby). This article reflected the current view of Christians as the enemy. Unfortunately the media is a double-edged sword for us all, often only telling half the story, choosing a sensational angle and reinforcing stereotypes. For the church they focus on the money and the power and for the gay community the sex. Coverage of the annual Mardi Gras parade, for example, continues to focus on the flamboyant, sometimes excessive minority, something which upsets and horrifies many gays and lesbians who work tirelessly serving the community in wholesome ways behind the scenes.

Over the years I’ve come across many in our community who have a strong and living faith. The survival of that faith is a miracle itself and a testimony to the power and grace of God. I know of many who would return to the Pentecostal fold as I have, if there was some indication they were welcome to do so.

For many of us we feel a little like the blind man that Jesus healed in John 9:1-41. The Pharisees wanted to discredit the miracle that had occurred and took the strong stand of expelling him from the synagogue. We know that somehow we have found peace with God but leaders of churches exclude us from God’s house based on their belief that is it impossible to be same-sex-attracted and be a Christian. Considering that many of us have experienced rejection from our families, friends, work colleagues and organisations, what a wonderful thing it would be if the church demonstrated God’s love and acceptance by reaching out its arms and welcoming us home.

I ask you to sincerely search your own hearts, do you genuinely love these people? Jesus does. If the answer is yes then I have to ask what are we doing to reach them? There is so much that churches and individual Christians could do to demonstrate God’s love in a practical way. When seeking to renew contact with friends from my time in the ministry, I’ve been the one to take the initiatives, make the contact and follow up as no-one has really come to me or made me feel welcome. It’s a constant struggle but I persevere because I know God loves me immensely and I refuse to allow others to think less of me than what I am. I can tell you honestly that in all my life, I have never known such peace with God or assurance of salvation.

A Way Forward

One of the first things that can be done would be to remove the Position Statement on Homosexuality and Lesbianism from AOG website. [Author’s note: this statement has since been removed from the AOG in Australia website]

Although this is a long discussion I’ll give you some brief reasons why this needs to be removed.

‘Homosexuality is referred to directly and specifically in the scriptures. The Old Testament also explicitly prohibited homosexuality’

This is not true. Currently there are several interpretations of those famous six verses. In the light of the historical and cultural contexts of the day we can only guess that what is talked about has to do with abusive or exploitive relationships or the sexual practices used to worship foreign gods. What is known as same-sex-attraction and love today is not mentioned.

‘The scripture also condemns Sodom for its homosexual practices’

Not really. Once again there are several interpretations. If you search yourself through all the references to Sodom you’ll see that the city was judged for many things eg. pride, not meeting the needs of the poor, but never for homosexuality. Even Jesus’ reference to it seems to be a reference to their being inhospitable Luke 10:8-12. This is very difficult for us to understand in the 21st century but very real in the early biblical culture.

‘Paul also lists homosexuality as a sin’

Unfortunately the translators in the middle of the 20th century have done us a great disservice by translating obscure Greek words more in the light of the popular thinking of their time and inserted the word homosexual instead of being true to the original language. The word didn’t actually appear in the bible till 1946.

‘Homosexuality is a chosen behaviour’

I think I can safely say that I know more gays and lesbians than the person who wrote this statement and I can tell you that not one of them chose it and they find this statement extremely offensive. It’s totally illogical to think that a person would willingly choose to be rejected by their family, hated, discriminated against, ridiculed or physically harmed etc etc etc

There is already a shift in some peoples thinking within our churches. Mostly with those who through closer contact with gays and lesbians have found that their preconceived notions were unfounded. We have to admit that the bible has been used in the past to promote beliefs we now know were wrong. One of those was the role of women in the church. When I joined the AOG not one woman was ordained. Today is a different story. There can be added to that list many other things such as dancing in and out of the church, going to the movies, behaviour on the Sabbath, dress codes and rock music to name a few. All these beliefs had a biblical basis for Pentecostal Christians and any erring from the way was once considered sin. Not any more. Each of us, having spent many years in the AOG movement, would freely admit that we got it wrong. It is challenging, but nevertheless important for us to consider if our stand on same-sex-attraction is another one of these situations.

Considering that since the early 70s the Psychiatric and Psychological Associations have believed that same-sex-attraction is not an illness or dysfunction, it’s probably time for us in the church to have some informed and intelligent dialogue about the issue. Continuing to treat people any other way is outdated and more importantly, not in harmony with the values aspired to on the ‘Love of People’ page on the Assemblies of God in Australia website. Removing the page ‘A Statement on Homosexuality and Lesbianism’ would be a demonstration that we seek to treat the gay community with the dignity and respect they deserve.

