Foreword by the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG
Introduction for heterosexual and /or Christian readers
Chapter 1 The Confession
Chapter 2 It All Began When…
Chapter 3 The Drama Begins
Chapter 4 Enter Christianity
Chapter 5 Devils in Bible College
Chapter 6 In the Army Now
Chapter 7 Rehab with a Twist
Chapter 8 Tony’s Out
Chapter 9 A Miracle
Chapter 10 Married Life
Chapter 11 Preacher on the road
Chapter 12 Dreams Come True
Chapter 13 Popularity
Chapter 14 The Trap is Set
Chapter 15 Turmoil
Chapter 16 Damage Control
Chapter 17 It’s Time
Chapter 18 Evolution
Chapter 19 James
Chapter 20 …and the Pieces Finally Fit
Introduction for Heterosexual and/or Christian Readers
This review gives you some insight into what you will find in the pages of ‘A Life of Unlearning – a journey to find the truth’.
“Anthony shares his life with us with all the colour that a story-telling evangelist can capture. The honesty of his story is compelling . . . Anthony doesn’t claim to be ‘right’, he simply tells his story. You can’t argue with it. It is neither right nor wrong, it simply is. 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 – O.A.M., M.B.,B.S., Dip. RACOG, FRACGP
“Read it if you dare”……is quite a challenge, isn’t it? Dr Rosevear says the reader may experience some discomfort. Christian or heterosexual readers may experience that discomfort when sexual experiences are described. To tell the complete story of resolving the issue of my sexual orientation openly and honestly, it was impossible to remove certain sexual experiences.
How explicit I was regarding those sexual experiences was a major consideration and because of that, some things have been omitted and others toned down. When you have such a broad readership, it is difficult to choose the content that will please everyone. Leaving some things out makes people feel like the story isn’t real and that the writer is holding something back.
In ‘A Life of Unlearning’, every account of a sexual experience has been included for a particular reason, i.e. to give insight into the journey. The term sex is used to describe a variety of experiences and the reader should not assume it is penetrative sex. According to one’s own experience, sex can be meaningless, addictive, abusive, or the most profound act of love and intimacy two individuals can experience, whether they are of the same or opposite sex. Examples in my story are there to reflect the variety of experience and were not intended to be offensive or to titillate.
I felt that my story would only be valid if I was completely honest, and that telling it ‘warts and all’ was essential. One radio announcer called it ‘brutal honesty’. The common thread in most reviews and emails from readers is praise for the honesty.
May I suggest that if the reader is finding a section particularly awkward or offensive, then flip over a few pages and you’ll be back into the story. There will be times you may feel sorry for me, times you’ll be angry with me, and times you could even be disgusted by my behaviour. All I ask is that you suspend judgement until you’ve read the entire story to see where it all ends.
I invite you to walk with me on my journey and think what you might have done in my situation – as a man who loved God with all his heart, who tried so desperately to live a life pleasing to Him. A man who has shared your beliefs about homosexuality, but who was forced, by his own struggle, to grapple with these issues and finally found a place of healing, resolution and integrity.
Foreword by the Hon. Michael Kirby
This is a book in which the author tells of how he ‘unlearnt the truths I’d been taught about myself and discovered how to live as the real me’. It is the story of his quest to find not only self-acceptance but one of the most powerful forces in nature—human love.
For most people, their search for love follows a predictable pattern. There are ups and downs. But heterosexuals do not generally feel a need to proclaim their sexual identity as such. It is just taken for granted. Society and its institutions are built around it.
Anthony Venn-Brown grew up in a loving family and within the Anglican tradition of Christianity. At puberty he discovered his attraction to his own sex. His book is the story of his fight against these feelings; and his attempts to combat them by joining (and later ministering in) fundamentalist and Pentecostal churches, by marrying and fathering children, and denying the reality of his inner-being. In the end, he accepts who he is; rejects the centuries-old endeavours to make him feel ashamed of himself; seeks love to complete his life; and finds new paths for his spiritual journey. His is a rocky road; but it is the only one made for him.
Not long ago, nor far away, Anthony Venn-Brown would have been stoned to death or burned at the stake, imprisoned or universally shunned. However, his life coincided with changes in knowledge about sexuality. Twentieth-century science, through the work of Havelock Ellis, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Kinsey, Evelyn Hooker and countless others disclosed the existence of a proportion of people who, like the author, are homosexual or bisexual. Many debates continue: the precise segment of a population that identifies with that minority; whether the cause is always, or only sometimes, genetic; and which of society’s rules need to adapt to the new reality. In most Western countries, under the influence of education and the new media and human rights law, great changes have occurred that have made the journey of self-acceptance easier for people like the author of this book.. Yet for most individuals it is still a painful journey, as this book reveals. It can be painful for the person at the centre of the journey; but also for that person’s family and for society itself.
Despite his difficult experiences, the author emerges from this book as a lucky man. He was blessed with the love of his family and of his wife, now remarried: herself a victim of his earlier struggles. His daughters’ love and that of companions who have helped him to discover himself, all taught him lessons. He shares them with us. The churches with which he was successively associated do not always seem to have fulfilled the loving message they were established to preach. The dramatic stories of attempted exorcisms and public humiliations are, in some ways, modern counterparts to the burnings with faggots in earlier times and the executions by stoning that still take place in some parts of the world.
The author is careful not to condemn people of religion. For the most part they themselves emerge from this book as victims of old traditions and past misunderstandings. Just the same, they are sometimes the cause of pain, violence and many tears. They live on the fault line that divides our world between knowledge and ignorance, rigidity and kindness. To force people to deny their identity, as God or nature made them, is wrong and doomed to fail. Truly, the hearts of those who persist with such error, against the discoveries of science, may be in need of reparative therapy of their own.
