Mediawatch: why The Age got an ex-gay ministry story right

Thursday 18th July 2013

Get Religion, a US based website with a fine eye for exposing inept media coverage of religion (its name is derived from the saying “the media doesn’t get religion”), has praised Australian coverage of the closure of Exodus international.

“The Age gives ex-gay ministries a fair hearing” is how they put it.

“There was a man bites dog story in the Australian press that caught my eye this week”, writes Get Religion’s George Conger. “It was not this story from the Sydney Morning Herald entitled “Man bites dog, goes to hospital” but an article in The Age reporting on reactions to the closure of the US-based ministry Exodus International.

“The cynic in me was not expecting much from an article entitled ‘”Gay cure” therapy will continue‘. As my colleagues at Get Religion have pointed out the media has not distinguished itself in its reporting on the Exodus International story. Yet The Age published a story sympathetic to the ex-gay ministries movement and, dare I say it, was perhaps unbalanced in their favour?”

Conger suggests that The Age story (which also appeared in other Fairfax outlets) contained three surprises:
– A “non-pejorative” description of what an ex-gay ministry does,
– Ron Brookman of Living Waters being given space to describe what his ministry does,
– and space given to conservative Christian critics of Exodus international.

The Age article was actually written out of the Fairfax Sydney office. And Eternity can shed a little light perhaps on why it was so favourable to “ex-gay” ministries (many of which dislike that title).

It turns out that Anthony Venn-Brown, ex-Pentecostal minister turned gay activist, and probably Australia’s chief advocate against ministries that support those who wish to leave a homosexual life, was overseas at the Exodus International announcement.

Caught up with the Exodus International conference he failed to respond (at the time) to Eternity’s email asking for a comment, and would have been similarly unavailable to Fairfax. In any case, he was unhappy with the Fairfax stories.

“Recent mainstream media reports about the closing down of world’s leading ‘gay cure’ organisation, Exodus International, and its impact on Australia have been misleading”, claims Anthony Venn-Brown.

“The Sydney Morning Herald’s headline, which went out to hundreds of Fairfax outlets, read ‘”Gay cure” therapy will continue’ is lacking two more words,” says Venn-Brown “it should have read ‘”Gay cure” therapy will continue … to disappear’”.

According to the research of Venn-Brown’s group, Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International, two-thirds of organisations offering help to people with “unwanted same sex attraction” in Australia and New Zealand no longer exist.

“Fairfax got it right, not Venn-Brown,” says David Peterson, Chairman of Liberty Ministries, which offers support to men and women who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions. “The breakup of Exodus International is very much an American event, generated by unresolved theological and methodological approaches. New organisations have already sprung up in the US, pursuing the original goal of trying to help those with unwanted same-sex attraction live as faithful Christians.”

“The impact on the Australian scene will be minimal”, Peterson adds, “since there is a good deal of agreement among ‘ex-gay ministries’ here about what we should be doing. Venn-Brown’s comment is misleading. Ministries like this come and go for all sorts of reasons, but here and in America there is still a strong commitment among evangelical Christians to provide help for those who struggle with same-sex attraction and to uphold biblical teaching on this important issue.”

Former pastoral worker for Liberty, Haydn Sennitt, says the closing of the Exodus network “actually gives ministries like Liberty even more opportunities to work with other like-minded ministries. So rather than spelling the end of ministries in Australia, it is actually going to create more opportunities to work together, which will in fact strengthen us.”

Top image used under a CC license, from bonitoclub.