Thursday, August 28, 2014

8 FACTORS THAT CREATED THE CLOSURE OF EXODUS - No.3 The Internet Factor

3. The internet factor


The influence of the internet to gain information and connect people cannot be overestimated re the downfall of Exodus. 
When I resigned from the ministry and came out in 1992 internet usage was in its infancy and not the commonplace entity it is today. I am a little embarrassed to say that for years, I really believed that I was probably the only Pentecostal minister in the entire world who had resigned because he couldn't "overcome" his homosexuality. It wasn't until after 1996 when www.PlanetOut.com was launched and I joined the internet that I actually found someone just like me. Searching various criteria on PlanetOut I found an African American Pentecostal preacher who was gay ....and out. I was over the moon. Then I found Jallen Rix, the first former ex-gay person I'd ever met. Talking with others who had similar experiences was reassuring. No longer did I feel so alone or like I was a freak.  Probably a similar feeling that young people got when they finally connected with an ex-gay group (point 1 in this article).

During the 70's 80's and 90;s, before the internet, where did the 1,000's of gay men and women who'd "failed" and left ex-gay programs and anti-gay churches go? They went into another closet. 

A few found love like Michael Bussee and Gay Cooper (Exodus originals) Love changes everything. Those who found love realised that their homosexuality was not a sin but an orientation which created the most beautiful human experiences of love, intimacy, affection and finding a partner for life. Others left the ex-gay programs with an even greater sense of failure and shame. Years of conditioned internalised homophobia continued to play out in self destructive behaviours. They had been told for years about the "homosexual lifestyle" and assumed this was how they should live once they accepted being gay so went straight to the tip of the iceberg. Many had been traumatised and developed mental health issues like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To go back to these experiences reminded them of the pain of some of the darkest days of their lives so they just kept quiet. Some just wanted to move on and forget about it.. For others it all became too much. They'd failed to become straight, rejected by family and friends, disillusioned by their experiences in the tip of the iceberg; they choose suicide. The horrendous toll that ex-gay thinking and organisations have had on individuals lives can never be fully documented.

8 FACTORS THAT CREATED THE CLOSURE OF EXODUS - No.2 The Gulf Factor

2. The gulf factor


Born in 1951, I grew up in a generation when racial slurs and sexist jokes and poking fun at people with disabilities were commonplace and accepted. No longer would anyone dare say something like "A woman's place in the home" Imagine the outcry, because we know these things are completely inappropriate in this day. But once, it was the common belief. A racial slur can get you sent off the playing field or straight to the Human Resources manager. It is not tolerated in a civilized society, workplace of sporting arena. Our society says you can't discriminate and there are laws to penalize you if you do. We are a better and fairer society for dismantling prejudice and bigotry and creating equality.

8 FACTORS THAT CREATED THE CLOSURE OF EXODUS - No.1 The Society Shift Factor

In Malcolm Gladwell bestselling book, "The Tipping Point", he describes several key factors that, put together, create the phenomena of a shift in consciousness and/or society. 

Exodus closing was not an insignificant event. It is/was a tipping point.  For LGBT people, the Stonewall riots in 1969 were a tipping point. The major factor that created this was that the harassment and oppression had gone on for too long and it ignited anger and rage in the gay men, lesbians and drag queens. The riots that spilled over to several nights on the streets of Greenwich Village, New York have been seen by many as the birth of the gay rights movement. We are still feeling the impacts of that event over four decades later. President Obama's declaration in 2012, that he supported same sex couples getting married was a tipping point. The graph below demonstrates the impacts of this.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Vote on your favourite cover for "A Life of Unlearning" reprint.

After selling out twice, Anthony Venn-Brown's best selling autobiography "A Life of Unlearning" will soon be available again. 

This time it will be available not only in hard copy but also eBooks and Kindle. Please vote on the cover you like the most. Make sure you are on the newsletter list to hear about the release and special offers. Subscribe here

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Scroll through 4 options below. Select your choice in the drop down box at the top and hit Submit at the bottom.

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

EXODUS INTERNATIONAL – A BEHIND THE SCENES ACCOUNT OF THE EXODUS CLOSURE Part 5

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".

EXODUS INTERNATIONAL – A BEHIND THE SCENES ACCOUNT OF THE EXODUS CLOSURE Part 4

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

EXODUS INTERNATIONAL – A BEHIND THE SCENES ACCOUNT OF THE EXODUS CLOSURE Part 3

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.

EXODUS INTERNATIONAL – A BEHIND THE SCENES ACCOUNT OF THE EXODUS CLOSURE Part 2

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.

EXODUS INTERNATIONAL – A BEHIND THE SCENES ACCOUNT OF THE EXODUS CLOSURE Part 1

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? .