Thursday, November 29, 2007

WHEN A HOMOSEXUAL CHRISTIAN LEADER ‘COMES OUT’


Review: Anthony Venn-Brown's 'A Life of Unlearning: a Journey to Find the Truth', 2nd edition, New Holland Publishers, 2007.

The Church has wrestled with a dozen major paradigm-shifts in its history. The first had to do with accepting Gentiles. The Protestant Reformation was built on the radical proposition that we are saved by faith purely on the basis of God’s grace, and that we can trust ordinary folks to read the Bible. Then there was slavery, charismatic renewal, women in leadership... Conservative groups have recently wrestled with issues like dancing, divorce, Sabbath/Sunday-behaviour, dress-codes, and rock music.

And now the Big One: Homosexuality.

After 25 years counselling ex-pastors, what generalizations can I make about Christian homosexual ministers who declare their orientation/ practice?

If they were credentialled by a fundamentalist denomination they will be treated, with very few exceptions, as lepers/pariahs, and even with hate. [1] If from an evangelical background, the neglect will be more benign: they may receive one or two contacts from their colleagues (or they may not). Mainline Christians are less homophobic, but also often uncaring.

Fundamentalists/Pharisees quote Paul: ‘[Do not] associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral... Drive out the wicked person from among you’ (1 Corinthians 5:11,12, NRSV). [2]

Progressive Evangelicals align their stance with that of Jesus, who was castigated by religious leaders for hanging out with 'publicans and sinners’. They might agree with Tony Campolo: 'In the likelihood that most (homosexuals) will still have their basic sexual orientations regardless of their efforts to change, we must do more than simply bid them be celibate. We must find ways for them to have fulfilling, loving experiences so that they might have their humanity affirmed and their incorporation into the Body of Christ assured.' [3]

Anthony Venn-Brown is probably Australia’s first openly-gay Pentecostal leader. His story is both typical (he attempted suicide) and atypical (he attends a Pentecostal Church and has set up a ministry - Freedom 2 B[e] - a network for GLBTIQ - Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer - people from Pentecostal and Charismatic backgrounds).

Wikipedia says he prefers to be known as a gay ambassador rather than a gay activist. [4] That’s also atypical: most homosexual ex-pastors (and serving pastors for that matter) still lie very low.

When I tell clergy conferences that every Christian denomination has pastors and ex-pastors who are gay, that used to be greeted with disbelief. Now, of course, they’ve all moved beyond the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ stance.

And when I write/preach that the Bible has nothing whatever to say about homosexuality as a (non-chosen) orientation, most conservative Christians just don’t understand. Non-chosen? Yes: I’ve not met a homosexual or lesbian client who chose to be that way: most of them would prefer to be a much-less-complicated – and socially more acceptable - heterosexual.

But not Anthony: if reincarnation was true, he writes, he wouldn’t mind coming back as a homosexual. Again, atypical.

Sample paragraph: ‘I was overcome by a feeling of utter failure. I thought about what I’d done to Helen and the girls, the people who might lose faith because of my transgression, the humiliation of everyone knowing my sin, the way I’d discredited the ministry and how unworthy I was of anyone’s love, even God’s... I was a failure as a husband, father and servant of God’ (p. 285).

Anthony’s book is well-written, a ‘must-read’ for all (adult – though some may disagree with that) Christians, especially Christian leaders. It’s confronting, occasionally (appropriately) explicit, irenic, sad, honest, and well-researched. There’s a commendable integrity about his approach. (My main suggestion would be that in the next edition he adds an appendix with a more in-depth summary of the biblical/theological material.)

Two of the most difficult questions for conservative Christians relate to a 'cure' for homosexuality and the issue of same-sex marriages.

Anthony's experience demonstrates that the advice often given to people with same sex orientation - that a heterosexual marriage will solve the problem and be the final evidence that they have received a 'miracle' - frequently ends in a traumatic and devastating experience for the partner and children: one that can take years to heal. Also most will be shocked to learn, from the emails Anthony has received, that some Christian parents and church leaders suggest hiring an opposite sex prostitute to help with the 'cure'. Obviously there is still a great deal of ignorance out there about sexual orientation and church leaders need to be more informed.

On the issue of same-sex relationships, I have said often that there's a great deal of hypocrisy in our churches. In an ABC TV program I suggested that churches have been selective in their indignation re the three so-called 'deadly sexual sins' - adultery, fornication, and homosexual practice. We condemn the first and third, but most (yes, most) of our Christian young people practise the second one: but are not excluded from the memberships of most churches on that account. (Why? They're the children of church leaders!). [5]

Here's a heart-felt comment from Anthony on this question: 'Those who are privileged to have a close relationship/friendship with gay or lesbian couples know that the essentials that build and maintain their relationships are the same as heterosexual marriages: love, trust, respect and a desire to create a life long partnership. These are all honourable traits and should not be condemned as evil but supported by those who believe God's love is for all. To welcome them into our churches is an acknowledgment of the right choices they have made.'

And I would add that no one should be definitive on this broad issue until/unless they have listened carefully to the stories of homosexual people.

We may not agree with all Anthony says, but if our homophobic judgmentalism can't cope with this sort of 'in your face' truthfulness, or if we don’t cry with Anthony sometimes - he cries a lot – my gentle suggestion would be to get help!

Rowland Croucher

November 26, 2007

*****

You can purchase his book here: http://www.anthonyvennbrown.com/

Anthony’s blog - http://alifeofunlearning.blogspot.com/

Freedom 2 b[e] - http://www.freedom2b.org/phpBB2/

*****

[1] http://www.godhatesfags.com/

[2] Put Anthony’s name into ‘Find on this page’ at http://www.christian-witness.org/active/mail/y_letter35.html

[3] Homosexuality: an Interview with Jesus - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/12135.htm

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Venn-Brown

[5] You can read the transcript and view it here: http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/13440.htm


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I read Anthony's book with great interest for two reasons. 1. I 'grew up' in the same Christian movement Anthony was a minister in. 2. I am lesbian.

I understand, perfectly, the kind of hurt and devastation that comes from the "Church's solution to the problem." I married and had three children and spent 23 years of my life, waiting for marriage to cure me and battling daily with my 'unclean thoughts.' The "cure" didn't work. I was just a miserable gay woman in a heterosexual marriage and the fallout still affects my kids, even though, in the end they were the ones who urged my husband and I to separate! They still lost a family, even if it was a dysfunctional one. They, like us, lost the dream of a united home. They perhaps never possessed the dream at all.

Today, like Anthony, I am happy and fulfilled and assured of God's love for me just as I am. I am happily living in a committed relationship with a wonderful woman who 'meets' me on all levels and whom I believe is the perfect, and intended life partner for me.

Would I want to be reincarnated as a lesbian? YES! The only thing I would wish was different is I would want to be reincarnated in a more tolerant world. (I'm echoing here, the sentiments expressed by other members of Freedom2b(e), but they're my own heartfelt sentiments as well.

Blessings,
Sr Meg Britton
St Flora Anglican Mission Parish
Queensland

raskdog said...

I am a gay man who grew up in a conservative Christian home. I read Anthony's book and really enjoyed it. I felt as though I was reading my own story. One thing, I don't agree with the comment that it is atypical that if reincarnated a gay guy would want to be gay again. Most of my gay friends would want to be gay again. I know I would. The only difference I would like is to be reincarnated into a more tolerant, less hostile world.

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