Recently at the Midnight Shift, Anthony Venn-Brown, launched not only the second edition of his book A Life of Unlearning – he also launched, at age 56, the most rewarding part of his life.
Venn-Brown [top picture], who became Australia’s first true evangelist preacher in the Pentecostal/Charismatic church until his “fall from grace” is doing for homosexuality what Al Gore is doing for climate change: slow, systematic, unrelenting, rational and compelling cases for why Christianity must change its position on homosexuality.
Venn-Brown has styled himself as an ambassador not an activist and it is this positioning, as well as his connection to the top brass of the Pentecostal Church in Australia, which is creating a wellspring of change from within.
“The evidence is mounting,” he observes, “about the consequences of refusing to accept into the Christian faith people who are gay. Suicide, self-harm and fake relationships are the results. It’s no longer good enough to say you’re welcome so long as you change, the time has come to accept people for who they are; enough is enough.”
And Venn-Brown would know. His book is a familiar tale. In fact, reading it, and despite our divergently different upbringing, his story felt strangely like my story – awareness of same sex attraction at a young age, denial, concerted attempts to be heterosexual, hating yourself for being created this way, family rejection, deception, the list goes on. What makes Venn-Brown’s story so remarkable is that his coming out traversed twenty years, ex-gay programs, marriage, children and a career as a Christian Preacher with the Assemblies of God Church (later to become Hillsong).
Venn-Brown was born in Sydney in 1951. The son of a manager of an automotive parts company, the family grew up in a small apartment in Neutral Bay. In 1956, the family moved to Hunters Hill where he attended the local public school and it was a friendship with another boy at the age of 15 that would open him to his first experience.
The confusion that followed led to his first attempt to come out as a 17 year old. The family reaction was predictable. Soon afterwards he was packed off to a “retreat” in Cronulla to be “cured” of his homosexuality. So began an internal battle that would last for the next thirty years as he struggled to alternatively suppress and engage with his true sexual orientation.
“The irony of that retreat in Cronulla is that the nasty woman who ran the place, Joyce, was found some years later to be living with a woman! In the US, John Paulk, founder of the largest ex-Gay program Exodus was recognised in a gay bar. These programs claim to be successful. The fact is that they are a failure and they need to be called on it.”
The Exodus website has a homosexuality policy where they state: “Exodus upholds heterosexuality as God’s creative intent for humanity, and subsequently views homosexual expression as outside of God’s will. Exodus cites homosexual tendencies as one of many disorders that beset fallen humanity.”
Venn-Brown continues, “This is why people end up suiciding or self harming. You leave feeling as if you’re a failure and you don’t have the strength to fight anymore. It is completely hypocritical for the church to claim that we are all God’s people and then spurn some of them for something they have absolutely no control over.”
Living Waters is the name of the Independent ex-gay program that was running out of Hillsong. Hillsong disbanded the program according to Venn-Brown, when it was revealed that most of the participants were sleeping with each other.
“They create false hope and in many cases actually induce further pain and anguish in the long term.” Venn-Brown’s goal is to close down all ex-gay programs in Australia.
A speaker at the book launch was Chris Yinder. Chris spoke of her own personal transformation, not as a lesbian but as a heterosexual understanding for the first time that Christianity was no longer in step with contemporary social standards. As part of the Assemblies of God, she had spent time, along with a team of other young Christians, examining the Bible in detail, and concluded that Christianity could no longer claim to be Christian unless they demonstrated absolute acceptance of people who are gay, as they are, into the church.
Venn-Brown’s eyes sparkle as he rolls off “Opposition to the abolishment of slavery, inter-racial marriage, women’s rights. The Church has a long history of failing to reflect a shift in social attitudes; homosexuality and abortion are the last bastion.”
Even more remarkable is the impact his story is having on heterosexuals who are growing in number as significant and proud advocates. The power of Venn-Brown to reach across divides and unite people in understanding and acceptance is without doubt a new defining chapter in the advancement of social justice.
Glenn Wheeler [2nd picture], shock jock on Sydney radio station 2UE, home to John Laws, interviewed Venn-Brown last weekend on his weekend radio program. Last night, Venn-Brown invited him, unplanned, to join him on stage and describe the experience.
He started by saying that if someone had told him one year ago that he would be standing on the dance floor at the Midnight Shift he would have told them they were “fucking idiots.” Wheeler described the interview as the “most dynamic” in his career but more importantly, he told of reconciliation with his gay brother who heard the program and called him afterwards.
Wheeler, looking every bit like an Alan Jones clone, broke down briefly as he told his tale. He ended his short speech with a pledge to give voice to people suffering because of discrimination based on their sexual orientation and vowed that he would do everything in his power to change society’s attitudes.
Standing there, I don’t think anyone would have believed me if I’d told them that a 2UE jock received a jubilant ovation on the dance floor at the Midnight Shift.
Venn-Brown is a miracle. He is a miracle who is making an enormous difference for future generations of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. As an ambassador for change, he is building a wave of passionate advocates from within our community and beyond it.