Leaders Speak

Ex-gay ministries credibility around the world is being substantially challenged as an increasing number of people come out with their stories saying - it doesn’t work. In fact, reparative/conversion therapy causes harm that can take years to overcome.
Since the release of his autobiography, ‘A Life of Unlearning’, Anthony Venn-Brown (who went through Australia’s first ex-gay program in 1972), has been collecting testimonials from people who have come out of ex-gay programs as well as former Australian leaders of Exodus. After the apologies of 3 former ex-gay leaders at the Ex-gay Survivors Conference in Los Angeles (organised by Soulforce and beyondexgay.com, he felt it was time to release these statements. Statements by these Australian leaders are now being posted around the internet.

Why has it taken so long for people like these 5 and myself to speak up?
From all the emails I’ve received and people I’ve met, I think it’s obvious why only now people are finding the courage to speak up.

There are several reasons
1. When people leave ex-gay programs they are not empowered but defeated and often live with a sense of failure and shame. It takes time to feel good about yourself again.

2. The experience of spending years trying unsuccessfully to become heterosexual can leave a person traumatised. That takes time to heal.

3. Resolving the issue of the perceived conflict between your sexual orientation and your faith can also take years to sort out. Some never do. The conditioning is deep and subconscious.

4. It’s only been the last decade that mental health professions have taken time to research and see if there is any scientific evidence to back up ex-gay claims. None has been found.

5. Claims have been made by Exodus and other groups that 1,000’s of people had become heterosexual and got married to prove it. History tells us that this is only a change in behaviour and not orientation and that’s why these marriages have not stood the test of time. I have a folder full of stories like mine. 12, 16, 20 even over 30 years married. Then having to admit, in essence, nothing really changed, leaving wives feeling betrayed and children hurt.

6. In Australia, ex-gay survivors and former leaders were all in isolation thinking we were the only ones, but ‘A Life of Unlearning’ has not only changed individual lives it’s brought people together. There is now a growing network of people who are committed to ensuring that the others don’t waste years trying to do the impossible. I.e. Change from being gay to straight.

Former Exodus Asia Pacific & Living Waters Leader and on the International Advisory Board of Exodus

When asked to add my perspective to this discussion I was pleased to do so. My purpose here is not to endorse or comment upon the stance of this website or the views it contains, rather it is simply to add my voice to the developing and important dialogue occurring around the issue of faith and sexual orientation.

I have known many sincere Christians who are also attracted to members of their own gender. Almost without exception, I have seen the very real anguish and pain that accompany this situation. Many people suffer deeply in their mental, physical and spiritual health. The result of this strain can be traumatic, debilitating and overwhelming. It is because of my genuine concern for the wellbeing of those who face this dilemma, and my very real desire that they not be unnecessarily harmed, that I have written this statement.

I have also seen many of my brothers and sisters show great courage in their choices as they seek to respond to the profoundly difficult challenge of reconciling their faith and sexuality. Many of these have managed to live a life of integrity and morality as same sex oriented individuals. I am also aware that at the end of the day all I really have to share is a little from my own unfolding story.

I was involved with Exodus ministries for nearly 20 years until my recent 'retirement' at the end of 2006. During this time I fulfilled a number of functions with Exodus ministries including leadership roles at local, regional (Asia Pacific) and international levels. During the last two decades my views concerning the issue of Christian faith and homosexuality have undergone considerable growth and change. This has been the result of many things: my own journey, my developing understanding of God and, as I have shared above, the experiences of friends and other courageous brothers and sisters I have met on the way.

In the past I have been ardent in my opinion that homosexual orientation was unquestioningly a result of the 'fall' and God's intention was therefore always to heal the same-sex attracted believer and help them to be 'whole'. In the past I have frequently spoken publicly in support of these views. However, my position is now somewhat different. I now believe that it is crucially important that we all learn to respect the rights and choices of gay and lesbian believers as they work through the complexities of their unique situation with God in their own way and in their own time.

Former Exodus - Associate Former Leader - Living Waters and Liberty Inc.

My now partner once commented how life as a gay Christian seeking re-orientation was like living in a cemetery waiting to die – this explained exactly how I felt. I had resigned myself to a life of chastity and obedience as re-orientation had never occurred for me and celibacy was my only option. My life had become shallow, small and empty.

My desire has been to support women who wish to live by their Christian convictions, not just aiming for validation by being ‘heterosexual’. In 2003 I co-founded an ex-gay group (YANA) for Christian women who were dealing with same-sex and relationship concerns. I have been involved with Living Waters, an ex-gay ministry (Liberty Inc) and Exodus. I was also on the leadership team of a street work ministry for 7 years.

There had been an increasing uneasiness in me since 2005 that what I was teaching was harmful to people. I had become tired and ill-at-ease with always feeling that this part of my life and others attending the group (same-sex orientated) is broken and in need of fixing. For a long time I had been witnessing peoples (and my own) growing frustration that no matter how repentant, prayerful and committed we all were to living a life as an ex-gay Christian, the changes we all sought and were taught possible never really materialised for most. Some people I knew were married and had married but most seemed to still be dealing with homosexual feelings.

Depression, anxiety, loneliness and inner turmoil were our constant companions because as seen through the eyes of many churches, our ‘failure’ to change equated with somehow not having enough faith, not being a ‘true’ Christian or having a demonic influence. I do feel that there was benefit in attending some ex-gay groups in that as we journeyed together Christian maturity and personal growth was evident - I consider this is a consequence of any loving Christian group. The people I have journeyed with are the most dedicated and courageous people I have ever met. I pray God will lead us all to freedom and truth in Christ.

