Two Thirds of Australian and New Zealand Ex-gay Ministries have Ceased to Exist In Last Decade
This blog post is an extended version of the article in the Gay News Network Ex-gay Away
Exodus International, the make a wish foundation for
self-loathing homosexuals, is in crisis.
It began with Alan Chambers, director of 'ex-gay'
ministries umbrella organisation Exodus, honest admission to a gay Christian
conference in January that 99.9% of people he'd met had never actually changed
their sexual orientation. Eleven ministries defected and some evangelical
leaders called for Chambers resignation.
In April this year, Dr Robert Spitzer renounced his
often 'ex-gay' quoted study that sexual orientation change is possible and apologized
to the gay community.
Last month Exodus issued an official statement
that it no longer supports reparative therapy. “In the past, we’ve been aligned with organizations that believe
feelings can completely change, temptations can completely go away. We now
believe that’s an unrealistic and unhealthy expectation that can cause a lot of
damage.”, Chambers said in an
And at the opening address
at the Exodus conference last week Chambers, in very contrite and sober tones,
burst the bubble for many attendees admitting that Exodus had it wrong on many
A little know fact is that several years before
Exodus came into existence in 1976, Australia had an 'ex-gay' ministry
operating both in Sydney and Brisbane in the late 60's which was run by Moombara
and Bundeena Christian Fellowships. I know, because in the early 70's I spend
six months in the residential program that promised me I could become
heterosexual within two years if I prayed and was committed enough to rid
myself of my homosexuality.
Australia and New Zealand's 'ex-gay' ministries have
been in decline for some time. Research by Ambassadors
& Bridge Builders International discovered that over sixty percent of
ministries and support groups offering help for those with 'unwanted same sex
attraction' have shut down in Australia and New Zealand in the last decade.
At this rate, they should completely non-existent by 2020.
evolution of the 'ex-gay' message
There has been a progressive white-anting of the
Exodus 'change is possible' message. Initially, the Exodus message was simply God
can do a miracle and freedom from homosexuality comes if you pray hard enough
or have a demon cast out of you. The magic wand approach. That was phase
one. When this clearly was not successful for people, ministries moved into a
more therapeutic model endeavouring to bring people to a place of healing for
their 'sexual and relational brokenness'. The term 'reparative therapy' was created
was created at this time. Heterosexuality was still the goal.
The most recent phase has been to admit that those
with 'unwanted same sex attraction' would experience a life long
struggle. It will never go away, or as one Australian 'ex-gay' leader amusingly
put it to a seeker of straightness, 'you
will always walk with a limp'. Not much hope in that message, is there?
Especially to those wanting so desperately to be 'normal' and accepted.
While we are talking about strange terms. What's
with this ridiculous term 'unwanted same sex attraction' or sometimes
abbreviated USSA? This term began to gain popularity during phase three in the
90's. I believe this was introduced for
two reasons. Firstly, to distance people from the increasingly popular
scientific term 'sexual orientation' and secondly to disconnect people from a
gay identity and the shame loaded word homosexual. Playing semantics doesn't
change the reality though. It's not an attraction honey it's an orientation.
It's in your brain wiring and hormones. It's not just a thought/temptation in
the mind it's who you are and unwanted because you fear rejection of others and
God if you accept it. I might have unwanted left-handedness but it doesn't
change the fact that I am.
In 2000, the most prominent 'ex-gay' organisation in
the UK, Courage, run by Jeremy Marks, walked away from Exodus and became gay
affirming. The same thing happened with New Directions Ministries, run by Wendy
Gritter, in Canada in 2009.
Australia's 'ex-gay' movement had a brief love
affair with Exodus from 1978 to the late 80's and it looked like they had
joined the growing band of ministries raised up by God to cure homosexuals. But
all was not well. When the US based Exodus became more and more political in
the 90's, Australian 'ex-gay' leaders felt increasingly uncomfortable with this
and began to distance themselves. They stepped down from international
positions and rarely attended conferences. They were still happy to be on the
referral list though.
