From Academics, Community and Christian Leaders

A Life of Unlearning is an incredible book. The honesty and openness is amazing, and something I never have come across before. This is a very important book for the LGBT people, but it is also a book with a universal message, of relevance to all of us, who want to live decent lives. Reading Anthony Venn-Brown's story has been a very valuable gift that will continue to live inside me.

Johan Vilhelm Eltvik
Secretary General
World YMCA


"A Life of Unlearning by Anthony Venn-Brown is the best autobiography on the intersection of faith and sexuality that I have ever read. It is honest, raw, and yet filled with hope; a perfectly written exploration into the nuance that fills life's uncertainties. Venn-Brown has gifted us with something very special, and his life on these pages should not only be treasured, but read the world over. I could not recommend this book more! "

Andrew Marin
President of The Marin Foundation
Author of Love Is an Orientation
In ‘A Life of Unlearning’ Anthony shares his life with us with all the colour that a story-telling evangelist can capture. The honesty of his story is compelling. Many Christians love to argue, gaining a sense of safety out of “being right”. Anthony doesn’t do that, he simply tells his story. You can’t argue with it. It is neither right nor wrong, it simply is.

You can feel the genuineness in trying to build a relationship with God and the internal tensions of sexual guilt and self-rejection. The tension between his truth and his sense of value and worth is the key battle. We see Anthony rising to success as a popular preacher only to fall with scandal when his truth comes out. His pain deepened as others got hurt, including his wife and daughters.

Even as he left the “safety” of religion and ventured into the homosexual world, he learned the spirituality of honesty and the caring of each other beyond what he had experienced in his denomination. Anthony deals with Fundamentalism by reverting to the fundamental of LOVE. His story faces the hard issues, HIV/AIDS, Suicide, Sexual Assault, Relationships, Marriage, Parenting, Domestic Violence, Loneliness, Guilt, Shame, Rejection, Love and Sex. He has nothing to hide and it is refreshing.

I recommend this book as a non-threatening way to understand and process the issues of sexuality and spirituality; however, I can’t say you may not experience discomfort as the honesty in these pages invites you to be honest in your own life. Read it if you dare.

Dr Wendell Rosevear - Psychologist O.A.M., M.B.,B.S., Dip. RACOG., FRACGP.,
1998 Order of Australia Medal
1996 Brisbane Citizen of the Year
1996 A.M.A. National Award for "Best Individual Contribution to Health Care in Australia"
By providing powerful, personal and accessible insights into how an individual experiences the tensions, meshings and meeting points between religion, spirituality, sexuality and family, ‘A Life of Unlearning’ is essential reading for students and teachers of social sciences, religious studies, family studies, psychology and health studies at both upper secondary and tertiary levels.

Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli
Author and Senior Lecturer in Social Diversity, Health and Education School of Health and Social Development Deakin University, Melbourne Australia
‘A Life of Unlearning’ is a thought-provoking and disturbing insight into the oppressive stereotyping of 'acceptable' maleness in Australian culture. This stereotyping has ruined the lives of so many men (and their partners and families) and which, causes years of unhappiness, often severe psychological damage and - just as disturbingly - a denial of the possibilities of the rich life of thought and culture. Venn-Brown has been able to free himself from it’s limiting constructions and bovine constrictions. This brave book is a 'must read' for all students of constructions of gender and sexual identity (and how these have been abetted by the churches, especially those of biblical-fundamentalist character) and of the history of social definitions of maleness.

Dr Barry Spurr MLitt Oxf. MA PhD, MACE
Senior Lecturer - Department of English
University of Sydney, Australia
“From internalised hatred of self, perpetuated by homophobia in society and specifically the church, Anthony Venn-Brown climbs millimetre by millimetre from a place he describes as ‘a suicide of the soul’ to a place of light, true acceptance, love of self, love of others and discovering the true meaning of the love of God.

