Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The challenges for gay or lesbian people from Pentecostal or Charismatic backgrounds

Why is it so hard? 

Resolving the perceived conflict of faith and sexuality is a difficult path for most people from a traditional/conservative Christian culture. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Pentecostal or Charismatic backgrounds have specific needs to be addressed in order to resolve that internal conflict.

LGBT people from Pentecostal and Charismatic churches have been involved in a form of Christianity that is extremely experiential. We have probably sensed the presence of God, seen miracles and healings, enjoyed vibrant worship, spoken in tongues, believed that the Bible is the inspired inerrant Word of God, had prayers answered and been totally committed to Jesus Christ and the church. It has been the foundation not only to our lives but also to our social network. Ours has not been a nominal faith but a deep commitment of our hearts to Jesus Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and service to God through the church. Our identity above everything else has been that we are a Christian. Much of the above is also true of Evangelical Christians.

For the majority of our faith walk we believed that homosexuality is against God’s order and we must change in order to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives. In other words, there are only two options.
1.        Be heterosexual and a Christian or
2.        Be gay or lesbian and go to hell.

We prayed and cried out to God to set us free but nothing changed. This created a cognitive dissonance between our faith and our sexuality. Questions begin to arise in our minds and beliefs take hold such as.
  • Why can’t I change my attraction to the same sex?
  • Maybe I am just too weak or I don’t have enough faith?
  • Why is God ignoring me?
  • I am a really bad person.
  • Forgiveness is only for those who repent and forsake their sin.
  • Something is wrong with me

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Part 5 "A Journey to Exodus - the last days"

The next three days included a full program of speakers and workshops from 9am to 9pm. The theme "True Stories" seemed particularly appropriate as people continued to honestly share their journeys. No real victory stories, just people trying to make some sense out of their lives. Some had already come to the place of full acceptance of their sexuality but were choosing a life of celibacy, still seeing their sexuality as not a part of God's "ideal". Occasionally I spoke with a person who was hoping that one day they would find love and a partner. Chatting with a young woman on the way to dinner, I inquired politely "So where are you at on this journey?" She paused a moment and then replied confidently "I love God" she paused again "and I love women". I'm not sure if she had said that to anyone else before but I loved the succinctness and simplicity in her answer. It spoke volumes to me. I knew exactly where she was on the journey. Full self-acceptance, her same sex orientation integrated with, not separate from or in opposition to her relationship with God.

Occasionally, but only occasionally, I heard people use the word "gay".

"Gay". Now there is a word not often heard previously at an Exodus conference except in terms like the "gay agenda" or "gay lifestyle". The term used normally is "same-sex-attractions", usually with the adjective "unwanted" in front of it or a verb like "I struggle with" or even worse "I have same-sex-attractions" sounding like a mental health condition or terminal disease. But of course, Exodus had preached for years, homosexuality didn't have to be terminal, freedom came to those who resisted temptation and kept their eyes on Jesus. Attending a workshop later in the conference I heard one minister make a statement that still rocks me today.  It was said with confidence and an air of "expertise" that came from a straight man who'd spent years working in this area. He used three fingers to make each point and ensure everyone understood the distinction. 
"Gay is a cultural identity to be rejected.
Homosexuality is a lifestyle choice.
Same sex attraction is a feeling".


Part 4  The bombshell and the aftermath

In an unprecedented move the opening address was being live-streamed.

Alan was introduced. He mounted the stage to the applause of the audience. The enthusiasm in the applause could mean several things. Honouring, respecting or please give us hope. Or maybe a combination. It was genuine, they all liked this man......a lot.....to some he was a hero.

I'd never heard or seen Alan speak publicly before. There was no Evangelical/Pentecostal "rah-rah-rah" hype..."God's here! He is going to do a miracle for you. God's here to meet your every need. Amen?" Alan was mellow, thoughtful, and considered, like every word counted. I listened intently as he shared his own journey. Much of what he said I'd read before. Like his recent letter in February 2013 "Messy Story, True Story".

Alan's childhood was troubled, he was bullied, he had some same-sex experiences but felt lost and lonely and unable to connect with the gay scene. Had he connected with the LGBT community it may have been a very different story. But alas, if you are in a Evangelical/Pentecostal culture you know nothing about "the tribe" only about the small tip of the iceberg referred to as the "homosexual lifestyle".

As a relatively young Christian man of 19, he reached out for help and that's when he found Exodus. Alan went on to talk about how supportive and helpful it was to find people who understood and would help him. It became his sole support mechanism away from condemning church people, bullying world and a gay scene he never felt he could fit into. Not an uncommon experience when people pluck up the courage to reach out for help. Alan believed that Exodus had literally saved his life. He went on to speak further of how his positive experience had been the experience of many but over the years Exodus had lost its way and become something it was never meant to be. Certainly not to be high-jacked by the religious right and Christian conservatives for their own anti-gay political agendas as it once had. Alan admitted he'd lost his way too.