We've been de-constructing the 'ex-gay' myth in
Australia for some time now. It began in earnest around the mid 2000's.
In 2007, I approached five
former Australian 'ex-gay' leaders for apologies and statements about their
past experience and new understanding. One of those was John Meteyard, who had
just stepped down as the Exodus Asia Pacific leader. He had also been a Living
Waters leader and on the International Advisory Board of Exodus. Maybe Meteyard
was saying in 2007 what Chambers is saying today when he said ' In the past I have been ardent
in my opinion that homosexual orientation was unquestioningly a result of the
'fall' and God's intention was therefore always to heal the same-sex attracted
believer and help them to be 'whole'. In the past, I have frequently spoken
publicly in support of these views. However, my position is now somewhat
different. I now believe that it is crucially important that we all learn to
respect the rights and choices of gay and lesbian believers as they work
through the complexities of their unique situation with God in their own way
and in their own time'.
guess in many ways Meteyard was saying in 2007 what Chambers is saying now in
2012. Maybe because Meteyard had already resigned from
his leadership role in the organisation it didn't have as much impact. It didn't
stop him from getting lots of criticism from his former colleagues in the
ex-gay world though just as Chambers is now.
Various journalists have gone undercover to get
with varying degrees of success. One in Australia had his cover blown twice but
got through. The most successful of these overseas was Patrick
Strudwick. After Strudwick's exposé of his experience, Lesley
Pilkington, the counsellor in the story, had her membership revoked by the
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). Another well-known
example was the exposure of Marcus Bachmann’s counselling clinic. Bachmann,
husband of presidential contender Michele Bachmann, had repeatedly denied accusations
that he practised 'ex-gay' therapy. Undercover
investigations proved otherwise.
activities in Australia has made 'ex-gay' leaders a little gun shy and find themselves now having to grill inquirers deeper just to make
sure they are not another wolf in sheep clothing who will write yet another incriminating
contributing factor has been the highly successful documentary, 'The
Cure', which presented an
in-depth insight into the Australian 'ex-gay' world. Not only did it have
stories from those who have been damaged by 'ex-gay' programs it included
an interview with Ron Brookman, leader of the Living Waters program. Mr
Brookman's performance was not very convincing. When asked if he still has homosexual
thoughts, he seemed to get unnecessarily sidetracked talking about a recent
incident when he noticed an attractive young man. According to Mr Brookman, it was the thigh that got the most attention.
But it was only a thought and didn't mean he was actually gay. When
Mr Brookman appeared before the Senate Same-Sex Marriage Inquiry committee, to speak
against marriage equality as a 'former'
homosexual, he neglected to mention the thoughts and temptations he
experiences. Instead he boasted of the 'former' homosexuals he recently
performed marriages for and those who now had fathered children. I cringed,
knowing the predicable
path these married couples have embarked upon.
leaders present the most insidious and complex forms of denial that exist, as
they jump between two positions;. the public persona and the reality of what is
happening internally. I know because I lived in that place myself for 22 years,
never really acknowledging to myself the reality that nothing was changing it
was only suppression of my 'unwanted same sex attraction. When my gayness
reared it's 'ugly' head I completely justified it as just thoughts, temptations
or desires that would, one day, completely disappear. Like them, this was my
Finally a story broke in the Sun
Herald in 2008. This Easter, after considerable reporting on 'The Cure' The
Melbourne Age did a front-page story and the Sun
Herald a double page spread the same weekend on 'ex-gay' ministries. It
wasn't pretty. Previously reluctant to talk to the media, 'ex-gay' ministry
newsletters revealed they had further closed ranks and were licking their
wounds. A newsletter released by Living Waters after the Easter weekend stated.
