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Gay Christians' church trauma


'God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,' quips the pastor from the pulpit. The congregation finds this hilarious, but not young gay Christian Ben, who feels secretly shamed. Later, when a string of Christian counselling programs fail to 'heal' his homosexuality, Ben takes to his wrists with a razor blade. A trusted pastor attributes Ben's self-harming to demonic possession. Needless to say, Ben finds this distinctly unhelpful.

Another boy realises he is gay at around the same time that his father comes out of the closet, an event that causes an emotional rift in the family. Though still virtually a child, he feels a responsibility to repress his own feelings in order to avoid causing further damage to the family. He grows up to be, for a time, a practitioner of a counselling service that seeks to help gay Christians transition to heterosexuality.

The Cure aims to softly condemn the (primarily evangelical Christian) 'ex-gay' movement, which since the 1970s has sought to convert homosexual Christians to the 'straight' and narrow. It draws heavily upon the personal experiences of its interviewees, who speak frankly about their attempts to repress their sexuality, and of the emotional and psychological trauma that they have suffered as a result.

All feel their religious faith strongly, which makes their churches' disdain for their sexuality — something that they feel lies at the core of their being — all the more devastating, and the desire to repress it all the more desperate. One ex-Mormon reflects fondly on the faith's community and family values, before admitting to the severe depression that he has suffered during years of immersion in the ex-gay movement.

Director Corkhill's thesis is clearly that repressing a homosexual nature for religious reasons can lead to trauma and depression, while embracing it promotes growth as a whole and healthy person. Importantly the film promotes sensitivity and acceptance as the proper response by religious groups to their members who experience homosexuality. This is a commendable message that is unfortunately undermined by apparent bias.

Even viewers sympathetic to the message cannot miss the onesidedness. Of the six interviewees, five have had a negative experience of the ex-gay movement. The main interviewee is Anthony Venn-Brown, co-founder of the gay Christian network Freedom2B, and at the end of the film, several of the interviewees are seen wearing Freedom2Be t-shirts. It is as if the participants were hand-picked to support a predetermined conclusion.

Yet The Cure's focus upon human experience is a great strength. It is hard to dissent in the face of the still youthful Ben's grateful tears for his recently discovered belief that God loves him regardless of his sexuality. Or with 39-year-old Hannah who, after years of depression and a severe breakdown, has accepted who she is, rather than a church-prescribed version of who she should be. She says she's never been more content.

This kind of personal testimony tends to elicit sympathy; this is true, too, of the lone voice who speaks in defence of the ex-gay movement. Pastor Ron Brookman, from the Living Waters counselling program, reflects candidly upon his own youthful experiences with homosexuality, and on the process of prayer and self-examination that brought him to the point where he now identifies as heterosexual.

The pseudo-psychological explanations he offers for the source of his earlier homosexual tendencies are dubious. And his admission that he sometimes still 'notices' men's legs tempts ridicule. Yet like the other interviewees he speaks frankly and from personal experience. It is no one's place to judge that his experience of moving into heterosexuality is less valid than that of the interviewees who found fulfillment in their homosexuality. 

The Cure premieres this weekend at the 13th Brisbane Queer Film Festival.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. 

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, gay Christians



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Existing comments

Thank you for taking on this subject and info on the film 'The Cure'. There may be great strife and turmoil in our world, but the inner turmoil that faces many gay people also needs to be brought out into the open. Love is love. Let's move on to acceptance.

Jenny Esots | 12 April 2012  

Well, God moves in mysterious ways, as we all know, and just the other night we learned from Cardinal Pell, that God so loves atheists that they too can go to Heaven. I look forward to the good Cardinal telling us all that even 'poofs' can get through the gates of Heaven, since God loves them at least as much as he loves atheists. In the meantime, let us ponder what Gillard and Garrett are doing to promote this sort of dangerous talk in the school yard with their $500m support for the imposition of evangelical Christian school chaplains, most of whom subscribe to the 'Adam and Steve' howler. Funny too, how when the Senate inquiry into youth suicide of a couple of years ago was complete, they never even raised school chaplains as a tool in preventing youth suicide. Which is odd, given Garrett and Gillard's keen support for evangelising and proselytising in the school yard. Maybe Tim could turn his nib skills to addressing this subject next?

janice wallace | 12 April 2012  

sounds silly I know, but God loves every person wholly not just their 'good' bits.