Some ‘truths’ require unlearning, either because of past misunderstanding or misinterpretation, and we must accept this unlearning as part of the search for enlightenment that we are designed to seek incessantly. Human stories, like the one in these pages, play a part in advancing understanding and acceptance. The search for love is deeply imprinted in our being. It is part of our human nature; the wellspring of all religions and of spiritualism; and it is the foundation of universal human rights.
The Hon. Michael Kirby
Why expose myself? People are arrested for that. A Life of Unlearning is a total exposé because I’m convinced this story has no value unless the entire truth is told. I’m not proud of everything I’ve done but these chapters contain the pieces that make up the jigsaw puzzle of my life. This is the truth.
The new world I entered in 1992 knew nothing of my previous existence as a preacher. Eventually, when I felt comfortable enough to talk about the past, the frequent response was, ‘Why don’t you write a book?’My immediate reaction was that it would be too painful to dig into the past and look again at incidents I’d intentionally forgotten. Others suggested the act of writing would be therapeutic and cathartic, but I needed a greater reason to write. In the May of 1999 that reason came.
Up until this point my life had been very much like an incomplete jigsaw puzzle, and while some pieces were rich in colour, representing many wonderful experiences, others were incredibly dark. I’d often tried to make sense of what had happened and put the pieces together, but they just didn’t fit. Then, while in Mexico attending a global leadership program, clarity came from chaos and the pieces came together. As the picture unfolded a sense of mission awakened. ‘I must tell my story’ was all I could think about. And so this book—A Life of Unlearning. A book about how I unlearnt the truths I’d been taught about myself, and discovered how to live as the real me.
I know I write at the risk of being misunderstood, as some people will make judgments based on their own preconceived ideas and prejudices. That’s fine. I know who I am and what I’ve done. Most of my life was spent pleasing others by saying and doing the things they wanted, but I was living a lie. Finally being honest with myself cost me everything I held dear: my marriage, family, career, business and friends. Facing the truth meant I would hurt people I loved the most and become an object of embarrassment, ridicule and shame. The wonderful place of integrity, peace and resolution I now live in cost me too much to consider retreating to the safety of partial disclosure.
According to my belief system, being a Christian and gay was not possible. The two were incompatible, in total opposition, in fact. After living with that internal conflict for twenty-two years something had to give. It seemed impossible to try to make sense of the belief I’d based most of my life on, and my current reality. On my journey, I was led step by step to the resolution of all these issues. Just as many others have had to work through years of conditioning and the results of accepting ‘truth’ without ever challenging it. Many churches and denominations have yet to take that journey, indeed are afraid to because to admit they are wrong about homosexuality means they could be wrong about other things as well. They fear that if one thing is proved false, then everything is up for challenge and it may all come tumbling down. Pretending will not make it go away. Maintaining a stand of rigidity and denial will not serve anyone—an open dialogue is required.
I do believe this autobiography will be relevant to a wide range of people. This is a story of hope for those who wonder why life can be so difficult and unfair. It’s also a story of inspiration for those who are seeking a higher purpose and meaning in their lives. It will give insight and understanding to people from religious backgrounds, and it will challenge many people. For those related to or associated with gay people these pages could help you draw closer to the ones you know and love. For the gay person, it may bring healing if you’ve battled to gain acceptance for who you truly are. I trust that my story will be used to take us another step closer to the day when all gay and lesbian people will experience the rights and privileges every human being is entitled to. A day when prejudice and discrimination will be no more. This is the reason I tell my story.
The first release of my autobiography in 2004 set my life on a course I could never have imagined. But that is another story.
Chapter 1 – The Confession
It was a tragic way to end a successful and rewarding career. At the age of forty, my entire world was caving in. I’d lived most of my life with only one ambition—to preach God’s word—and worked desperately hard to achieve it. During the last eight years especially, I’d seen the fulfilment of this lifelong dream. Now my twenty-two years of struggle, sacrifice and achievements were coming to a horrifying conclusion. Watching everything I’d accomplished crumble away by the hour left me weak and in a state of shock. I wept frequently and wondered how I could have lost all I valued in such a short space of time. That one event, ten days earlier, had caused my life to collapse like an endless line of dominoes. Deep down inside I’d feared this might happen, but like so many things in my life I put it out of my mind, unwilling to face reality. Now reality was screaming in my face, refusing to be ignored.
I’d invested my life in becoming one of Australia’s leading evangelists for the Assemblies of God Church (now Australian Christian Churches). I was in great demand—my calendar was always booked out twelve months in advance and every weekend was spent flying all over the country, preaching at youth rallies and Australia’s largest congregations, like Hillsong. Standing before thousands of young Christian people hanging on every word I spoke was exciting and rewarding. Prominent bible colleges booked me regularly for a week of lectures for their entire student body. On other occasions I’d been the guest speaker at national leaders’ conferences and even been invited as the Australian representative for international religious events. My message was preaching the relevancy of Jesus Christ to a world in need, and sharing the power of God to change lives. People valued my insight because I’d successfully accomplished what so many had previously failed to do—I was a full-time evangelist. This was a common occurrence in the United States but Australia was a different story. Many prominent preachers in Pentecostal circles had tried to function as full-time evangelists, but quickly retreated to the security of a regular salary, pastoring a church. The financial pressures and demands of an itinerant ministry proved too much for many a ‘starry-eyed’ preacher. When I’d established my organisation, Every Believer Evangelism, eight years earlier in 1983, I had one mission—to break through the preconceived ideas and concepts of evangelism and establish the role of the itinerant evangelist as a vital and permanent ministry in the church in Australia. I really believed breaking through these barriers would make it easier for others to follow. My family and I had paid a high price to overcome the obstacles and for some reason I’d succeeded where others had failed.
Thousands of people attended my seminars and weekend camps, and the sale of my tapes and videos had added to the impact. What thrilled me most of all was that thousands had become Christians after hearing me preach, now convinced God was real and Jesus Christ could change their lives. I gained great satisfaction from the opportunities to travel overseas and lead church study tours to the United States, knowing I was bringing significant change to individuals and the denomination. But it had all come to an end.
