The ABC reports…
“The ABC has discovered the fundamentalist practice of trying to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality is continuing in Australia with tragic results.
While the leading ex-gay therapy organisation in the United States recently renounced its practices, and Pope Francis said it is not his place to judge homosexuals, some Australian churches believe gay Christians need to invite the Holy Spirit to convert them to being straight.
At Ramsgate Community Church in Sydney’s south, Reverend Ron Brookman believes he is helping to save souls.
He is the director of Living Waters, a group that says it helps to heal people’s sexuality.
Reverend Brookman, who tells Christians that being gay is a sin, was himself leading a double life as a gay man and a Uniting Church minister.
“I’ve struggled since I was 11 with homosexuality. I was just overwhelmed with lust, with homosexual fantasy,” he told ABC’s 7.30.
“I underwent a substantial change there that freed me from the secret life and I found a change in my heart and a swing away from my being attracted to men to actually becoming attracted to women, and one particular woman in particular who is now my wife and the mother of my children and, yeah, there’s a beautiful transformation.”
Reverend Brookman uses terms such as ‘sin, pointless, superficial and immoral’ when describing homosexuality.
When asked if that is judgmental he disagrees.
“No, it’s ex-perennial from the point of view that being in the gay lifestyle I know the high degree of promiscuity,” he said.
Reverend Brookman has asked the Holy Spirit to give parishioner Michael Moloney the power to stay away from homosexual temptation.
Mr Moloney grew up an Irish Catholic. In his mid 20s he had a girlfriend and was trying to follow the Church’s strict rules about sex before marriage.
“At the same time I had these other issues as well in my head about homosexual temptations, homosexual type of desires as well and so I didn’t really know which path to follow,” he said.
“It came to the point actually when I was about 25, 26 that I really came to the point of seriously considering taking my life.”
Suicidal and alone, he says it was not until God spoke to him that he believed he could resist his gay urges.
“I felt this presence, this force around me and I understood intuitively that I was loved by God, even if I had probably smashed all his commandments to pieces.”
Now 30, Mr Moloney is an active member of Ramsgate Community Church, under the ministry of Reverend Brookman who helps him stay on the straight and narrow.
“Seeing somebody that’s been there, done that et cetera, that’s walked the walk and continues to do so, is for me a source of inspiration.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve been cured of homosexuality, I think I’ve been cured of my if you like timidity, I’ve been cured of being very introverted if you like, of having low self-esteem and all these issues.
“I have less and less desire if any to relate to men in a sexual way.”
Counsellor Matt Glover says attempts at conversion are a form of spiritual abuse.
“You know, because it’s not possible to change your orientation,” he said.
“You can try as hard as you like, it’s not going to make any difference.
“Then not only are you wrestling with your sexuality, but now you’re wrestling with a God who doesn’t like you because you can’t change it.”
Psychologist Paul Martin is also concerned about the practice.
“Those people are being psychologically damaged at a very, very deep level and quite often that damage is with them forever,” he said.
Mr Martin describes himself as a survivor of a program like Living Waters.
Growing up in an evangelical Christian family, he was constantly told being gay is evil.
As a young man with same-sex orientation he tried so called ex-gay conversion therapy.
“Every night I went to sleep I was as gay as the morning I woke up,” he said.
“You do everything that they say, you pray, you go to counselling, you have demons cast out of you, everything, the whole box and dice and nothing ever changes.”
Mr Martin lasted two years in conversion therapy.
These days he is an out and proud member of Brisbane’s gay community.
He has been a clinical psychologist for 25 years and says he has seen horrific damage.
“My clinical and anecdotal experience shows there is, particularly in this group that are same-sex attracted and from a fundamentalist evangelical Christian background, elevated levels of mental health issues and suicidality.”
Mr Martin is also concerned about the number of ex-gay programs targeting vulnerable young Christians online.
“I know people that have been on them and done the programs a number of times and attempted suicide,” he said.
“It’s one of the most psychologically damaging things that I think are happening in that space at the moment.”
For decades so called ex-gay ministries in America have promised to convert the sexualities of gays and lesbians.
Last month one of the world’s largest ex-gay organisation, US-based Exodus International closed down.
Its leader publicly apologised to people who had suffered as a result of its ex-gay therapies.
“We have told them that they should feel ashamed or that they should try to change these things that we have realised we cannot change,” former president of Exodus international Alan Chambers said.
“I believe that that causes all sort of trauma and I know that there are people who have taken their life because they felt so ashamed of who they are, felt like God couldn’t love them as they are and that’s something that will haunt me until the day I die.”
While Exodus International has closed, many ministries in Australia are still operating, under the similarly named Exodus Global Alliance.
Reverend Brookman’s Living Waters is a member of that group.
“We don’t do therapy, we never have and so to that degree we are very separate from Exodus and the way that Exodus has been and nor have we taken the hardline that you must change,” he said.
Michelle Kolev is President of Freedom2B – a support group for gay Christians.
Her community is devastated by the recent suicide of one of its members who had tried but failed ex-gay therapy.
“He had tried to change but he wanted to please God,” she said.
“He went through several programs, he went through a lot of prayer ministry, things like that, wanting to change and when he couldn’t change and when things didn’t change for him he just went on a downward slide.
“It’s just terribly damaging to anybody that has been part of one of these programs.
“People are confused and hurt already and they’ve been told that they can’t be gay and Christian. And we know that that’s not true.”