Moira Rayner | 12 April 2012  

Thanks for reviewing this doco, Tim, which comes at a highly relevant time for Australian society, Australian governments and the various Christian denominations and expressions in this country, especially in light of the gay marriage debate and the highlighting of inequities in a number of areas. Thank you for your clarity re the pursuit and discovery of contentment and peace in the doco, and the exploration of God's love for all. Many of us small-l liberal 'straights' will welcome efforts to promote 'sensitivity and acceptance as the proper response by religious groups to their members who experience homosexuality'. Acknowledging the director's bias, which I think you have ably demonstrated, I'd also suggest that many media consumers post-Michael Moore would expect or accept docos as unapologetic advocates for a partisan viewpoint. The medium has changed (evolved or devolved, take your pick). When you consider the church's history and ongoing policies and actions against gay people and the LGBTI communities, and the spiritual abuse that continues to drive people to extremes, I think the exercise of advocacy is not such a bad thing. It may help to shore up the awareness of ongoing prejudices and the disappointing role that professed followers of Jesus Christ continue to play in making difference a negative concept and 'gay' a pejorative term.

Barry G | 12 April 2012  

The great mystery is why some people allow the way they gain sexual gratification to become the only driving force in their lives when that brings societal disquiet down on their heads. The other mystery lies in proclaiming to the world, "Hey! Listen! I like sexual relationships with others of my sex". So what? Who cares? Now that homosexuality no longer contravenes the Law, why not just shut up and get on with it like heterosexuals do? That would certainly remove all the problems of discrimination and the psychological problems that derive from it. As Moira says, God loves all. Let each make his own reconciliation with God when and if the time comes. Meanwhile, it might make sense to grow up and stop the childishness of the whole "let's tell everyone how we like our sex" agenda of the clearly "not so gay afterall movement" apparently evident in the psychological traumas this doco documents.

john frawley | 12 April 2012  

Thanks Tim - I'll be interested to see the film in its entirety. Our sexuality is a gift from God - whether we are heterosexual or homosexual. And attempting to be something we are not can bring trauma, not only to ourselves but to loved ones in our lives.

Pam | 12 April 2012  

Is Tim suggesting that it remains a valid message to same-sex attracted people of faith that it is possible and desirable to attempt a "cure" for their in-born, God-given sexuality, so that they may become "normal" and acceptable to God and the faith-community which is supposed to love them unconditionally? Is it possible that Tim has no understanding of the fact that sexuality is not a black and white proposition, and that we all have varying degrees of homo and heterosexual attraction? In case he is, the Australian Psychological Society (APS) has this to say re: same-sex attraction "reparative" courses - "the APS recommends that reputable practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals' sexual orientation". As reputable psychological practitioners and people of compassion and respect for others know, it is the nasty persecution (such as Cardinal Pell's ignorantly insulting categorisation of them as essentially disordered) and abuse which homosexual people suffer at the hands of others which causes their pain and self-loathing. Homophobia is the real sickness here. It is disappointing that Tim doesn't make that clear. If only there were faith-based reparative courses for homophobes - now that would be worth writing about.

Michelle Goldsmith | 12 April 2012  

MICHELLE GOLDSMITH is a bit unfair or maybe she didn't read Tim's review, for he seems to show a very good understanding of the suggestion that our sexuality is fluid/not black and white/ a spectrum, and that "It is no one's place to judge that his experience of moving into heterosexuality is less valid than that of the interviewees who found fulfillment in their homosexuality." They key I reckon is the negative judgements and pressure places in people either from religion or social pressures - and secular society is just as homophobic as religion is. Why can't we all just accept that BISEXUALITY is the norm in human sexuality. The judgment should be of our love and fidelity to our chosen partner - not of gender.