That April Sunday morning in 1991 was beautiful. The sun was shining, the sky a cloudless, rich blue and the slight chill of the early autumn morning had melted. My family loved living on the Central Coast of New South Wales, as it was always a few degrees warmer than Sydney, people were more laid back and life not as rushed. My wife, Helen, and I moved there in 1988 with our daughters Rebekah and Hannah after being based in Sydney for four years. Living in Sydney had not worked out. I was away preaching for six months of the year, and the large, busy city church at Waterloo, pastored by Frank Houston, seemed unaware of the loneliness and isolation Helen felt, trying to raise the girls on her own. Moving to the Central Coast meant our family had a church they could call home and more importantly connect with, while providing me with a retreat from my hectic schedule.
All over the coast, families were getting ready for the regular morning service of celebration, oblivious to what they were about to encounter. I’m sure everyone was expecting to hear glowing reports about the wonderful things happening in the denomination from the national conference held the previous week.
The Assemblies of God denomination is part of the Pentecostal stream of Christendom (the others being Catholicism and Protestantism). In each of these streams there are a variety of groups and denominations, but the Assemblies of God is by far the largest denomination in the Pentecostal stream. The Pentecostal movement was born at the beginning of the twentieth century in the United States, which had seen a revival of the supernatural manifestations mentioned in the New Testament, such as healing, miracles, prophecy and speaking in tongues. There are hundreds of denominations in Pentecostalism, including the Apostolic churches—Elim, Foursquare Gospel and The Church of God—just to name a few. There are also thousands of independent churches with no affiliation to a particular group. Surprisingly, the Assemblies of God in Australia began independently of the American movement. In Australia, over the last forty years, the Assemblies of God has experienced a renewal, rising out of institutional religiosity to become the fastest-growing denomination in the country. The name, Assemblies of God, was not well known to many people in Australia; most Pentecostal churches chose more contemporary names like Christian Life Centre, Christian Centre, Planet Shakers, Edge Church, Paradise Community Church and the now famous Hillsong. The Assemblies of God in Australia changed their name to Australian Christian Churches in 2007.
During the week, Helen and I had joined the local church leaders in Sydney for the Assemblies of God National Conference at the Darling Harbour Convention Centre. Now it was Sunday and time for church, so I dragged myself out of bed and showered, and sat on the lounge with my Bible on my lap. No breakfast that morning—I’d been unable to eat for days. I was trying to get some words of encouragement from the scriptures to help me through the next few hours. I wistfully flicked through the light rice paper pages of my well-worn Bible but they appeared transparent, as my eyes focused beyond the page, unable to settle on any particular words or phrases.
An air of grief permeated the Venn-Brown household not unlike the heavy, uneasy silence that settles on a house full of relatives, waiting to go to a funeral. We moved slowly and solemnly around the house only speaking when it was absolutely necessary. We usually treasured the rare opportunities of attending church together, but not this Sunday morning. Normally we’d be early for church; this morning we’d left it until the last minute to leave … but now it was time to go. It had to be done. The leaders of my denomination told me it must be done, as this would be a part of my healing and restoration, demonstrating I was truly repentant. It was useless arguing with them as I had no emotional energy in me to oppose their decision.
The girls looked beautiful as usual, dressed in their Sunday best. Rebekah, from her moment of birth, was the type of child who attracted people with her bright personality and was often called ‘little Tony’, after me. Now at the age of fifteen she had her first perm and her sun-bleached hair frizzed uncontrollably at the sides. Hannah had inherited more of her mother’s personality and, even at thirteen, had already established herself as the more conservative one, which was reflected in her hairstyle, a straight bob. She always had an inner quality that shone in her face, and the strong cheekbone structure she’d inherited from her mother’s Ukrainian side of the family meant she constantly fought off people trying to pinch her gorgeous cheeks. Spending most of our lives in the ministry meant there was little money for luxuries such as the latest fashionable labels, but Helen had an amazing knack of making the girls look a million dollars. We prided ourselves on being a very trendy, contemporary Christian family.
Helen was putting on a brave face and doing everything she could to pretend this was a normal Sunday morning. Over the last few days, I’d witnessed a strength in her I’d never seen before but it was difficult to tell what she was really feeling as she had put her emotions aside in order to sustain the family cohesion. I was really worried about her though, knowing the stress of our crisis was driving both of us to breaking point. She’d been placed on medication and only a few days before had collapsed on my office floor after making the frightening discovery. There’s only so much a person can take. It was also difficult to determine what my girls were really thinking. I was hoping they were too young to fully realise the implications of the day ahead, but I’m sure they were feeling confused and betrayed. Confused because of the secrecy of what was really going on, disbelief that this could be happening in our family; and betrayal because I’d let them down so badly. In their eyes, Daddy could do no wrong and they had placed me on a pedestal as a man of God and devoted father. Even our close friends saw us as the ideal Christian family—we had strong relationships and appeared to successfully balance family life and the demands of the ministry.
The girls had seen some very unusual behaviour from their daddy over the last few weeks. Sometimes I’d be happy and bubbly then without warning plunge into silence and depression—so unlike me and the usual cheerfulness they’d known. Two weeks before, in a restaurant, I’d broken down and cried over dinner, acknowledging the sacrifices they’d made for the Kingdom of God, announcing I’d no longer put them through this struggle. Bizarre behaviour, considering they had only ever known me as a man with a consuming sense of mission.
Three days ago we’d had a family conference to discuss what had happened and I’d explained, the best I could, what the consequences would be. How does a father tell his children he’s failed and because of his actions their lives would change forever? They hadn’t asked any questions, just took it all in their stride, but now they were being placed under enormous pressure because of me. Sometimes, when I’d call from overseas or somewhere in Australia, we’d cry because we missed each other so much but I’d always reassured them the sacrifices we were making were important for the Kingdom of God. Don’t worry, giggles (I often called the girls ‘my giggles’), your Daddy is going to become a normal daddy and be home all the time from now on.
