Protest, red hot social media and fleeting fame for a country Baptist church

Albany Baptist Church in regional WA has been thrust into the glare of national publicity after hosting ‘Real Lives’, a night of testimonies. The night was chaired by James Parker who lived as a gay man for many years but is now married (to a woman) with children.

He gave his testimony, and was followed by seven men and women. As the church’s senior pastor Phil Beeck tells Eternity, all of those people spoke about how they “became followers of Jesus when they were in the LGBTQ+ community and each of them now finds their identity in Jesus, not in their sexuality or gender”.

Albany Baptist Church is a member of Baptist Churches WA, the state branch of Australian Baptist Ministries. ‘Real Lives’ is a program of talks run by the Australian Christian Lobby and a ministry called True Identity.

The event became news very quickly, and Pastor Beeck decribes how it quickly escalated. “The flyer was put on our Facebook site for 14 hours and taken down when it was bombed with swearing and strong opinions for the Albany Pride group.”

“This began a big story where the Albany Pride claimed we were running a Gay Conversion Therapy workshop. Social media went nuts, the press all got involved.

“In the end, we ran the event despite some telling us we should cancel it. Around 50 people from Albany Pride did a silent protest across the road.

“We had 430 attend from 12 or more churches across the Great Southern [region], plus members of the community.”

The church posted on Facebook: “Thanks to the Albany Pride group who were peaceful in their protest. We know you all have your own story and just like our guests you should always feel free to share it. If anyone is willing to share we would love to listen.”

“James Parker said time and time again that his agenda is not to make gay people straight.” – Phil Beeck

The Nine paper WA Today reported the event as ‘Gay conversion therapy roadshow’ hits WA churches, sparking outrage and renewing pressure on state and federal governments to outlaw the controversial practice.

“LGBTIQ+ activists have dubbed it an event that promotes ‘conversion therapy’,” the Star Observer reported.

Phil Beeck points out that “James Parker said time and time again that his agenda is not to make gay people straight. Rather, to just tell his and their stories [about] how having met Jesus and leaving behind their LGBTIQ+ identity, each of them were in a better place with mental health and hope in life.”

While the description of ‘conversion therapy’ has been extended by Victoria’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act to include one-on-one prayer with LGBTIQ persons and other Christian activity, it is not clear to Eternity whether one-off talks like the Real Lives event are captured by the act which allows discussing and sharing religious teachings on sexuality. (If a church in Victoria ran a support group seeking change in sexual orientation, it would be captured – see Vic Government Fact Sheet.)

However, Pride activists used news about the event to call for similar legislation in WA. Pastor Beeck saw their reaction that way too.

James Parker’s testimony is available on video here.

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