‘A Life of Unlearning’ is a story of courage and resiliency, providing powerful insights essential for any professional considering working with people; teachers, health and social workers, psychologists, counsellors and those who minister. This work is also extremely relevant for individuals with similar issues who, unfortunately still in some circles, frequently feel alone in their struggle to overcome the stigma attached to homosexuality and find self-acceptance.”

Liz Hammond
Manager Health Promotion, Family Planning NSW, founding member of the NSW Anti Homophobia Interagency
I read many books about coming out and on the theme of the conflict with sexuality and faith. Venn-Brown presents a work that rings an authentic tone as he unearths the pain of living a closeted life. He does so without self-indulgence or bitterness. His words brim with hope, humor and integrity. As he unfolds the complexity of being a Christian who also happens to be gay, he reveals the many horrors we can inflict upon ourselves in attempts to submerge parts of our personalities. He also models the courageous process of starting a new while remaining faithful to the people and beliefs at our core. I highly recommend this book.

Peterson Toscano
Author of Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House--How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement
“The title is just superb, challenging our puerile assumptions as to what it really means to be a Christian, indeed what it means to be a person of integrity at all. As well as being very hard to put down, this excellent autobiographical spiritual journey will be of interest to anybody who wants to learn more about the nature of their faith and how it can impact our life. Anthony Venn-Brown bares his soul in sharing what it meant for a man in a very public position as an Assemblies of God pastor and well-known evangelist to come to terms with his same-sex orientation and learn to live a life of integrity as a gay man rather than just "keeping the show in the road" out of deference to the spiritual demands of others.

Necessarily this book describes what has personally been a very tough journey for Anthony Venn-Brown, but then the Christian life IS hard for anyone truly walking a life of faith. This book describes what it can mean to "take up our cross" as Jesus commanded, and allow God to challenge our tendency towards an ego-centred Christianity - a popular "religious" form of Christianity that is commonly found but a form that leads to spiritual stagnation and is actually anti-Christian in its long-term effect. For anyone who is tempted to think of the Christian faith in terms of certainties about what we ought to believe (rather than what we honestly do believe in our hearts), this book will blow apart our illusions and offers instead a more substantial picture of what it really means to live a Christian life.

In this book, hope is found through being honest and truthful - and learning what it means to live a life of integrity - rather than pretending to keep up an illusion of holy living, according to the demands and expectations of many church-going folk.

I can hardly recommend this book too highly. If you allow the honesty of the author to challenge you, it will change your life - for the better.”

Jeremy Marks
The Church has wrestled with a dozen major paradigm-shifts in its history. The first had to do with accepting Gentiles. The Protestant Reformation was built on the radical proposition that we are saved by faith purely on the basis of God’s grace, and that we can trust ordinary folks to read the Bible. Then there was slavery, charismatic renewal, women in leadership... Conservative groups have recently wrestled with issues like dancing, divorce, Sabbath/Sunday-behaviour, dress-codes, and rock music.

And now the Big One: Homosexuality.

After 25 years counselling ex-pastors, what generalizations can I make about Christian homosexual ministers who declare their orientation/ practice?

If they were credentialled by a fundamentalist denomination they will be treated, with very few exceptions, as lepers/pariahs, and even with hate.  If from an evangelical background, the neglect will be more benign: they may receive one or two contacts from their colleagues (or they may not). Mainline Christians are less homophobic, but also often uncaring.

Fundamentalists/Pharisees quote Paul: ‘[Do not] associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral... Drive out the wicked person from among you’ (1 Corinthians 5:11,12, NRSV).

Progressive Evangelicals align their stance with that of Jesus, who was castigated by religious leaders for hanging out with 'publicans and sinners’. They might agree with Tony Campolo: 'In the likelihood that most (homosexuals) will still have their basic sexual orientations regardless of their efforts to change, we must do more than simply bid them be celibate. We must find ways for them to have fulfilling, loving experiences so that they might have their humanity affirmed and their incorporation into the Body of Christ assured.' 

