Homosexuality and the church: An excerpt from ‘A Life of Unlearning’
By: Anthony Venn-Brown
This is an excerpt from A Life of Unlearning by Anthony Venn-Brown, out now.
It was a tragic way to end a successful and rewarding career. At the age of 40, my entire world was caving in. I’d lived most of my life with only one ambition – to preach God’s word – and worked desperately hard to achieve it.
During the last eight years especially, I’d seen the fulfilment of this lifelong dream. Now my 22 years of struggle, sacrifice and achievements were coming to a horrifying conclusion. I’d invested my life in becoming one of Australia’s leading evangelists for the Assemblies of God Church.
Every weekend was spent flying all over the country, preaching at youth rallies and Australia’s largest congregations, like Hillsong. Standing before thousands of young Christian people hanging on every word I spoke was exciting and rewarding.
But now, it had all come to an end.
That April Sunday morning in 1991 was beautiful. The sun shining, the sky a cloudless, rich blue and the slight chill of the early autumn morning had melted. All over the central coast, families were getting ready for the regular morning service of celebration, oblivious to what they were about to encounter.
I dragged myself out of bed, showered, and sat with my Bible on my lap, trying desperately to get some words of encouragement from the scriptures to help me
through the next few hours. I wistfully flicked through the light rice paper pages of my well-worn Bible. It was useless. The pages became transparent, as my eyes began to fill with tears.
An air of grief permeated the Venn-Brown household, not unlike the heavy, uneasy silence that settles on a house full of relatives waiting to go to the funeral. We moved slowly and solemnly around the house only speaking when it was absolutely necessary.
We walked out into the warm sunlight and onto the pine deck then down to carport underneath. I gave Helen the keys and asked her to drive. Normally, I’d be more in control, seeing the role of driver as a reflection of my position as the leader in the family unit, but this morning I was feeling physically weak.
The foyer was the usual scene for a Sunday morning at 9.55am. People hugging each other, saying ‘God bless you.’, ‘Nice to see you, Tony.’, ‘How’s the ministry going?’ and ‘Are you preaching this morning?’ I tried to smile but it was obvious to most people that something was drastically wrong. My walk and demeanour was the posture of a broken man. Joining in the familiar songs was difficult as every attempt made me cry.
Kevin, the pastor, moved up to the perspex pulpit to preach. As the service was ending, a feeling of nausea overwhelmed me. Kevin closed the service with a special announcement, ‘Those of you who feel Christian Life Centre is your home church, we’d like you to stay for a few moments please, we have some church business to attend to. People that are visiting today, thank you for coming, we hope you enjoyed the service, you’re free to leave.’
What was about to happen would not be pleasant and certainly something not to be witnessed by visitors or non-Christians.
Helen’s grips on my arms strengthened. I began to sob, an uncontrollable sobbing, deep within, that shook my entire body. No Tony, you can’t let go now. Be strong.
Kevin made a statement about difficult things needing to be done in churches sometimes and that one of our leaders had fallen, bringing about an instant gasp from parts of the congregation. He motioned for me to come forward. Suddenly I felt like an old man as I slowly rose to my feet and shuffled towards the front. Reaching the podium, I turned around to face the congregation.
I remember the faces.
Whenever in town, I’d preached messages of encouragement and hope from this pulpit but the usual responsive faces were now replaced with wide eyes and mouths open in shock. Some who’d already heard the news began crying, others placed their heads in their hands and began to sob. I leant on the pulpit to support myself and counteract the weakness in my legs. My voice trembled as I commenced.
‘Last week I preached my last sermon. I’m resigning from the ministry today. I’m sorry that I have to confess to you I’ve committed the sin of adultery and I ask you to forgive me. I’m so sorry for the shame I have caused my wife and family, the church and God. Please forgive me.’
Of course that wasn’t the entire story.
A chance meeting with Jason only months before had forced me to face reality. My 22 years of prayer, conversion therapy, exorcisms and marriage had changed nothing.
Jason’s love unravelled the cloak of denial I’d covered myself in for years. For weeks, I’d felt alive. Reality and love had touched me so profoundly, I’d been willing to forsake everything to be with him. How could it have gone so devastatingly wrong?
In another life, Anthony Venn-Brown was a married father of two and popular preacher in Australia’s mega-churches, such as Hillsong. He is a national leader in the area of faith, sexuality and gender identity. His bestselling autobiography, A Life of Unlearning, is now in its third edition. He is also the founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International (ABBI), a speaker and an educator. Anthony has been recognised twice among the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians. Follow him on Twitter: @gayambassador
This is an excerpt from A Life of Unlearning by Anthony Venn-Brown, available now in paperback and e-book.
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