Anthony Venn-Brown has a few letters after his name. A.C.C. I.C.F. which stands for Associate Certified Coach with the International Coaching Federation. Lately I’ve been thinking of adding a few more letters myself i.e. – E.N.I.G.M.A. (One that is puzzling, ambiguous, or inexplicable). As a former leader in the Assemblies of God and now an openly gay man, I am an enigma to many people in the Pentecostal world 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, the more open I am the more rewarding my life becomes, I am totally at peace……..and………I’m not going to hell.
I feel incredibly privileged and blessed as most people who have been on a similar journey to me have either killed themselves because of the sense of shame, guilt and failure or are a seething mass of unresolved conflicts. I have complete resolution with my sexuality, my beliefs and have been able to forgive and let go of the wrongs others have done to me. There are no more issues for me. I have total peace.
Let me tell you briefly about my journey.
When I was in the final years of High School in the late 60’s I began to realise I was attracted to guys not girls, I quickly learned that homosexuals where arrested and put in prison, mental health professionals treated them with aversion therapy or shock treatment and most of society they were perverts and child molesters. The two guys in my High School who were obviously gay were harassed so much that they committed suicide. The message was clear……you have to change this and the only way for you to be happy is to be heterosexual.
Struggling with my same sex attraction privately and having no one to talk to about it, for fear of exposure, eventually drove me into bouts of depression and finally leading to an attempted suicide. It was at this time I had to come clean that I was gay and needed psychiatric help. The psychiatrist said he could cure me as it wasn’t till 1974 that the Psychiatric Association took homosexuality off their list of mental disorders. Hundreds of dollars later the psychiatrist suggested it was only a stage I was going through and that I would grow out of it. As much as I wanted to believe him I knew it wasn’t that simple and turned to God to help me. By becoming a Christian in 1969 I knew I would be forgiven and hoped and prayed God would take this terrible thing from me. After all I was told that God performed miracles and I knew that is what I needed. I felt I’d been forgiven and God had given me a new life to live. Now I could be ‘normal’, get married and have children.
I wanted to serve God so I went to Bible College in NZ to be trained for the ministry. Whilst at Bible College, I found myself struggling once again with thoughts and went to the college principal to seek help. He told me that the reason I wasn’t really free was that I had demonic spirits that were controlling me. He sent me off to Auckland for three weeks of deliverance ministry where they cast demons out of me. Surely now I was free.
Returning to Sydney it wasn’t long before I realised this was not the case. My pastor suggested that the only way for me to be free was to go to a live-in ex-gay program where it would take one or two years for me to become heterosexual. It was a very strict program where they went through my wardrobe and took all the articles of clothing they considered to be gay, I was constantly with a minder who was supposed to be the strong male model I’d be missing in my life. I fell in love with him. Deprivation, abuse and humiliation were tools used to bring us to a point of surrender. After 7 months of humiliation and deprivation I left knowing this was not the way God was going to change me.
I thought that if I moved out of the city, away from temptation, then I would be able to overcome my struggles. I moved to Orange and in the church met a lovely girl who I thought would make a wonderful wife. The leaders of the church encouraged me that by marrying Helen my ‘problem’ would finally be solved and remove the temptations completely. We had two lovely girls and began a ministry as an iterant preacher. During this time I pioneered several churches, founded the largest youth ministry in NSW, (Youth Alive) and became one of the leading preachers in the Assemblies of God. I preached regularly in the mega churches of Australia like Paradise Assemblies of God here in Adelaide when Andrew Evans (leader of The Family First Party) was the pastor and also the Hillsong churches.
What had happened to my same sex attraction? I had a constant battle of denying, suppressing and even hating my true identity. Most of the time I was able to overcome but not always. It was in one of those moments that I met Jason in Brisbane. Something happened in that brief encounter and the end result was that I fell in love. When you fall in love everything changes because it is no longer a physical thing but invades your emotions and mind as well. I looked back over my 22 years of struggle and realised that actually nothing had changed. I was forced to face the fact that even though on the surface everything appeared heterosexual I had always been gay and would always be gay. It was like since I had actually been riding on a stationary bike for the last 22 years. Things became very complicated around this time….you’ll have to read the book.
I faced the most challenging decision of my life. Be honest with myself and hurt the people I loved most in the world or live a lie. To accept the fact that I was gay meant I would lose everything I held dear, my ministry, my career, my marriage and children and I knew there was not one of my friends who would support me in my decision.
I confessed everything to the national executive of the AOG, my friends and even did a public confession in front of a congregation of 800 people and resigned from the ministry. I believed the only choice available was to be a Christian and heterosexual or be gay and go to hell. That was 15 years ago now. So I’ve lived in both worlds and have a unique understanding of both cultures.
We are so grateful for the politicians, Christians and denominations that support our cry for equality. To those Christians who have not yet done that journey I’d like to say these things.
Labels: Assemblies of God, gay rights, reparative therapy, speech