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".
You can probably imagine that it took every bit of self-control and grace
I could muster to not jump up and say "What
a load of crap. All those things you've mentioned are an orientation. Neither a
lifestyle nor a choice. An orientation that is healthy to embrace. And it's not
a feeling IT IS who I am". But I was not there to be a troublemaker;
I'd been given a privileged invitation. I quietly excused myself from the
workshop, went outside and took deep breaths.
Amongst the broad spectrum of those attending, there were obviously
people who still had a long way to go. Most likely they would go over to the
Exodus splinter group Restored
Hope Network who'd vowed
they would maintain the "change is possible" message. Good luck with
that. It seems the last remaining
ex-gay organisations in
Australia are planning the same.
Jim Burroway made an interesting observation. During the workshops, every
time a person (particularly a young person) mentioned the term "same sex
attraction" to describe
their experience, their demeanour changed. Automatically, they looked down,
avoiding eye contact and shoulders drooped. Their body language spoke of shame,
shame, shame. I felt sad for them. Shame is attached to beliefs like
"I am a failure" and "I am bad" which undermines self-esteem
and self-worth. Living with this for too long is soul-(self)-destroying.
These poor kids and young adults I reflected. They have been locked in a
prison of Christian cultural ignorance and unnecessary shame. So unlike the
wonderful gay and lesbian young people I know who hold their heads high with
dignity, pride and self-respect. Alan's apology for the shame they had caused
will obviously take longer than a few days to correct. Having been
entrenched for years, liberation is never instantaneous. Like the young
elephant who is tied to a stake so it can't escape, grows up being held by this
belief (not the stake), unable to free himself in later life.
I had no
doubts about what my role was at the conference. It certainly was not to cause trouble, argue or try to convert anyone
but just to BE. Be me: a fulfilled, openly gay man who has no conflict
with his sexual orientation and his faith. I sorted that out years ago. I
have nothing to prove to anyone really. Over the next three days I got to meet
some lovely people and had interesting, sometimes intriguing, conversations. Hearing
my accent they usually began like this.
"Oh you're from Australia. How wonderful. What do you do
there?" I tried to explain the mission of Ambassadors & Bridge
Providing training and consultancy for churches and leaders to educate them on
LGBT issues. To do bridge building between the LGBT community and the church. Some
found the concept difficult to understand. One lady I was speaking to
couldn't quite get it. "I'm a professional homosexual," I said
laughing. She cracked up immediately. "Oh
you're on my side then" she said. We've been cyber-connected ever
Thomas was the Vice President of
Now I couldn't write about my Exodus experience without talking about
Randy. It's interesting how one can gain a perception of people without even
meeting them, only to discover how far off the mark your original perception
I've been a part of the ex-gay survivors (people who have previously been
in ex-gay programs and come out accepting their sexuality) world for nearly two
decades. I couldn't recall a single positive thing being said about Randy. In fact,
some hated and ridiculed him. It's challenging to be objective meeting someone
you've never heard a nice thing said about. It didn't take too long for the
negative perception to fade. Randy, had what I would call a drag queen sense of
humour. Not crude or smutty but sharp, clever, witty. Camping it up seemed his
natural way of being and quite comfortable with. Unlike myself who, for decades,
had suppressed the real me and monitored mannerisms, voice and gestures.
Over meals together we got beyond the humour as Randy shared openly and
very honestly with me about his journey. Particularly that he had never
considered himself an ex-gay but that he had allowed others to highjack his
story for their own agendas. Honesty is always refreshing. From time to time he'
genuinely ask 'What do you think about
this or that Anthony". It's hard not to like someone who thinks they
can learn a thing or two from you and value your opinion. The more time I spent
with Randy the more I came to respect him and his journey. Even though the
outcomes of our resolution have taken us to different places it is a level of
resolution. Who knows? Maybe one day a man will come into Randy's life and they
will fall hopelessly in love and want to be together for the rest of their
lives. I reckon he'd make an excellent partner. Good man. Good heart. Good
sense of humour. I did enjoy his message at the conference "God used a drag queen to save my life"
Of all the
apologies I have read
Randy's apology is the most profound. It's not just an
apology it's a confession and is especially interesting as it looks back over
twenty years of involvement as a participator and leader in the
"ex-gay" myth. Whilst others have been cynical, to me, it
demonstrates that Randy has done some deep soul-searching and
The conference was coming to a close and Alan had promised me an
interview. I'd already been bumped back several times as every conceivable
media outlet had had their piece of Alan over the last four days. The term "media
frenzy" comes to mind. Actually it had been going on for days even before
the conference. Most of the leading newspapers around the world and TV networks
along with Christian media outlets got the story first hand from the man
himself. I was pretty well the last. We sat down in the media room for 20
minutes. I was hoping for more. Not so much an interview but a conversation as
we'd had in the emails but over a meal, bottle of wine or cocktail. I could see
the man had little more to give. He was exhausted.
Walking back to the final meeting, Leslie pulled me aside. "I just wanted you to know that Alan
has spoken very highly of you and appreciates you". I thanked her and
mentioned that I actually get what they had been going through more than others
might so I appreciated her words. The time I'd invested in building the
relationship and the hours I'd put into constructing well thought-out emails
had paid off.
The final meeting came to a close. Alan prayed and finished with the
words that were not only to the conference but to LGBT people and the Christian
"The culture war is over.
Let us lay down our weapons and be at peace"
the closure of Exodus, nearly four decades of unnecessary suffering, shame,
torment and false hope had come to an end for 1,000's of people. What will it
look like for the new generation of young LGBT Christians raised in an
atmosphere of acceptance and equality?
Now the questions remain.
church now allow its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members to take
their rightful place alongside their straight brothers and sisters?
church rise to the challenge, let go of judgment, preconceived ideas and
misinformation and reach out to the LGBT community with love and grace.
church also take responsibility for the harm, ignorance and misinformation has caused
and have the courage to say, like Alan, Randy and others, "We are deeply sorry"
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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.
Labels: alan chambers, exodus, exodus global alliance