There is a lot more that needs to be addressed and understood and that will take time. We are all aware of the controversy around this issue but ignoring it won’t make it go away. It would be terrible to think that we just continue to repeat the mistakes of the past and damage other people lives here in this life and also for eternity.

As an ex ordained minister of the AOG and current member of Hillsong Waterloo I’m committed to working with you in any way to bring Jesus Christ’s love, healing and reconciliation to all people, especially my tribe. ‘You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ Galatians 3:28.

I’m happy to answer any questions you may ask me. I look forward to receiving your response to my requests.

Yours sincerely

Anthony Venn-Brown

A couple of weeks later I received a reply from the National Executive of the Assemblies of God in Australia thanking me for my openness, courage and graciousness. It went on to say, however, ‘Following your openness the Executive want to reaffirm the commitment we have as a movement and as individuals to endeavor to show the love of Jesus Christ to all people regardless of culture, creed or sexual orientation when we deal with issues. At the same time we can only confirm that our theological position in relation to homosexuality has not changed. We believe that it is based on a sound biblical basis and we must stand on our convictions’.

The belief thatthe Bible says homosexuality is a sinstill exists, but it will not exist forever. Every poll and survey reveals a gradual shift in society’s attitudes and beliefs about same-sex orientation. The Australia Institute’s survey of almost 25,000 people, ‘Mapping of Homophobia in Australia,’ released in July 2005, showed that change. Despite Pope Benedict XVI taking an obsessive anti-gay stand and calling homosexuality an ‘intrinsic moral evil’ only thirty-four per cent of Catholics believe homosexuality is immoral, revealing once again that church leaders are way out of step with current thinking in the pews. The numbers were similar in the Anglican and Uniting Churches. The study showed the less educated a person was the more likely they were to be homophobic;  twenty-five per cent of those with tertiary education hold homophobic views compared to forty to fifty per cent among those who did not complete high school. The changes continue to grind along slowly as people become more informed and have more exposure to gay people. Individuals and denominations are moving along the continuum from hate è dislike è discomfort è tolerance è acceptance è affirmation and some to advocacy. I continue to engage people in an informed, intelligent, respectful dialogue where I can, leaving all the blame and anger outside the door to clear the space for productive communication. With the help of my friend Phill Wall we have commenced ‘Freedom 2 b(e)’ which provides support and a network  for GLBTI people from Pentecostal and Charismatic backgrounds. What more needs to be done?

I can ask you, dear reader, to be involved at any level you desire, and help hasten the day when, as God intended, all people are treated equally no matter what their gender, race or sexual orientation. When you hear an individual, politician, church or denomination say something derogatory about GLBTI people take the opportunity to graciously correct the preconceived ideas and misconceptions about same-sex attracted people. Remind them they are speaking about your friend, brother, sister, mother, father, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, son or daughter and, like us, be proud when you come out.

To my gay brothers and lesbian sisters: your life is already having an impact, and the way we live will either reinforce or dismantle the belief that being straight is normal while being gay is flawed. That means no more hiding or pretending you are straight. Stop fearing. Stop being ashamed and wondering what others will think if you tell them the truth. Have courage, face your fears and don’t allow another to think less of you. Coming out is an empowering liberation from a host of destructive forces that deceive you into believing bad things about yourself and rejecting the wonderful person you are. How many politicians, celebrities and sports stars continue to reinforce outdated thinking and hide behind a façade of heterosexuality because they believe if they don’t pretend then they would lose their careers?

In 1978, Harvey Milk of San Francisco was the first openly gay elected official in the United States. Harvey repeatedly said, ‘Come out, and when you do, you will feel so much better.’ Before he was assassinated in 1979 Harvey quite uncannily predicted he would be murdered, and had said, ‘If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country.’

In 2000, Tammy Baldwin, a lesbian and a member of the United States House of Representatives from the district of Wisconsin, spoke from the stage of the Millennium March on Washington: ‘If you dream of a world in which you can put your partner’s picture on your desk, then put their picture on your desk and you will live in such a world.’ In her inspiring speech to the hundreds of thousands attending, she continued to say that there are two things that keep homosexuals oppressed: them and us. In other words, we are half of the equation. We shouldn’t wait around for some magical day when everything will be okay. It’s up to us to make that day happen. We can all hasten that day by being true to ourselves.

It’s your journey and it is not my place to tell you how you should live your life. For many years I did that as a preacher. If we are honest with ourselves, deep down in our hearts, we all know the right thing to do. All we need is the courage and integrity to do it. My journey from rejection of self to embracing of self was twenty-eight years long—more than half my life. Had I known the amazing sense of freedom, the peace through reconciliation, the liberation of bringing my secrets into the light, the power of living authentically, I would have smashed down the prison walls much earlier. My journey now, it seems, is to bridge the gap between my two worlds and the people I love and help them see the good in each other.