In summary, life has changed dramatically for me since being confronted so profoundly over the previous years. I have closed the women’s group. I have resigned from all involvement in ex-gay ministries. I have commenced a relationship with a wonderful Christian woman. I am allowing myself the time and space to investigate other thoughts relating to being gay and Christian. After nearly thirty years of torment I am finally learning to rest from fixing my sexuality and past. Above all, I am endeavouring to adopt a simple faith that I once held dear and that is Jesus’ words that say “Come follow me”.

I would like to make it known that I respect and appreciate all the leaders and volunteers involved in the ex-gay ministries I have been associated with. They too are genuine and loving Christians living by their convictions. For me though, because of my own present journey I can no longer be involved with them out of respect for their ministries and their beliefs regarding homosexuality.

Principal Psychologist - Centre for Human Potential
Former Exodus Leader – Melbourne

I was the Co-leader of the Melbourne Chapter of Exodus International (based at Blackburn Baptist Church) for approximately 2 years. My role included speaking at national conferences for church groups, facilitating group meetings, supporting individuals in their struggles and being “counseled” by the founder of that chapter Roger Marks.

During this time, there was not one person that I met or worked with who, in any genuine way achieved the fundamental transformation from homosexual to heterosexual they so desperately desired. The stress of attempting to change their sexual orientation however increased risk of suicidality, and absolutely led to erosion of self-esteem and increased levels of depression and self-deprecation at a very deep level.

There is little current evidence that sexual orientation can be altered. Some research that has made this suggestion has largely seemed to be fundamentally flawed. As a psychologist, I would encourage anyone who is struggling with this issue to look at the objective evidence rather than the heavily biased rhetoric coming out of fundamental Churches.

VONNIE PITTS (Veronica Canning)
Former Christian City Church Pastor/Living Waters Leader

I first heard of the ‘Living Waters’ ex-gay program early 1991. As a pastor on the leadership team of Christian City Church Brookvale (in New South Wales, Australia), I arranged to set up the program in our church to help those struggling with homosexuality. As heterosexuals, myself and two other pastors from the church spent 4 months going through the tapes and manual provided in order to be trained. We then took 3 lesbians and 2 gay men through the program over a 6 month period. It was quite intense. I supported them in their struggles and as we worked through the teaching, we believed they had honestly tried very hard to come out the other end ‘straight’. When we reached the final week I asked the girls what they felt had been achieved. None of them felt the program had changed their sexual orientation. The guys who were working the program finished with similar results.

We looked at additional resources like Elijah House Counselling as a way of bringing more healing into the ‘Living Waters’ Program. There were many at Christian City Church who heard about the program and wanted to join but I was already beginning to have serious doubts about the programs success. It became apparent that anyone who claimed to be ‘cured’ had just gone into denial about his or her sexuality.

At this time, I began my own research into the causes of homosexuality and found there was mounting evidence that sexual orientation is determined in the womb. Now I have absolutely no doubt that homosexuals are born gay and don’t need to change. If I were to see any of the people that I took through the ‘Living Waters’ program again, I would say sorry. My intentions were to help you through your struggle but I acted in ignorance.

Former Exodus Leader Melbourne

As a mature adult and mother of four my Christian experience was very important to me. Not only did I attend Sunday services, I taught Sunday school; lead the Wednesday evening Bible study series and also went to Tuesday prayer meetings. Somehow keeping busy and trying to please my husband kept me from coming to terms with other evolving emotions that I hadn’t time to explore or understand. Eventually, however, I could no longer hide from them.

When it became obvious to me that my ‘natural desire’ was not for my husband but was for a woman, I felt trapped and hopeless. I sought out any information that I could find that might be helpful. I came across an x-gay ministry called ‘Exodus’. I joined Exodus as a Christian wanting to change her sexual orientation. I enjoyed meeting others who were battling with the same demons as myself… somehow I didn’t feel quite so alone.

After about 12 months I was nominated as leader of this small group of about 15 individuals. We met weekly for prayer, discussion and support. I traveled overseas to America to interview Elizabeth Moberley; a scholar and academic who suggested that legitimate same sex affection would provide a passage out of homosexuality. Over the next 3 years, I continued to teach, study and practice ‘legitimate, non-sexual same sex affection’. However, it soon became clear to me that my homosexual drive was not decreasing and I was not getting any closer to becoming heterosexual.

After 4 years I decided that the truth for me was that I stop hiding and accept my homosexual self. Having assistant pastor status with my church I knew I had to tell them my decision. They felt that I could no longer continue in ministry and I was asked to step down.

Today, more than 15 years, after I stepped down from leadership of the X-Gay ministry ‘Exodus’ I have come to know that nearly every member of that group is now living their lives openly as a homosexual person (20 people). I am only aware of one member who married and who would say that they are pleased not to be gay but to be living in a heterosexual relationship. They have been married for 5 years. It is also my understanding that they have not disclosed their former struggles with their partner.

Although I valued the support and friendship of the Exodus members (many are among my closest friends today) I suffered torment and huge anxiety all muddied by confusion and constant failure during the ‘Exodus’ years. For me the most traumatic outcome was my personal sense of failure as a Christian and not being accepted as a part of the church family I loved.

Last Saturday (April 14. 2007) my long time partner and I were married at Colchester Registry Office in the UK. This wedding celebrated who we are and our love and commitment for each other. For the first time in my adult life I felt valued for being me and thrilled to at last find a legitimate ‘home’ amongst my family and friends for my partner and myself.

I believe that my Heavenly Father is also pleased and relieved on our behalf. It is my sincere belief that Scripture points out that God is Love and God is Truth. The Truth shall set you free it says. Being true to my sexual orientation is freeing and I no longer struggle with anxiety, depression, confusion and sexual dysphoria!

When one is at home with one’s sexual self and this causes no-one any harm and is considerate and respectful, this is love.