Anthony Venn-Brown is probably Australia’s first openly-gay Pentecostal leader. His story is both typical (he attempted suicide) and atypical (he attends a Pentecostal Church and has set up a ministry - Freedom 2 B[e] - a network for GLBTIQ - Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer - people from Pentecostal and Charismatic backgrounds).

Wikipedia says he prefers to be known as a gay ambassador rather than a gay activist.  That’s also atypical: most homosexual ex-pastors (and serving pastors for that matter) still lie very low.

When I tell clergy conferences that every Christian denomination has pastors and ex-pastors who are gay, that used to be greeted with disbelief. Now, of course, they’ve all moved beyond the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ stance.

And when I write/preach that the Bible has nothing whatever to say about homosexuality as a (non-chosen) orientation, most conservative Christians just don’t understand. Non-chosen? Yes: I’ve not met a homosexual or lesbian client who chose to be that way: most of them would prefer to be a much-less-complicated – and socially more acceptable - heterosexual.

But not Anthony: if reincarnation was true, he writes, he wouldn’t mind coming back as a homosexual. Again, atypical.

Sample paragraph: ‘I was overcome by a feeling of utter failure. I thought about what I’d done to Helen and the girls, the people who might lose faith because of my transgression, the humiliation of everyone knowing my sin, the way I’d discredited the ministry and how unworthy I was of anyone’s love, even God’s... I was a failure as a husband, father and servant of God’ (p. 285).

Anthony’s book is well-written, a ‘must-read’ for all (adult – though some may disagree with that) Christians, especially Christian leaders. It’s confronting, occasionally (appropriately) explicit, irenic, sad, honest, and well-researched. There’s a commendable integrity about his approach. (My main suggestion would be that in the next edition he adds an appendix with a more in-depth summary of the biblical/theological material.)

Two of the most difficult questions for conservative Christians relate to a 'cure' for homosexuality and the issue of same-sex marriages.

Anthony's experience demonstrates that the advice often given to people with same sex orientation - that a heterosexual marriage will solve the problem and be the final evidence that they have received a 'miracle' - frequently ends in a traumatic and devastating experience for the partner and children: one that can take years to heal. Also most will be shocked to learn, from the emails Anthony has received, that some Christian parents and church leaders suggest hiring an opposite sex prostitute to help with the 'cure'. Obviously there is still a great deal of ignorance out there about sexual orientation and church leaders need to be more informed.

On the issue of same-sex relationships, I have said often that there's a great deal of hypocrisy in our churches. In an ABC TV program I suggested that churches have been selective in their indignation re the three so-called 'deadly sexual sins' - adultery, fornication, and homosexual practice. We condemn the first and third, but most (yes, most) of our Christian young people practise the second one: but are not excluded from the memberships of most churches on that account. (Why? They're the children of church leaders!).

Here's a heart-felt comment from Anthony on this question: 'Those who are privileged to have a close relationship/friendship with gay or lesbian couples know that the essentials that build and maintain their relationships are the same as heterosexual marriages: love, trust, respect and a desire to create a life long partnership. These are all honourable traits and should not be condemned as evil but supported by those who believe God's love is for all. To welcome them into our churches is an acknowledgment of the right choices they have made.'

And I would add that no one should be definitive on this broad issue until/unless they have listened carefully to the stories of homosexual people.

We may not agree with all Anthony says, but if our homophobic judgmentalism can't cope with this sort of 'in your face' truthfulness, or if we don’t cry with Anthony sometimes - he cries a lot – my gentle suggestion would be to get help!

Rowland Croucher
Rev Dr Rowland Croucher is a well-known theologian, international speaker, best-selling author of more than a dozen books and director of John Mark Ministries. A Christian counselor and former Baptist pastor (of the biggest church in Melbourne - Crossway), Rowland has been preaching for more than 50 years, and has spoken to Christians from most denominations in 37 countries.

Copyright © 2007

Copyright © 2007 - 2012 text: Anthony Venn-Brown

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publishers, New Holland Australia Pty Ltd and copyright holders.