[Note to readers of the John Mark Ministries website: as reiterated many times here, and emphasized in the Disclaimer on the frontpage, this site aims to inform Christians and others *from many perspectives* regarding sometimes complex issues. (Our Statement of Faith can be found here: http://jmm.org.au/articles/8057.htm) . The article below is written by one of the best-known Gay Christian leaders in Australia, and deserves to be read to help towards an informed stance on the issue of a Christian approach to homosexuality. I meet too many conservative-to- liberal folks who are ‘locked in’ to their own positions without adequately studying other viewpoints. Rowland Croucher, July 6 2009].
(An Anthony Venn-Brown Perspective)
Sy Rogers is a gifted communicator and has an amazing story of redemption and the grace of God. Our dialogue has been limited but has always been gracious and respectful. I’d heard many negative things about Sy but our meeting in Sydney in 2007 dispelled many of these.
When Sy was converted in the late 70’s, even though homosexuality had been removed from the list of psychological disorders and laws were changing that had classed gay men as criminals, there was still a great deal of ignorance about sexual orientation. This was particularly so in the church. I was converted in 1969 when the concept of a gay Christian was inconceivable and my life was understandably steered in a particular direction. Was I receiving Christ today I hope that my pastor would be well informed and help me to see that my morality is a choice but my sexual orientation isn’t and that I could lead a life that honoured God as a gay young man. Today there are many fine gay Christians and a growing number of churches which welcome and affirm them.
There are still many who speak of Sy as an ‘ex-gay’ and that he preaches a re-orientation message. I don’t believe Sy would use that term to describe himself or believes that people need to be ‘healed’ of their homosexuality. His message these days is healing for all both gay and straight; a person’s sexual orientation is not the issue. I trust that these insights help dispel some of the confusion and bring a more balanced view of Sy’s ministry.
The Complexities of the Sy Rogers Story
1.Homosexuality vs trangenderism To listen, in length, to the Sy story is to realise that it is not a simple story of gay man becomes straight. Firstly, Sy is transgender which occurs in the womb and remains with a person throughout life. If you are well informed about sexual orientation and what it means to be transgender, then you will be aware that sexual orientation and gender identity are two different wiring systems in the brain. For example, some transgender men are sexually attracted to women and some to men. This is often confusing for heterosexuals to understand as their brains are aligned harmoniously with their gender identity.
Sy lived as a woman for some time and was in the process of seeking gender re-assignment surgery when he was converted to Christ. Throw into his story years of sexual abuse, a self destructive lifestyle (not an exclusively homosexual experience), meaningless sexual encounters and a dysfunctional family upbringing (mother was an alcoholic) then it becomes a maze of issues. The sexual abuse issues are the ones Sy has most recently had to resolve. Probably the miracle in Sy’s Rogers story is similar to mine: we are still alive to tell the story.
Problems develop when Sy speaks to church audiences who are relatively uneducated about sexuality and transgenderism. I’m sure there are still are large number of people in churches who naively believe all homosexual men want to dress and live as a woman and all lesbians wish they could be men. This is far from reality for the average gay man or lesbian. When uninformed Christians, with an already negative attitude towards homosexuality, hear Sy’s story, it’s easy for them to make false assumptions.
2.Terminology Different terms appear in Sy’s story, homosexual, gay, transsexual, transgender, all mixed together and are hard for the average person to separate. One of the myths often presented in many church cultures is that ALL gay men and lesbians are highly immoral, drug taking reprobates who live a ‘homosexual lifestyle’. Sy’s story carries much of that stereotype which, for those of us who are a part of the gay community(as opposed to the ‘gay scene’), know is only reflective of a subculture and once again not exclusively homosexual. Heterosexuals live the same ‘lifestyle’.
3.Does Marriage = Heterosexual? My assumption is that Sy would not actually claim that he is totally heterosexual today, but, because he is married to a woman, many would try and tell us that this indicates a change in sexual orientation. “Heterosexual functionality’ is not being heterosexual any many more than heterosexual men engaging in same sex activity in prison makes them homosexual. I’ve never met an ‘ex-gay’ who can honestly say their orientation, instincts, fantasies and desires are now heterosexual. In other words, that they think and function like normal heterosexual men. I was also married to a woman for 16 years and fathered children but it didn’t make me straight. You can change behaviours, control thoughts, resist temptations and lessen same sex opportunities but you can’t change inbuilt orientation. There is a substantial amount of scientific research that demonstrates this. Sy has chosen to be in a heterosexual marriage. I have to respect Sy and his wife’s choice and anyone else who chooses to live that way.
Personally, at the age of 40, I could no longer live with the inconsistency of presenting one thing to those around me and being another person inside. It was unsustainable and the disconnect created unhealthy behaviours and mental health issues.
To assume that Sy is an ‘ex-gay’ and that he believes all gay men and lesbians must become heterosexual raises several ambiguities.
1.Ambiguity No. 1. Sy has not been on the board of Exodus for quite some time. Possibly not actively involved at a board level for 15 years. He has spoken at some Exodus conferences though. He is last mentioned on the history page of their website in 1996. 2.Ambiguity No. 2. The Sy Rogers website makes no mention of homosexuality or ex-gay ministries. 3.Ambiguity No. 3. The Choices ex-gay ministry established by Sy (I believe), at the Singaporean Church of Our Saviour in 1991 still exists, but Sy is no longer involved and his name is not mentioned on records of it’s history. 4.Ambiguity No. 4. Sitting in the Sense and Sexuality Seminar at Hillsong in 2007, Sy spoke about purity of thought life, addictions, sexual abuse and wholeness without ever identifying heterosexuality as being more wholesome than homosexuality. From memory, I can’t really remember the word homosexual being used at the seminar. (Although he did mention those words of course when he told his story at the Sunday services). At the Sense & Sexuality Seminar, he spoke only of living a life that is pleasing to God and healthy for the individual. Was that because I’d been sitting with him in the front row of the church? I tend to think not.
What about all the books, tapes and videos?
There are still Sy Rogers videos and publications out there which tell a different story and people promote him as an ‘ex-gay’. It’s been over two decades now since some of that original material was created and during that time there has been much scientific research on the subject of sexual orientation. It’s unfortunate that some of these resources are being used to promote a falsehood that God miraculously makes gay people straight. Sadly some Christians have used these materials to push their own agenda which has resulted in untold suffering and even suicides. I’m currently working with a 40 year old man who has been involved in Exodus here in Australia for 20 years. His words to me tell it all. ‘I was sold a very cruel lie’. One his wife and children are currently trying to unravel.
If you’d like to read more about the changes in the Christian world’s attitude towards and thinking about homosexuality, you can read this article on my blog. Celebrating Our Future – the times, they are a changin’. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions.
Anthony Venn-Brown (ACC ICF)
Internationally accredited Professional Coach
Award winning author of ‘A Life of Unlearning – A Journey to Find the Truth’
Co-convenor of Freedom 2 b[e]