AURELIUS | 12 April 2012  

this is one of the reasons I created this program. Currenly being talked about by over 31 million people in over 100 countries on FB http://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn#!/ChildrenoftheRainbow

John Fisher | 12 April 2012  

Hi Tim, I'm the Ben from the film. Firstly, thanks for reviewing the doco. It's so important that people talk about this and that Christian leaders start to listen to these stories instead of pretending that gay and lesbian people don't exist within their church. I think you need to give credit to Rambling Women Media (the company behind the film) for making a documentary on faith and sexuality. This doco is the first time the ex-gay movement in Australia has been looked at in-depth. I also think that Rambling Women Media have done a good job by not telling people what to think - they leave that up to the viewer. The stories speak for themselves and they handled Ron's interview with integrity and didn't set out to demonise any particular person, ministry or church. ps. I didn't find fulfillment in my homosexuality, I found fulfillment in living an honest life with integrity and faith as a gay man. My sexual orientation is just another part of me.

Ben Gresham | 12 April 2012  

Ben the last three lines of your comment was beautifully expressed.
'Not finding fulfillment in your homosexuality, but in living an honest life with your integrity and faith as a gay man, your sexual orientation being a part of you.
My mind reverts automatically to those who were 'introduced' to homosexuality by force, some in seminaries.

No such sentiments for them along lifes journey.

L Newington | 12 April 2012  

Christian supporters of homosexuality must face the fact that there is not one word of validation within the bible for same-sex relationships. The love of God for all is beyond doubt. However, this does not equate to approval of a person living out their "God-given" same-sex attraction. The only relationship that Christ ever sanctioned for genital love was between a husband and a wife. Yet I know that many Christians would not let the Bible stand in the way of their modernising the Church's messages and views.

Bill Jones | 12 April 2012  

Bill Jones, just where does Christ refer to genitals? Unfortunately,ignorance and selective reading is used to support prejudice. The issue is more that LGBTI people are part of the diversity of creation and have distinctive and special gifts to offer the world without people trying to make us what we are not.

Malcolm McPherson | 13 April 2012  

I don't remember Jesus ever mentioning genitals, although I'm pretty sure at one stage he called the pharisees a bunch of dicks.

Charles Boy | 13 April 2012  

Malcolm McPherson, I can only conclude that you are being disingenuous when you ask where Christ referred to genitals. No, he did not specifically refer to parts of the human anatomy. However, he did speak of the evils of adultery and fornication. He spoke of the indissolubility of marriage, of how a husband and wife cleave together and become one. It is from such passages that the Christian tradition has been that the only appropriate place for genital love is marriage, where marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. You also did not address the central point of my previous post. Christians will talk of love, diversity, acceptance, avoiding prejudice, etcetera. None of this amounts to sacred scripture sanctioning same-sex unions. Christ said nothing about IVF (if I may pre-empt a point of any subsequent posts) as it was unknown in his day. Thus we must search for the spirit of Christ and Christian tradition to know how to respond to such new challenges. However, homosexuality certainly was known in Christ’s time, and throughout all of the biblical times. Thus my point still stands unchallenged. Where in the Bible is there any reference that either implicitly or explicitly supports same-sex unions?

Bill Jones | 13 April 2012  

If God didn't create Adam and Steve, where did they come from?

M F Green | 13 April 2012  

As probably one of the most informed people in this area in Australia....I'd like to say that the Cure is actually a totally honest portrayal of reality. It appears one sided because it is this what has happened. On one side you 1000's of people who have experienced unnecessary pain and suffering which for some of us becomes a triumphant resolution and on the other side a unbelievable diminishing message that change is possible professed by a small number of people living in denial and a few claiming 'success'. The regular claims that 1,000's of people have left homosexuality is a farce and will and can never be substantiated because it's fantasy. http://exgayaustralia.blogspot.com.au/p/glimpse-into-australias-ex-gay-world-pp.html