"The articles, 'Healing' the Gay Worshiper’, (Sun Herald)
and ‘Ministries Preying on Gay Shame’
(Sunday Age), were a mixture of ignorance, halftruths and outright lies about
When the ABC did
a radio program on 'ex-gay' ministries in 2011, a media statement from
Hillsong Church said, “it’s never been the church’s official position to
support ‘ex-gay’ ministries” and “will not refer people to such
programs”. Another journalist, was told by an 'ex-gay' ministry leader that
to have a good relationship with his program and makes referrals. When she
approached Hillsong for comment she immediately got this
response. “Under Pastor Brian Houston's leadership, it has been made clear
to all the pastoral team that they are not to refer people to such programs, We are unaware of what they are referring
to” a Hillsong spokesperson said.
Where does this leave the dwindling number of 'ex-gay'
ministries in Australia? Hanging on for dear life like the proverbial shag on
the rock while the rest of society, gay Christians and a growing number of
churches and denominations move on to more enlightened understandings of sexual
not over yet
think that it's the end just yet though. Institutions always rise when they
feel threatened but it is a sign the end is nigh.
Haydn Sennitt, pastoral worker for Liberty Christian
Ministries, after attending the recent Exodus conference in the USA wrote
on their blog "No discerning person
can say that Exodus’ latest changes are not having an egregious impact" If you are not sure what 'egregious;
means, it is conspicuously and outrageously bad or reprehensible; flagrant;
glaring; gross; rank. In the lengthy article Sennitt sides with those who are
distancing themselves with Exodus. After what appears to be a rap over the
knuckles from Chambers he has mellowed
a couple of incorrect comments but reaffirms his and other Australian 'ex-gay'
ministry positions. Sennitt writes on his blog Exodus
Sinking or Sailing, "Within
Exodus and its affiliates there are many people whom I have a close and
incredibly cordial relationships, such as Shirley Baskett of Exodus
Asia-Pacific. Not all, but many believe that change in sexual desire is
possible and are living proof of it, as exceptional as that is; as such it is
no secret that many regional and affiliated leaders are at odds with the new
direction pioneered by Chambers and believe that it is not representative of
their own position".
I have often reminded people that we need to focus
on the real problem. 'Ex-gay' ministries are the symptom not the cause.
Here in Australia they have seldom, if ever, really promoted their programs.
They exist because vulnerable, tormented Christians seek them out or are
referred to the programs by churches and ministers holding on to an outdated
belief that homosexuality is a choice and sin not an orientation. I just heard
the story tonight of a 40 year old man who openly shared his story with a
Pentecostal pastor in Brisbane. The comments made by the pastor were ignorant,
cruel and destructive and sent the man into a downward spiral that included
thoughts of taking his own life. I hear stories like this too regularly.
essence the enemy we fight is not 'ex-gay' organisations or churches, it's
ignorance. We create change by focusing our energies into changing the latter instead
of attacking the former.
The most insidious thing that definitely needs
attention is the online 'ex-gay' ministries. These are being accessed by young
people in Australia. All this is done anonymously both by the seeker and also
the person providing advice and support. We don’t know what qualifications
these people have, if any. There is no duty of care. No reporting. No-one they
are accountable to. They are so dangerous, I know of one young man in
Sydney, Ben Gresham, who went into deep depression and attempted suicide whilst
going through Door
of Hope - Setting Captives Free 60
day program. Ben now tells
his story in the hope that other gay and lesbian youth don’t go down the
same path .Another one that should be shut down is Living Hope Ministries.
So it is wonderful that 17 of the 27 'ex-gay' previous ministries in Australia and New Zealand have closed down but obviously there is
still much to do.
Shortly I will be releasing another statement by a founder and former leader of one of Australia's Exodus affiliates.
Anthony Venn-Brown is a founder of Freedom
2 b[e], Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender) people from Christian backgrounds and is currently director of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders
International. He is an educator, consultant and commentator on LGBT/faith
issues and been committed to deconstructing
the ‘ex-gay’ myth in Australia. Anthony’s journey from married, high profile
preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man is detailed
in his autobiography 'A Life
of Unlearning'. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most
Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and was one of four
finalists for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award.
Labels: anthony venn brown, ex-gay, exodus, unwanted same sex attraction