We walked out into the warm sunlight and onto the pine deck. We’d been so fortunate in finding homes to rent and once again we’d been provided with a gem, nestled among a well-established tropical garden with banana trees flagging one side of the huge deck that covered the two-car garage. During summer nights we made the most of every opportunity to eat out on the deck and flocks of rainbow lorikeets, with their vibrant colours, visited early in the morning to feed on the seeds we provided for them. Tall trees created privacy, making our home feel like a retreat, an oasis. And only a five-minute walk to the golden sands of Terrigal Beach.
Walking underneath the deck to the carport we got into our stylish white Fairlane. The registration plate, EBE 777, had been especially chosen as an acronym of the name of my organisation Every Believer Evangelism and God’s number 777 (as opposed to the devil’s number 666).We’d been unable to afford a classy vehicle previously because of our lack of finance, but as the ministry became more successful, the board of trustees approved the purchase. The plush velour seating, climate and cruise controls along with the great sound system made journeying less tiring. For us this vehicle was a luxury. The purchase was justified by buying a car that was second-hand instead of brand new.
I gave Helen the keys and asked her to drive. Normally, I’d be more in control, seeing the role of driver as a reflection of my position as the leader in the family unit, but this morning I was feeling physically weak. Arriving at church and walking through the crowd I tried to deflect eye contact as the briefest glance made me feel like people could see right into my soul. I didn’t want it to be obvious that something was wrong but to just get inside and sit down. Helen knew the fewer people I had contact with, the better, and with a firm grip on my arm manoeuvred me through the crowd. The foyer was the usual scene for a Sunday morning at 9.55am. People hugging each other, saying ‘God bless you.’, ‘Nice to see you, Tony.’, ‘How’s the ministry going?’ and ‘Are you preaching this morning?’ I tried to smile but it was obvious to most people that something was drastically wrong. I’d already spoken with the leaders of the church so maybe the word had circulated and people were just pretending to be normal. My closest friends came to say hi one by one and seeing the sadness in their eyes and feeling their touch was almost too much. Engulfing feelings of failure as a preacher, husband, father and even as a Christian were rising within me like a flood. No. I can’t break down now, I must be strong and stay in control.
People could tell something wasn’t right, just by my walk and demeanour—it was the posture of a broken man—so our attempts to be inconspicuous failed as eyes followed us making our way towards the front of the auditorium.
Central Coast Christian Life Centre was one of the new Assemblies of God churches that had sprung up around Australia and this particular congregation had grown to around eight hundred people. Many of these churches leased warehouses or factories and converted them into auditoriums for the large congregations. Externally it still looked like a factory but an attempt had been made to tastefully appoint it inside. The cement floor had been covered with a deep charcoal carpet, though the building lacked comfort in extremes of temperature. The congregation froze in winter and sweltered in summer, but that was okay, we were Christians and supposed to make sacrifices. Three twenty-foot banners hung at the front in a variety of colours with the words ‘LOVE, JOY, PEACE’ embroidered on them, but the contrast of the strong lines of corrugated iron roofing and large cement blocks in the walls overwhelmed the attempts to transform the large space.
For most Australians it would be difficult to think of this as a church as there were no crosses, crucifixes, stained glass windows or religious paraphernalia. Central Coast Christian Life Centre had developed a strong family emphasis with the largest portion of the congregation under thirty. The surfie/holiday culture of the coast was reflected in the congregation’s casual dress—Hawaiian prints and colourful T-shirts and shorts clashed with a few old faithfuls who felt that church was a place where one should wear their Sunday best. These people were leftovers from an era when men went to church in suits, women wore modest, stylish dresses and hats, and the children dressed in clothes reserved for that once-a-week event.
Our denomination had long ago moved beyond the traditions of organs and hymns and the service usually commenced with half an hour of lively singing, clapping and vibrant worship, similar to the black churches of America. A ten-piece band, consisting of guitars, bass, drums, percussion and keyboards, lead the worship, pumping out a contemporary sound not unlike a rock concert. The church had attracted talented musicians and singers who contributed to the professional standard of the worship and members of the congregation had composed many of the songs we sang just as Hillsong had.
I tried to join in the familiar songs but every attempt made me cry. Helen stood on one side and Paul (one of my best friends and a board member of my evangelistic organisation who’d come from Sydney especially to support me) on the other. The girls sat with their friends elsewhere in the congregation. There were moments when I thought I wouldn’t make it through the service. I’d never known one could feel so numb and yet be in such pain at the same time.
Kevin, the pastor, moved up to the perspex pulpit to preach. Kevin was a trendy forty year old and part of the new breed of Assemblies of God pastor who’d rejected the conservative look of a minister, always leading the service and preaching in casual outfits. He was constantly reinventing himself with new looks, hairstyles, clothes and cars but this morning he’d chosen to wear a suit, adding to the gravity of what was going to happen. Kevin was obviously struggling as he preached the sermon, his casual, conversational style lacked its normal flow. As the service was ending, a feeling of nausea overwhelmed me, realising my time had come. What was about to happen was justified, I believed. I’d done the wrong thing. Kevin closed the service with a special announcement, ‘Those of you who feel Christian Life Centre is your home church, we’d like you to stay for a few moments please, we have some church business to attend to. People that are visiting today, thank you for coming, we hope you enjoyed the service, you’re free to leave.’ What was about to happen would not be pleasant and certainly something not to be witnessed by visitors or non-Christians.
Helen and Paul’s grips on my arms strengthened. I began to sob, an uncontrollable sobbing, beginning deep within, that began to shake my entire body. No Tony, you can’t let go now. Be strong.
