Damien Christie has triggered an uproar following his suicide on 27 March 2013. To the very end he feared that the God he worshipped did not love him back. After being rejected by his Pentecostal church, he underwent gay conversion therapy at a Melbourne church. The aim to “pray away the gay” ended up taking away his life.
”It troubled him right to the end,” says his friend Matt Glover, a former Baptist pastor previously sacked from his Lilydale church in 2011 for publicly supporting gay marriage.
The phenomenon of “gay religious suicide” is widely underreported. Professor Anne Mitchell from La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society says, ”There’s no doubt it’s an under-reported phenomenon. For many kids it means a choice between their faith and being gay. But they just can’t cut the gay stuff away to be acceptable to their religion and eventually there has to be a resolution. For most young people it’s to leave the church, but sadly for some it would be to kill themselves,”
”You have to accept people and that’s basically the teaching of the church, that same-sex-attracted people have to be respected but we never sanction the expression of the sexuality, the same as we don’t sanction the expression of heterosexual sexuality outside of marriage” is Father Percy’s stance on the topic of homosexuality. We certainly need more people like Father Percy to strike a balance in our society. He further accepts that a denial of accepting the gay community to their flock will eventually lead to a rise in mental health problems.
Former evangelist preacher, Anthony Venn Brown who is currently running a support group for gay individuals says, ‘If a 14-year-old kid goes to his pastor and declares ‘I think I might be gay’, his immediate reaction most likely will be, ‘Well, we’re going to pray with you and help you overcome this’, and that automatically puts him on a path to self-destruction.
The main fear that young gays have when coming out is a lack of acceptance says Chris Tanti, head of Headspace Youth Mental Health Foundation.
She further elaborates, ”If their background is one of support they’re generally fine and they realise their full potential, but if their family context is hostile and they have the religious overlay on top of that and they’re isolated, it’s a recipe for disaster,”
Anthony Venn-Brown also expresses concern on this subject. He says, “If you’re really involved in a strong evangelical church, that’s your whole life, so you’re worried you’re going to lose your social network, you’re going to go to hell, your family might reject you and your relationship with God will be over.”
Chris Tanti does offer a reasonable solution to this clash between faith and sexuality by saying, ”I’d like to see the churches take the position that psychiatrists took many, many years ago and that is it’s not an illness, it is quite natural for some people to be same-sex-attracted.”
Reverend Keith Jobberns, national ministries director for Australian Baptist Ministries said, ”Baptist churches by virtue of our commitment to Jesus should be communities of reconciliation, healing and hope for all people irrespective of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation.”
In response to these gay religious suicides, mental health groups like Beyond Blue and the national depression agency’s chief executive Kate Carnell, wants churches to take responsibility and help in reducing the suicide and self harm rates causes by these conversion programs.
We hope that the death of Mr. Damien and other like him might serve as a wakeup call for church authorities who are in denial about the damage caused by this outright rejection of human rights.
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photo credit: Drama Queen