Coming full circle in faith with Anthony Venn-Brown

Anthony Venn-Brown is one of Australia's leading gay Christian thinkers.
Anthony Venn-Brown is a community hero and a previous Honour Awards recipient. Photo: Supplied.

Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International (ABBI) founder Anthony Venn-Brown is celebrating the group’s tenth anniversary in November.

Anthony Venn-Brown became a born again Christian in 1969. But feeling that his sexuality was in conflict with his call to ministry he entered Australia’s first live-in “ex-gay” program at Moombara and Bundeena Christian Fellowship in 1972.

Convinced that he’d changed he became a youth pastor in the Assemblies of God and rose to become a regular preacher at Hillsong before finally coming out as a gay man in 1991.

Reconciling faith and sexuality

Venn-Brown walked away from his faith for seven years before returning to Hillsong as a congregant in 1998, becoming the first openly gay Pentecostal Christian in Australia.

He chronicled the journey to reconcile his faith and sexuality in the book A Life of Unlearning which opened a floodgate of correspondence from gay and lesbian Christians after its release in 2004.

“Before then so many gay people from Evangelical and Pentecostal religious backgrounds had no one to share their experiences with,” Venn-Brown explained to QNews.

“Their faith was a closet where they held trauma. They would pour their hearts out to me in these emails and I would often cry reading them.”

Out of that Anthony established Freedom2b as a support network for LGBTIQA+ people from Christian backgrounds.

“We were incredibly effective,” he says of that first group. “But what I came to realise is that it’s better to put a fence at the top of the cliff than have ambulances at the bottom.”

“I needed to get to the root of the problem which is Christian leaders, churches and organisations.”

So Anthony created Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International (ABBI) as a non-confrontational and diplomatic approach to try to engage Christians in dialogue about sexuality and gender identity.

Working behind the scenes

Over the last ten years that approach has borne much fruit, particularly in combating the global ex-gay movement.

The same year ABBI was founded, Anthony was invited by Exodus International to attend the final meeting of that group where they announced they were closing down and apologised for the harm they had caused.

A private dialogue with pastor Rob Buckingham from Melbourne megachurch Bayside resulted in it becoming one of the few fully LGBTIQA+ affirming Pentecostal churches in the world.

And in 2015 Anthony was invited to the Czech Republic to meet with representatives of the global Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) to begin work that resulted in that movement voting to become LGBTIQA+ affirming at their international conference.

Asked where his faith sits today, Anthony admits he no longer attends a Pentecostal church.

“People always want to know what I believe these days. The best response I can give is that I just live in the mystery,” Venn-Brown says.

“I’d rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”

But some of the things he’s experienced still make him feel his life has been directed by a higher power.

Coming full circle

He gives the example of how a chance meeting during Covid with people from the conversion therapy program he went through fifty years ago had led to that church apologising to him last year for that experience and becoming affirming.

“50 years to the year, here I was standing in that same place that I had walked away from in 1972 and here they were saying sorry and that gay, lesbian and transgender people are welcome in this church,” Venn-Brown says.

“Isn’t that incredible! It felt like something out of a movie.”

Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International (ABBI) is celebrating its tenth anniversary with a gala dinner and charity auction on November 10 at Novotel Sydney Central.

Sydney MP Alex Greenwich is a guest speaker at the event and a dinner with him is one of the auction items.

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Andrew M Potts

Andrew has been covering LGBTQIA+ issues for a range of publications in Australia over two decades and was the Asia-Pacific correspondent for global LGBTQIA+ news website Gay Star News.

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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