Kevin made a statement about difficult things needing to be done in churches sometimes and that one of our leaders had fallen, bringing about an instant gasp from various parts of the congregation. He then motioned for me to come forward. Suddenly I felt like an old man as I slowly rose to my feet and shuffled towards the front. Reaching the podium, I turned around to face the congregation. I remember the faces.
Whenever in town, I’d preached messages of encouragement and hope from this pulpit but the usual responsive faces were now replaced with wide eyes and mouths open in shock. Some who’d already heard the news began crying, others placed their heads in their hands and began to sob. Husbands and wives clutched each other tightly. Helen had lost her composure and was being comforted by friends. Rebekah and Hannah were sitting near the front, crying as well. The weight of my humiliation instantly increased as I became even more aware of what my wife and girls were going through. It wasn’t fair. I deserved to be punished, not them.
I leant on the pulpit to support myself and counteract the weakness in my legs. I’d rehearsed the brief statement over and over again in my mind even though I knew it would take less than sixty seconds. I’d been directed to make my confession general and concise, and not to give excuses. Thank God I didn’t have to mention the most horrifying detail of all—the one that would have made me the worst of all sinners. My voice trembled as I commenced. ‘Last week I preached my last sermon. I’m resigning from the ministry today. I’m sorry that I have to confess to you I’ve committed the sin of adultery and I ask you to forgive me. I’m so sorry for the shame I have caused my wife and family, the church and God. Please forgive me.’ I wished I could have said more, some words of justification. Or make mention of a midlife crisis or being on the edge of a nervous breakdown, or burnt out.
Now exposed and humiliated, I sobbed uncontrollably. Of course that wasn’t the entire story, I’d transgressed beyond other disgraced ministers. Kevin and other leaders from the church rushed to my aid, trying to console me, the support of their arms stopping me from collapsing on the stage. People began to weep loudly, while others sat in stunned silence. Friends helped Helen to the stage, and she stood beside me. Kevin took the microphone and began to pray. ‘We thank you God for Tony’s life and ministry and we ask you to heal and restore him. We pray also for Helen, Rebekah and Hannah and ask you to give them strength at this time and to let them know your love. We ask your power and forgiveness to surround Tony.’ Prophetic words of encouragement came from various leaders saying God would take this experience to strengthen, restore and use me but they brought little comfort; I knew my time was up.
The entire congregation was now in tears—people were devastated, some shaking their heads in disbelief. This could never have happened. Tony was such a good preacher, loving husband and father. My brief confession had actually created more questions in the minds of many people. Who was it with? Was it someone in the congregation? When did it happen? How long had it been going on? Was it a once-only fall or an affair over a period of time? I knew the gossipers would fill in all the gaps.
The congregation slowly dispersed; some moved to the foyer, others walked down the front to offer words of support, and a few just held me and wept. If ever there was a time I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me, it was then. I didn’t want anyone to talk to me or touch me, let alone tell me they loved me. I was so unworthy.
It was done. I’d made my public confession and hoped things might become a little easier. There should have at least been a feeling of relief, like a load lifted off me. But there wasn’t – just numbness. It was like a funeral and I was the corpse. In order to please God, my family and friends, I had become a person who met their expectations. So much of what I’d loved had died and the man that people had perceived me to be now ceased to exist. Had my entire life been a lie? It felt like I’d just given away the last thing I owned, my self-respect. What would be left? Was there anything worth living for?
I wondered, in view of what I’d done, if I could ever be forgiven – surely I’d live with the shame and humiliation the rest of my life? I wanted so desperately to save my family and myself from the pain and darkness ahead, but no, sin has its consequences and I must pay. That chance meeting with Jason, only weeks earlier, had set my life on a course I could no longer control.
Chapter 5 – Devils in Bible College
Ever since I’d become a Christian I’d had the feeling that I was not going to be a pew-hugging believer, but that God had called me to preach and to make a difference in the world. A sense of destiny, you might call it. This meant that I had no other career ambitions. The desire to be a fireman or ballerina man died during primary school. Dad was concerned about my lack of career focus and kept pressuring me about getting a job with a future. Dad and Mum’s generation had known the effects of the Great Depression. I was regularly reminded of Mum’s early school days when she would line up behind the rich kids to see who was lucky enough to be given the apple core when the rest had been eaten. The Depression creation of bread and dripping was something we still ate when we arrived home from school ravenous. No wonder that generation only ever wanted their children to have a job with security. I took the job at Macquarie University as a laboratory assistant for two reasons; I was working with two of my Christian friends, and I could save up to go to bible college.
I was keen to attend a bible college in New Zealand as the basic course only lasted four and a half months compared to being locked away in some boring theological college for three or four years. People in these establishments commenced with enthusiasm and a genuine desire to serve God, but after the period of being cloistered away, emerged totally out of touch with the real world. We often called them theological cemeteries instead of theological seminaries. No one was going to quench my spirit. It was important that I be trained quickly so I could get out and preach, as evil and unrighteousness was increasing in the world. The preaching I heard frequently focused on the urgency of the time, as Jesus was coming back soon and we had a responsibility to save as many people from hell as possible before He returned to earth. Even though the Second Coming of Christ had been predicted for nearly 2000 years, somehow it really seemed close.
I began dating a girl at Christian Faith Centre called Pam. We were so ‘spiritual’, and attended Christian meetings almost every night of the week, but the only real connection we had was our desire to serve God. Pam had already spent time working in the mission field in Papua New Guinea. Everyone in the church seemed pleased with this match. We were the perfect young Christian couple, always praying together, sharing Bible verses and making sure we were never in the vulnerable situation of sexual temptation. Good Christian couples don’t engage in sex before marriage. ‘Sex is like a fire’ we were told. ‘In the fireplace of marriage, it provides warmth and comfort but take it out of that situation and you have a wildfire.’ The problem was that, with Pam, I wasn’t even smouldering, not a spark. I’d hold her hand and give her a quick goodnight kiss on the lips but that’s as far as it went. This was very convenient for me, as I didn’t have to deal with my lack of sexual response to females and having Pam by my side also demonstrated that God had really healed me of homosexuality.
