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.
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.
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.
lovely. Warm and friendly, but I could see she had a lot on her mind being a major
organiser at the conference. I'd read a couple of her articles
before and already had an admiration for her and a respect for their "mixed
person I needed to connect with at this stage was my friend Jim Burroway (Box Turtle Bulletin), the only other openly proud gay person
I knew would be there. I felt we had both been afforded a great deal of trust
being invited into the Exodus space; particularly considering what was about to
happen. I moved into the auditorium. As far back as possible would be the
wisest thing. Jim obviously had the same idea.
right when he said in his email "I think it will be a year like no other".
Numbers were down. Looked like about 250 – 300 people maximum compared to the
1,000 of previous years. Interesting atmosphere as well. The day before the
conference, Alan had released a formal apology to the LGBTQ
community. Everyone at the conference would have known about it. It was on
every major news network and had set the internet abuzz. You'd have to be
living in a cave to not have known. Imagine
how unsettling this would have been for young and old alike who had come from
all over the US with their struggles of "unwanted-same-sex-attraction".
They'd come looking for hope and encouragement only to read hours before Alan's
words, essentially saying
'we were wrong':
know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have
experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame
and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted
sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual
orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t
stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or
worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly
that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being
amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I
celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him
that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I
am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me
How do you deal with that when you have believed, up till now,
everything Alan has said and Exodus has stood for?
You could feel the confusion
and unease in the air. But worse was yet to come.
The band struck up and the meeting commenced with a time of singing and
worship. It was easy for me, I'm a Pente (Pentecostal) from way back. Jim, on
the other hand, from a Catholic background, was finding it a bit more
challenging and seemed more pre-occupied with his computer than singing. Later I would find out why.
Announcements, preliminaries, a musical item from the band and then a
couple of testimonials. The conference theme this year was "True
Stories". There was an authenticity and at times an almost brutal honesty
expressed by those who spoke. Certainly no testimonials like "God has
healed me" or "I've been set free from homosexuality".
Not like previous ex-gays such as Sy Rogers, and from Alan himself. For nearly four decades people had
proclaimed to the 10,000's of faithful followers at Exodus conferences, ex-gay
groups in America and other parts of the world, that they must keep "fighting
the battle", "overcome", "believe in God's power"
and eventually, like them, they would turn from gay to straight. Years of
believing this "change is possible" message, struggling, suppressing
thoughts and feelings, produced tragic results for
many, such as mental health issues, thoughts of suicide and some tragically
taking their own lives. The actual number will never be
For years I have been endeavouring to communicate the belief that LGBT
people from faith backgrounds are one of the highest risk groups in our community in several areas; one being
suicide. To me there were obvious reasons
but considering the space that I work in, I had wondered at times if I was
getting a distorted perspective. Ministers and churches seemed oblivious to or
disinterested in the harm being done to individuals. Creating awareness of this
in the often anti-religion LGBT community itself is challenging. At last people
are beginning to research specifically in this area and separating the
participants into faith and non-faith and my theory is proving to be true. The latest study, "The
Role of Help-Seeking in Preventing Suicide Attempts among Lesbians, Gay Men,
and Bisexuals", by The Williams Institute, has revealed some chilling
data. Counselling from a religious or spiritual advisor was associated with
worse outcomes. Compared with individuals who did not seek help at all, those
who sought help from a religious or spiritual advisor were more likely later to
Religion in itself is not a bad thing. A review of 850 research papers
concluded that people with religious involvement and belief system have better
mental health outcomes. They have higher levels of psychological well-being
such as life satisfaction, happiness, positive effect, and higher morale and
less depression and suicide. If however,
you are gay or lesbian, in the closet or your sexuality/belief system
unresolved, it can drive you crazy or kill you.
So while there are some who would say they got help from
ex-gay ministries like Exodus and they saved people's lives, there are far more
whose experience has been the exact opposite.
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............
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© Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b, Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony’s autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning', details his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man. 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. He is also the founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.
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