April 14, 2013 - The Melbourne Age
the end, Damien Christie feared that the God he worshipped did not love him
by his Pentecostal church for his sexuality, he underwent gay ''conversion''
therapy at a Christian ministry in Melbourne. If the program's aim was to
''pray away the gay'', it failed. He remained a homosexual man with a strong
faith, and found a new church that embraced him.
turmoil of trying to reconcile the warring parts of his identity left an
27, Damien took his own life. Nobody can know with certainty what triggered the
decision, but those close to the 43-year-old personal carer believe
''reparative'' therapy at Mosaic Ministries in Melbourne's south-east scarred
troubled him right to the end,'' said friend and counsellor Matt Glover, a
former Baptist pastor sacked from his Lilydale church in 2011 for publicly
supporting same-sex marriage.
him every two weeks for counselling and he would often ask the question, 'Does
God still love me, Matt?' Despite me reassuring him every time, it just
couldn't stick. He was a very sensitive, kind, compassionate man. So many
people loved him but life was just too hard. It's tragic.''
Glover, who conducted Damien's funeral last Wednesday, hopes his death will be
a wake-up call for church leaders in denial about the damage caused when they
reject gay members of their flock.
view backed by other Christian counsellors and health experts, who say the
phenomenon of what they call ''gay religious suicide'' is vastly
conversion programs are at the extreme end of the spectrum - and relatively
rare, with fewer than 15 believed to be operating in Australia - rejection of
gay church members is common as religious leaders from all denominations
grapple with homosexuality within their ranks.
In Fairfax Media story last year, Damien, a regular volunteer at
the Lort Smith Animal Hospital, described how he was driven to attempt suicide
after being told in therapy that his homosexuality was a ''sickness'' that
could be cured.
Carol Hardy, who runs Mosaic Ministries - which, according to its website, aims
to ''inform and educate communities, parents and families to better understand
and handle those who struggle with sexual confusion'' - had suggested the
sexual abuse he suffered as a child might have caused his homosexuality, and
during a prayer session had pleaded for the ''spirit of Jezebel'' to leave him.
man, David Lograsso, told a similar story, saying that during counselling Mrs
Hardy had linked his sexuality to his relationship with his father.
last week denied the claims, saying they were ''bizarre''. When The Sunday
Age questioned why two men who had never previously met would invent such
stories, she said: ''Well, that might be their perception, people have their
perceptions. I'm not saying they're lying.''
insisted sexuality had not been the focus of her sessions with Damien, whom she
had not seen for more than 2½ years, and maintained she had repeatedly
reassured him that God loved him unconditionally.
asked if she believed homosexuality could be changed by her therapy, she said:
''No, not necessarily … The aim is to work with what the client's wanting to
work on, and I work alongside them and the desires that they have.''
separate interview, David Hardy said the claims against his wife were
''malicious lies'' and that she had tried to help Damien.
his wife had ever told people she counselled that she could cure them of their homosexuality,
he said: ''Wrong. Only if the person wants to be cured. They can be cured of
anything. I'm not saying they can be cured completely but they can overcome it,
friends acknowledge that his troubles were complex - he struggled with alcohol
issues and had been sexually abused as a child - but they feel the ministry's
teachings damaged his self-esteem.
Lograsso said the program had left both him and Damien feeling inadequate.
''His faith was still strong because he loved God but the residual effects of
the ministry played a large part in his mental health. He used to say how he
felt damaged and unworthy. The pain was just too great.''
evangelist preacher Anthony Venn-Brown, who now runs support groups for gay
Christians, said he had received hundreds of emails from people who had been
driven to attempt suicide due to the conflict between their faith and
14-year-old kid goes to his pastor and says 'I think I might be gay', his first
response most likely will be, 'Well, we're going to pray with you and help you
overcome this', and that sets them on a path of self-destruction. If you're
really involved in a strong evangelical church, that's your whole life, so
you're worried you're going to lose your social network, you're going to go to
hell, your family might reject you and your relationship with God will be
over,'' he said.
Anne Mitchell from La Trobe University's Australian Research Centre in Sex,
Health and Society, who has conducted extensive research on same-sex-attracted
youth, said those from faith-based backgrounds were much more likely to
self-harm or attempt suicide.
no doubt it's an under-reported phenomenon. For many kids it means a choice
between their faith and being gay. But they just can't cut the gay stuff away
to be acceptable to their religion and eventually there has to be a resolution.
For most young people it's to leave the church, but sadly for some it would be
to kill themselves,'' she said.
concerns over high suicide and self-harm rates among gay and lesbian people
from faith backgrounds that led Rob Buckingham, pastor of the Pentecostal
Bayside Church in Cheltenham, to deliver a groundbreaking sermon two years ago
with the message that ''real Christianity is accepting''.
church in general needs to reach out with the love of God for all people. Jesus
had a special compassion for those who were marginalised by society and the
religious institutions of his day. I believe the church of today needs to
reflect that same compassion,'' he said last week.
Venn-Brown said education was vital for religious leaders.
to tackle what's going on in these big mega-churches. What's going on with
pastors and church leaders who are completely ignorant? I know of a church
where one of the pastors recommended to a guy that he go and see a female
prostitute because he couldn't comprehend that this guy could not be attracted
to or enjoy sex with a woman,'' he said.
In a statement, Australian Christian Churches - the nation's largest
Pentecostal movement - said it had ''a commitment to endeavour to show the love
of God to all people, regardless of culture, creed or sexual orientation''.
Catholic Church was unable to provide anyone to comment on this story.
are pastors and church leaders out there still living with that outdated belief
that either you become gay because your dad didn't love you enough or your mum
was overbearing, or you were sexually abused, or that you choose to be gay and
that you can change it,'' he said.
culture of secrecy and silence breeds shame, and until we change that these
tragedies are just going to be repeated.''
or information call Suicide Helpline Victoria on 1300 651 251 or
Lifeline on 131 114, or visit beyondblue.org.au
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: article, ex-gay, exodus