During 1970, I put every spare dollar away for my bible college fees. When I finally plucked up the courage to tell my parents, once again they were horrified. Dad made me promise that when I finished college I’d come back to Sydney and get a ‘real job’ as he called it. I said yes but secretly hoped to be launched into the mission field when I finished my course.
So at the tender age of nineteen I was planning to serve God for the rest of my life. Pam and I booked a passage on the Northern Star cruise ship to Auckland. I don’t know why we didn’t fly; I guess it was because I hadn’t travelled before and hopping on a plane was foreign to us. I’ll never forget the farewell, as we had a huge entourage to see us off— about thirty in all, of my family, Pam’s family and friends from church. Tears began to flow as ‘Now is the hour, when we must say goodbye’ filtered through the speaker system, most of us aware this could be goodbye for a long time, maybe forever. Obedience to God’s call would always be paramount.
The trip was terrible. After leaving Sydney Heads my stomach felt like it contained sour milk, but I was determined not to be sick as we believed all sickness was from the devil and should be resisted. Pam was encouraging me to have faith and believe that God could heal me. For days I lived with queasiness, burped with the consistency of a machine gun, and was always on the verge of vomiting. I felt such a failure running out of the dining room on the fifth day, gagging on the lumps of vomit forcefully making their way up my throat. Throwing up was a relief, but not as much as arriving in Auckland Harbour.
Driving onto the bible college campus I felt like bursting into ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music’ as it was positioned in a beautiful rural setting, with a backdrop of a steep mountain spotted with fluffy white lambs. The college was only eighteen months old but already had successful graduates who’d become pastors and missionaries. The basic philosophy was that in order to serve God, you must firstly be ‘called’ and secondly receive short-term Bible training. After this, God would continue to teach while you served Him. ‘We give the training, God gives the exams’, was the motto. I liked the practical philosophy. The first week was exciting, meeting the students who’d come from Australia and all over New Zealand. Now I would be able to totally devote myself to Bible study and prayer, worldly things would no longer distract me and the final traces of my homosexuality could be dealt with.
The pattern that had developed in my life, of cruising along on a spiritual high for six months, then experiencing temptation and failure was beginning to manifest itself again. Masturbation was always the starting point of the downward spiral. Even though the Bible didn’t specifically condemn masturbation, it was understood that God disapproved. In the Book of Genesis a man called Onan allowed ‘his seed to fall on the ground’ and the ground opened up and swallowed him. The story is not actually about masturbation; rather that Onan was avoiding his responsibility for maintaining his brother’s descendants by having sex with his brother’s widow. God had said to Adam and Eve in Genesis, ‘Go forth and multiply’ and to have sex except for procreation was disobedience to His command. Semen belonged in one place—a vagina—and anything else was self-gratification and sin. To serve God I must be holy and how could I ever expect to serve God with this sin in my life? And also knowing my mind would insidiously creep back to thoughts of sex with men? Even though I knew it was wrong, I’d try to fantasise about having sex with a woman. Maybe this lesser of two evils might help me change so I’d experience temptation like any normal male.
Not that I fantasised a lot. In fact, I’d developed an incredible strength of mind in this area, knowing I couldn’t afford to play with any thoughts of sex with men. Even when I noticed an attractive guy, I immediately looked the other way and fought the thought by rebuking the devil, quoting scripture or singing a Christian song. When I masturbated, I did it as quickly as possible so that other fantasies wouldn’t take control, and if I managed to do this I’d be okay. Total freedom seemed close, so I kept a record of how many times I masturbated to ensure God was gaining control. Several times a week was totally unacceptable and even when I reduced the event to once a week I knew God was not pleased. It was like the first slippery step Satan used to take me back to my bad old ways.
The daily program at college was intense: we rose at 6am for a half-hour prayer meeting, then ate breakfast, and lectures went from 8am until 1pm. Then the afternoon was spent in private study and doing chores around the college. Monday night was missionary prayer meeting where we prayed for the world and ex-students, while other nights we were involved with the local churches, assisting in children’s afterschool Bible groups, prayer meetings and Bible studies.
Keeping my struggles secret, I thrived in this atmosphere and was a popular student at college. The ‘romance’ with Pam was suffering and she wasn’t getting the attention she’d previously enjoyed as I now had so many other young Christian people to share my time with. The tension between us grew until finally she went to the college principal for counselling. I was called to his office to discuss the situation, where we concluded that while at college we should both concentrate only on our studies. I was a good boy and gave her the Dear John spiel, ‘It’s best we just be friends. I don’t believe God wants us to be together at this time. Maybe after college.’ The convenient thing about being a Christian was I could cloud my lack of commitment in spiritual terms.
The bible college principal lived on campus with his wife and children, had strong feminine traits and wore toupee. I’ve never understood why people make such obvious attempts to hide their baldness—their attempts only attract more attention. While attending bible college in the United States the principal and his wife had both discovered wigs, which were very popular amongst Americans in the fifties. In all the years I knew them I never saw their real hair, except for an occasional strand that rebelliously slipped out, like a weed in the crack of a cement path, seeking daylight.
It was obvious I was the principal’s favourite; he spent more time with me than with other students and took me on special trips when he preached in different parts of New Zealand. There were times when he did unusual things—like squeeze my knee under the table while we said grace or make comments about how attractive other men in the college were. He was always looking for a response from me, but I just thought he had a bizarre sense of humour. He appeared genuinely concerned about me because of my strong desire to serve God.
My speaking experience had been limited to children’s ministry and small Bible study groups, but I wanted to preach to crowds of people and be used by God in a greater way. Over the last two years, every time I heard someone preach on serving God I’d respond to the altar calls (the time at the conclusion of the service when people who feel they want to respond to God come forward for prayer) and plead with God to take my life and use me for His glory. Now I was getting close to having that desire fulfilled, or so I thought.