Where is this going, I thought for a moment in the midst of my note-taking. To me, it was pretty obvious that Alan was preparing the audience, gently leading them along a journey for a reason. But what was the destination? The punch line!!!!

Alan continued


Part 3  Finally meeting Alan Chambers face to face

I saw Alan Chambers in the distance as I walked down to the auditorium. He was at the entrance. A brave move I thought for someone so prominent. Most high profile preachers/speakers slip quietly into the auditorium after the service has commenced or through a back door. That way, they avoid people trying to bail them up for a conversation. Not sure if I wanted to be one of those annoying people who "just want to come and say Hi", I held back. What the heck, I've flown from the other side of the world.

Hugging a stranger might be a little awkward but in this case, Alan didn't feel like a stranger anymore. So in usual fashion, I wrapped my arms around him and gave him a hug. It's a very Pentecostal thing to do and I do it with all my gay friends and sons-in-law anyway. Just be yourself I thought.

Alan could have resisted the warm public display of affection and put a stiff arm out in front to keep me at a distance.... others have..... but he didn't. There was a little awkwardness though. I mean, Alan Chambers, with same-sex-attractions, hugging an openly gay man like me wouldn't look right. We shouldn't/couldn't/didn't linger. Alan looked around.

"Leslie" he called in a voice that everyone could hear, "this is Anthony Venn-Brown, my favourite Australian gay activist". Oh my, am I destined forever to correct the label "activist". Within minutes I'd been labelled. I was hoping to be less conspicuous. How is that going to pan out for me for the next four days.


Part 2  Time for a secret mission

In January 2012 Alan Chambers did three unthinkable things.

Firstly, he attended the Gay Christian Network annual conference in Orlando.

Secondly, during a panel discussion, he stated "The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them have not experienced a change in their orientation or have gotten to a place where they could say that they could never be tempted or are not tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction."

Lastly he said " I honestly trust Justin Lee (founder of the Gay Christian Network), and I honestly like him, and I honestly believe that he loves Jesus and that we are brothers in Christ and that we will spend eternity together … and because of that, the thing that brought me here first and foremost is: We’re Christians, all of us. We may have diverging viewpoints … but the thing that brings us together, the thing that causes us to even want to have this dialogue, or need to have this dialogue, is the fact that we all love Jesus. We all serve him. We serve the very same God and believe very different things"

OMG. Alan Chambers publicly stating you can be both Christian AND gay. What next? That was worth a thank you email.

In July 2012 reparative therapies were denounced both publicly by Alan at their annual conference and also by a position statement on their website.  This immediately distanced Exodus from the extreme groups like The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), their teachings and practices. Once again an email saying thanks and why was sent.

Every time I sent an email I got a response personally from Alan. Believe me, I know when I'm getting a standard cut and paste reply from a PA.


Part 1  Arrival......a few thank you's helped

This time, twelve months ago I was alone, weeping in a hotel room in West Hollywood.

I sobbed deeply, as if grief had overcome me. It began while I was watching the DVD of the only session I missed during the previous four days of the Exodus conference. I wasn't just weeping over the devastating story told by Robert and Linda who had lost their gay son Ryan. but for the endless stories I have been hearing now from LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people for nearly two decades. It had happened numerous times as people shared with me the tragic outcomes, theirs, and others' ignorance had created in their lives. There is nothing more tragic than a suicide. A life lost, young or old, when it could have been so much better for them.

I thought I'd toughened up or become de-sensitized to the pain, but no, it was rising overwhelmingly in me again, triggering memories of my own darkness and struggle. Twenty years after I had left my time in one of the world's first ex-gay programs, believing one day I would be straight, I was facing a chilling reality. In 1991, in the darkness I stood on the cliff edge, knowing what I had to face the following day, wavering, should I walk back home or walk off the cliff? .

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The first Australian Anglican parish to apologise to the LGBTI community

This address was given at St Marks, Fitzroy, Victoria 
at the LGBTI apology

Saturday 19 July 2014
Sorry: tiny word - HUGE implications
Sorry is such a simple word. Sadly it can never automatically right the wrongs of the past but, said with deep sincerity and authenticity, creates the potential for healing and reconciliation.

"Sorry" derives from a prehistoric Germanic root word meaning "sore or pained". So for a person to be genuinely sorry there must be some pain or sorrow.

The church has never really been good at saying "sorry". It often moves on and changes without stopping to honestly acknowledge their involvement in the wrongs from the past. Or ever saying "we were wrong" either through our opposition and rejection or by complicity and remaining silent about injustices.

And when the sorry comes it can take a long time coming. Look at how long it took the Catholic church to say sorry for imprisoning Galileo as heretic; three centuries actually.

