Part 4 The bombshell
and the aftermath
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!!!!
"In January 2012, after spending a lot of
time with other leaders, we got together for a leadership conference and came
with an agenda. We’re at a crossroads. We have only 4 options:
1. Stay the same. For us that wasn’t an option.
2. Re-brand, which is common. Let’s put lipstick on the pig. This wasn’t an option.
When they changed Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC, they still sold fried chicken.
3. Modify, the goal we'd tried. But to completely modify, it’s risky and
potentially deadly. Exodus has suffered, been ridiculed, maligned, scorned.
Life has been incredibly difficult. I begged God to let me be a decorator. He
said "no" What we realized was that God does not want us to modify
Then the bombshell.
"We are at option 4, to shut down".
Even though the audience had been quietly listening the entire time there was
something about this moment where it felt like there was a collective holding
"I knew this option would come to pass.
It’s the fulfilment of what I was hired to do".
"We have decided to close Exodus down and this is our last
At that precise moment, unbeknown to any of
us, Vice President Randy Thomas, seated in the front row, pressed the
publish button on his laptop and the announcement went up on the
Exodus website for the whole world to see.
It was done. The service closed with prayer, a melodic worship song and it was
over. I looked over at Jim, who was feverishly typing away on his computer. I
thought he was taking notes but he had been minute by minute live blogging the
entire proceedings. When he looked over at me I mouthed the only
word I could think of at that moment "FUCK!". I can't believe it.
It's over for Exodus and I'm here to witness it. A surreal moment when
something you have wished for and worked towards for a long time has finally
come to pass. Alan had alluded to this in his email he'd written only six hours
earlier "it's almost over" but I wasn't completely sure what
he was trying to tell me. Even though I'd reported on the progressive
white-anting of the ex-gay message twelve months earlier......sometimes I'm a
I did know something though. I'd been in a
confidential online group leading up to the conference with several Exodus
leaders as well as ex-gay survivors. This had been created at Alan's request
and I was invited to participate. The Exodus leaders were hopelessly out
numbered and it was definitely not a space for the faint-hearted. For all
that others might criticise Alan for, one thing I believe we should give him
some credit for is his courage. I'm not sure I would have willing placed myself
in some of those spaces.
A number of the ex-gay survivors became a part of
the Lisa Ling, Our America show "God
and Gays" on the Oprah network. In this show, Alan and his wife
Leslie were seated in dark church basement with about a dozen ex-gay survivors
who, through tears and anger, confronted them with their stories. It was
here that Alan first apologised but it had not yet been made public. "God
and Gays' was aired the second night of conference after Alan had
officially closed Exodus down.
Are you seeing what's going on here?
This was a planned and well executed closure
or was it just an evolution? Possibly over twelve months before, seat belts
were fastened and the lever pulled on this roller coaster ride. It began
clanking slowly with a change in position statements, more nuanced blog posts,
reaching the peak with Alan's written apology to the LGBT community in the
afternoon before the conference, racing off that same night with the official
close down. The opening address was live-streamed
so that as many people as possible could get the information first hand. From
there on it just bolted and rattled on a crazy ride. I am sure there were
times they thought it would run totally off the tracks. I'd even emailed
Alan encouraging him not to quit, concerned that if he did the role might be
taken over by someone else who had not made the progress Alan had. That
could set things back another ten to fifteen years.
With the service now over, most people
remained seated. Stunned. A few got up and hugged other people. A time
of ministry and prayer was offered for those feeling the need for comfort. I
didn't really know what to say myself. I mean "what now?". We are
here for another three days at the conference. Places were provided for the
various groups like youth, parents and married couples to have supper together
after the meeting. I didn't go to those. Not that I wasn't welcome but
it was like the family needed some private time to talk about the implications
of what they'd just heard. I felt that intimate space needed to be
I did immediately wonder about the wisdom of
making this announcement at the opening address. Possibly there was no
Looking back I see the first night was best
and not the final night as it gave those attending a safe space to talk, share
and process the implications of what they had just happened. I hate to think
what terrible consequences it would have had on some attending the conference
had they heard this last.
This was not a "they won - we lost'
moment. Exodus was closed with a level of dignity.....certainly honesty and
But what about the next three days?
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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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