Within weeks of arriving at college I had my first opportunity to practise my preaching skills. Most of the students were petrified about the idea of speaking in public but I was champing at the bit. Every weekend we left the college in small groups to do ‘outstation work’, which involved travelling to smaller churches around New Zealand and spending the weekend taking youth meetings, Sunday school and the Sunday services. Many of these churches, being small, were unable to afford visiting speakers and so the congregations welcomed a different preacher to vary their diet. The majority of these congregations would never grow beyond a small handful of people because the local pastor lacked strong leadership and management skills as well as the ability to preach inspiring sermons. Lack of finance also meant most of the pastors had to work fulltime in some form of secular employment, never being able to move beyond their trade in order to devote all their energies to church growth.
As Pentecostal churches are fundamental and spiritually based, the source of our sermons was inspiration from God and the Bible. Once assigned for weekend preaching, we spent time in prayer asking God to give us a special message that would be particularly relevant to that congregation. During the week we developed the sermon by searching through our Bibles to find relevant verses and praying that God would bless the words we spoke. Some of the students were embarrassingly hopeless speakers, but others of us just needed the chance to practise on these poor, struggling congregations.
My first opportunity to preach was in a tiny church of about twenty people in Rotorua. I was convinced I’d received a message from God on the importance of unity in the congregation. I knew from my observation of various preachers that, when preaching, there were a number of indicators that demonstrated success. Was the congregation asleep or awake? Awake, good. Now look at the faces and see if they are bored or interested? The real measure of success was the ‘altar call’. If people responded by coming to the front of the church during the final song for prayer, I knew I’d successfully communicated what God wanted me to say, and returned to college elated that God had used me. Sometimes it worked and if it didn’t I reasoned it was because the congregation was unresponsive or hardened to the Spirit of God. Just one sweet, little old lady came to me at the end of that particular service in Rotorua, held my hand and said how much she enjoyed my sermon— then I found out she was totally deaf.
As college progressed I was having more difficulty with temptation, which left me feeling condemned and a failure, increasing my sense that I was unworthy to serve God. Living in an environment where everyone appeared so holy and righteous made me feel worse and it came to a point where my inability to suppress these thoughts made me depressed. It became increasingly difficult to attend the lectures or prayer meetings, so one day I quietly slipped away from college to try to get some answers from God. I wanted to spend the day alone, so climbed the mountain behind the college and sat staring at the view. After a while I noticed an unusual amount of activity back at the college, with students and staff scurrying all over the campus. Initially, it never occurred to me that they might be trying to find me. Finally, realising this flurry of activity was probably caused by my disappearance, I decided to come down and face the music. My welcome was like that of the prodigal son and I was immediately ushered into the principal’s office. Apparently the reason people became so anxious was that during the previous year a young male student had disappeared and was found drowned a few days later. Possible suicide was the coroner’s report, and I often wondered what his problem might have been.
The principal was in a frantic state, knowing the scandal of another possible suicide would not be good for the reputation of the college. Apologising for the trouble I had caused, I sat in his office, pouring my heart out but trying to disguise my problems in terms that wouldn’t indicate I was homosexual. It wasn’t working and the principal kept pressing for more details. Finally, I got the words out. ‘I have homosexual thoughts.’ It was better to say I had homosexual thoughts than say I was a homosexual, thus distancing myself from the reality of being an abomination to God. I detailed the reason for my conversion, the struggles I’d been through and the cycles that had occurred since becoming a Christian.
The principal caringly suggested that maybe I had demons in my life and that exorcism was the only answer to break the pattern. The reason I had not become totally free, he suggested, was that these demons needed to be cast out. It sounded logical to me because I’d tried everything to break the pattern and yet the desires only seemed to leave for a while, always returning stronger than ever. This must be the answer I was looking for; at last I was going to be free.
‘You’re not alone in the struggles you’re having,’ he said, as the expression on his face changed. I wondered if he could be talking about himself, but surely a man of God with such a well-known ministry would never experience temptation like I did.
Deliverance and casting out demons was a controversial doctrine in the Pentecostal churches in Australia because it was believed to be impossible for Christians to have demons. Once Christ has come in, how can demons continue to have possession? ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’, it said in 2 Corinthians 5:17. During the early weeks at college, the doctrine of exorcism had been taught and I was beginning to see things from a different perspective. I was hoping the principal would take me through the exorcism and save me the embarrassment of telling another man of God I was a homosexual. However, it was decided I should be taken to Auckland and have the top deliverance ministers in New Zealand pray for me. The next few days were torturous, as I walked around college believing demons were inside of me. I couldn’t understand why I had to wait so long. If I had demons, why didn’t they cast them out immediately? How could they leave me in this state?
I’d heard frightening stories about people screaming, contorting and frothing at the mouth when devils were cast out of them but whatever it took to get rid of these terrible thoughts, I wanted to do it. Word spread around the campus, ‘Anthony’s demon-possessed’, adding to the condemnation I was already feeling.
I travelled to Auckland the following weekend with Paul, one of the married students, so that a pastor of a large Pentecostal church could pray for me after the evening service. The pastor was like a Christian mystic who regularly spoke of his visions, personal encounters with angels and ability to see into the spiritual world. Apparently, during the services, there was a special powerful ‘anointing’ that made the exorcism easier.
Normally, I’d be excited to be at this church as it was famous for the miracles and the growth experienced during the ‘Jesus movement’, but I felt very uncomfortable during the service. Tension began to build in me when the service commenced. I feared the possibility of the demons inside me taking control and making me a public spectacle. When the preaching came to a close and the pastor asked people to come forward for prayer, it felt like the demons were rising up inside me wanting to come out. I stood sweating and shaking while I watched several people scream and convulse as the pastors yelled ‘Come out, you devil!’