Anthony Venn-Brown | 13 April 2012  

Tim Kroenert's review of The Cure is a fairly stock-standard mainstream Catholic piece of journalism. In it he gives the acceptance, love and compassion line that we have come to expect these days, but then offers up the following: "Importantly the film promotes sensitivity and acceptance as the proper response by religious groups to their members who experience homosexuality. This is a commendable message that is unfortunately undermined by apparent bias. Even viewers sympathetic to the message cannot miss the onesidedness. Of the six interviewees, five have had a negative experience of the ex-gay movement. The main interviewee is the co-founder of the gay Christian network Freedom2B, and at the end of the film, several of the interviewees are seen wearing Freedom2Be t-shirts. It is as if the participants have been hand-picked in order to support a predetermined conclusion." While this may seem to be even-handed, it is entirely inadequate when faced by the facts of reparative therapy in the hands of the Christian church. Incredible harm has been done to many thousands of good but vulnerable people given the false incentive that they can change their unwanted gay orientations. As has been reported over the last few days as well, the untold suicides caused by the 'failure' of participants of these 'change' ministries is incalculable. To suggest that The Cure is one-sided is to state the obvious as there is no good side to reparative therapy. There is no positive in telling vulnerable people that they can 'pray away the gay' only to have them live lives of denial in putative 'striaght' relationships or remain ghettoed and unnecessarily celibate in ex-gay meetings just in order to get by. Just as there is no good or positive side to depression - it is a destructive force in every life in my experience - there is no good side to reparative therapy and to back-handedly suggest there is under the guise of being even-handed, is being disingenuous. The Cure is an unashamed polemic designed to tell the story of the harm caused by this type of ministry and to humanise this story by telling real life stories of real life people. It is not there to give the other side a voice, but to roundly condemn practices that are considered harmful, unethical and unnecessary by most of the church and certainly by the psychology, psychiatry and medical professions. Sorry Tim Kroenert, the first half of your review was excellent. The second leaves a lot ot be desired.

Dr Staurt Edser | 13 April 2012  

"The issue is more that LGBTI people are part of the diversity of creation and have distinctive and special gifts to offer the world without people trying to make us what we are not." I agree with you Malcolm. I am straight, if someone tried to convince me otherwise they would fail. The only support gay people need is acceptance and love. This issue should not be the big drama it is in this day and age! Isn't it more about being the best people we can be and the most loving representatives of Christ's love we can be? We need to get over the sexuality hangups people!

JH | 14 April 2012  

It is vital that the ex-gay "ministries" be regulated and their leaders be required to hold formal qualifications as psychologists/psychiatrists. The formal bodies who regulate their practictioners all stay homosexuality is not a mental illness and does not need to be "cured". The current ex-gay leaders need to be able to be sued for the enormous damage they cause. All other leaders of ex-gay ministries were asked to participate in the film but declined.It wasn't one sided. I am an ordained Baptist minister who was put through electronic shock therapy by the President of the Baptist Church to try to change me. It didn't work. I have been married to my wife for 41 years, and a heterosexual marriage does not change anything. I am not sexually active to keep those vows.

Ron Smith | 16 April 2012  

I have read enough testimonies on the internet from ex- gays to know that not all were born that way. Some experienced traumas in their young loves that lead to confusion about their sexuality. They were led to believe by counsellours and psychologists that they were gay. These "professionals" were more recruiters and activists for the gay cause than therapists. Their chief concern should have been to aid their clients find health and meaning in their lives. Instead of exploring the cause of their clients' same-sex attraction, it was assumed that they were gay. All they had to do was accept it and come out. Subsequently some clients lived as gays and found no peace, and it was not due to an unaccepting, homophobic community. With further therapy they looked back on their lives and saw that their apparent gayness sprang from problematic relationships. If Ron Smith wants those who practice reparative therapy sued, what about those therapists who have pushed people into homosexuality? If it is acceptable to question your heterosexuality, why can you not also question your homosexuality? If someone determines that they are gay and finds peace in that, then they are free to live so. But, if another wishes to change to heterosexuality so as to find peace, why should that choice not be respected as well? Why must it only be one way traffic?

MJ | 16 April 2012  

To all the experts, ideologues, activists and God botherers and atheists on all sides of this issue, unless you have walked the walk yourself or know someone deeply who has, then it would be better simply to just "Shut up".

AURELIUS | 17 April 2012  

I am not looking for a cure, and I am not looking to redefine sin, I have same sex attractions and I am looking to Jesus. One thing that has changed since I came to Christ and gave up homosexuality is my perspective. I look to please God not people. I look to the cross and honor the sacrifice Jesus made for me by acknowledging and defining my sinful nature correctly. God will change me on the day I pass from this life into the next and it will all have been worth it. I am not missing out on salvation !

Shirl Butler | 30 November 2012  

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