When I say "the church" I know it is a very general term. In the Nicene creed we say " We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church."  But in truth the church is a fractured entity that has everything from extreme right wing conservatives who are involved in politics to contemplatives locked away in monasteries that do nothing more than pray every day. These two extremes are as different as black and white. Between the black and white  there is every shade of grey. With so many expressions of Christianity not only in the entire church but also denominations, if there is anyone who should understand the dynamics and value of diversity it should be the Christian church.

Even within the Anglican church there are deep divides on theology, worship and practices. Somehow or other we, and I mean LGBT people (people of sexual orientation and gender diversity) that got thrown into the middle of these divides and we became THE "issue". 

St Marks Fitzroy says sorry to the LGBTI community

Australia's first Anglican Church to apologize to the LGBTI community.  
St Marks, Fitzroy, Victoria. Address by Father Stuart Soley on Saturday 19 July 2014

There is a heavy burden the Christian church carries.  It is the burden of homophobia, the side-lining of the hurt of GLBTI people as an urgent issue but above all the denial of the reality GLBTI people exist within the church and who need to heard.

This depletes its resources and discredits its reputation and is a major break on its ability to be an effective carrier of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Instead, many who profess to be of genuine Christian commitment have uttered words of censure, condemnation or a heavily conditional acceptance.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What are the stages of coming out of the closet?

The idea of coming out is actually older than many realize but it has taken nearly one and half centuries for concept to become widely spread and experienced. 


In 1869 the German homosexual rights advocate Karl Heinrich Ulrichs talked about coming out as a means of emancipation. Ulrichs claimed that invisibility was a major obstacle toward changing public opinion, he urged homosexuals themselves to come out. How true this was. It has been the visibility (coming out) of out, proud gay and lesbian people which has influenced acceptance and equality more than anything else. Ulrichs concept was groun-breaking and way before it's time. But it has to begin somewhere.

In his 1906 work Kultur (The Sexual Life of Our Time in its Relation to Modern Civilization, Iwan Bloch, a German-Jewish physician, encouraged elderly homosexuals to come out to their heterosexual family members and acquaintances.

In 1914, Magnus Hirschfeld revisited the topic in his major work The Homosexuality of Men and Women (1914), discussing the social and legal potentials of several thousand men and women of rank coming out to the police (as it was illegal) in order to influence legislators and public opinion. 

1944 .The first important American to come out was the poet Robert Duncan by using his own name in the anarchist magazine Politics, claiming that homosexuals were an oppressed minority.

In 1951, Edward Sagarin published his landmark The Homosexual in America, exclaiming, "Society has handed me a mask to wear...Everywhere I go, at all times and before all sections of society, I pretend." Donald Webster Cory was the name he published under, but his frank and openly subjective descriptions served as a stimulus to the emerging homosexual self-consciousness. 
1969 Stonewall Riots. Gay liberation was birthed.

Today, more gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are out than ever before. Research has demonstrated that being in the closet is unhealthy for the individual. Many of the challenges currently faced in the LGBT community could be attributed to the long term impacts of internalized homophobia (living in the closet). Coming out is often seen within gay and lesbian communities as politically healthy, even a duty or necessity, arguing that the more out gay people there are, the harder it will be for opponents to misrepresent, marginalize, and oppress. This is of course very challenging in countries like Africa, the Middle East, other Islamic nations as well as parts of Eastern Europe such as Russia where penalties of imprisonment or death still exist. 

The act of revealing a closeted person's orientation against his or her wishes is known as "outing" them. Sometimes it is used to prove a political point, or demonstrate a contradiction between private lifestyle and public stance. Outing someone is like ripping a butterfly from its cocoon. You can damage them for life and rob them of THEIR  life changing experience of liberation. For a successful emergence THEY have to struggle through the cocoon of fear and shame. THEN they can fly.

The process of resolution (coming out)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Homophobia and/or Heterosexism - knowing the difference

Homophobia encompasses a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). It can be expressed as antipathy, contempt, prejudice, aversion, or hatred, may be based on irrational fear, and is sometimes related to religious beliefs.

Homophobia is observable in critical and hostile behavior such as discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientations that are non-heterosexual.

Recognized types of homophobia include institutionalized homophobia, e.g. religious homophobia and state-sponsored homophobia, and internalized homophobia, experienced by people who have same-sex attractions, regardless of how they identify. 

Heterosexism is a system of attitudes, bias, and discrimination in favor of opposite-sex sexuality and relationships. It can include the presumption that other people are heterosexual or that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the only norm and therefore superior. Although heterosexism is defined in the online editions of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language and the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary as anti-gay discrimination and/or prejudice "by heterosexual people" and "by heterosexuals", respectively, people of any sexual orientation can hold such attitudes and bias. Nonetheless, heterosexism as discrimination ranks gays, lesbians, bisexuals and other sexual minorities as second-class citizens with regard to various legal and civil rights, economic opportunities, and social equality in many of the world’s jurisdictions and societies. Heterosexism is often related to homophobia. The LGBT rights movement works towards ending heterosexist discrimination.