The altar call seemed endless and when the service finally concluded forty-five minutes later, the pastor walked towards me and introduced himself. He looked at me sadly and seemed genuinely concerned. This poor young Christian man, possessed by a demon of homosexuality. I tried to smile and look appreciative that this great man of God was willing to help but it didn’t work; I burst into tears.
The pastor, his assistant and my friend Paul led me up the stairs to the hall above the main auditorium. Cold and empty, our footsteps amplified and echoed as we walked across the polished wooden floor. The only comfort I had at this point was that no one was going to see me manifesting demons. What was going to happen? How long was this going to take? Was it going to be painful? I was becoming even more anxious. A seat was placed in the middle of this huge hall and as I sat the others walked to different parts of the hall, picking up chairs for themselves and returning to surround me like Indians around a wagon train. I noticed one of the pastors had an old newspaper but I was unsure what it was for.
‘The first thing you need to do is confess all your sins,’ the pastor said. So I confessed everything I could think of beginning with the sin of homosexuality. ‘Now don’t pray,’ he continued, ‘it will stop the demons from coming out.’ They began praying and speaking in tongues while I sat passively, waiting for something to happen. Nothing. The assistant pastor, who was being apprenticed, began commanding the demons to manifest themselves and come to the surface. Still nothing. ‘Start breathing out, expel the demon, you have to want to get rid of these things.’ My breathing became heavier, and I felt something begin to happen, like a tingling sensation in my fingers and around my mouth. This must be the demon coming to the surface.
The pastors became more excited and began yelling and shouting, louder and louder. ‘Come out, come out, you unclean, foul spirit from the pit of hell! You have to obey us, we have the authority of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Name yourself!’ Apparently it was important to know the demon’s name. When Jesus had difficulty casting a particularly strong demon out of a man, he asked it to name itself. ‘Legion’, the demon said, ‘for we are many.’ Surely there was not a multitude of demons living in me? The pastor said he could count them as they left. The more they yelled the stronger I felt the sensations, until my hands, fingers and face became contorted and tight and I fell off the seat onto the floor. The pastors became more excited and commanded the spirits to leave me. This continued to build to a crescendo as I began to moan trying to expel the demon. I began to cough and at this sign the newspaper was produced and laid on the floor next to me. After thirty minutes or so, I finally coughed up some phlegm and spat it on the conveniently placed newspaper.
‘That’s it, come out you devil, you must obey the name of Jesus!’ the pastors screamed. For another twenty minutes I continued to cough and moan, encouraged by the delight of the pastors as they began to praise God for His power. But this was not the end; apparently I had many devils. The exorcism went on for almost two hours until I was absolutely exhausted. What a relief it was to hear them praying for God’s peace to fill me. I thought it was over.
‘How do you feel?’ the pastor asked when all the activity had died down. I felt a sense of relief but not totally free. ‘I think you need more prayer,’ he continued. So the next three Sunday nights I travelled to Auckland and endured a similar performance. Over the next three weeks, at the pastors’ prompting, I confessed everything I could think of—homosexuality, masturbation, spiritism, witchcraft, stealing a Violet Crumble bar at the local shop when I was ten years old—until I was unable to think of another thing. I even had to renounce my father’s and grandfather’s involvement in the Masons because the Bible says that ‘God visits the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generations’ and the Masonic Lodge was considered a satanic group. All kinds of demons were cast out—every sexual perversion imaginable, spiritism, witchcraft, necromancy, spirits of fear, deception and insanity—until finally it seemed they were all gone.
Although this leading pastor was considered to have great spiritual gifts, several years later he had to leave the church under a cloud of accusations of false teaching and having an affair with his secretary. He moved to Australia and began a new church.
I felt much better returning to bible college on the Monday morning after the final deliverance session. Everyone was glad to see me and commented that I looked different. Being free meant I could get on with my calling and serve God with a holy life. This new experience placed me even higher in the popularity stakes at college. No wonder the homosexual desires had kept coming back—it was those rotten demons. But now they were gone and I certainly wasn’t going to fall back into the old traps of the devil. The rest of college was a breeze and whenever temptation came my way, I just said, ‘Devil, I resist you in the name of Jesus, I won’t let you in.’
I never spoke publicly about my experience for fear of people’s reactions. Also, I still wasn’t sexually attracted to women so didn’t have the evidence I was totally healed.
After graduation, before returning home, I travelled south with the college registrar and a few students to spend a week with some friends in Wellington. We parted company at Hastings, as I was to travel further south. It was late at night and I booked into a local caravan park, planning to hitchhike to Wellington the next morning. For the past four and a half months, I had been constantly surrounded by Christians and as the others drove off, I felt alone, vulnerable and restless. I walked into the town to get something to eat, and passed the local cinema. At the time, attending the cinema was frowned upon in Pentecostal circles, as was dancing, wearing make-up and listening to ‘worldly music’, but I felt I was fairly safe considering the movie was G-rated. I bought my ticket and sat alone in the middle of the theatre. While the previews were showing, a man in his early thirties sat next to me and we nodded a casual hello to each other as he sat down to watch the movie. I felt a touch against my leg. I drew my leg away. He moved his leg over again to touch mine. The hot sexual feeling that had been extinguished over the last few months began to rise again, but I didn’t want it. My legs began to shake and it was difficult to concentrate on the movie as I battled. I’d been delivered, how could this be happening? The demon of homosexuality was gone and no longer had control over me. Don’t go back, Tony, you’ve got the power to beat this.
When the movie finished, I got up and shuffled slowly with the crowd out of the theatre. Part of me wanted to get away but another part wanted what was being offered. In the brightness of the foyer I paused, allowing my eyes to become accustomed to the light. I sensed the man was hot on my heels and looking around, I saw him standing just a few feet away, staring at me. When our eyes met my resistance fell—it was the point of no return I was so familiar with. I’d learnt through many experiences not to play with temptation—if a time factor was involved then I was destined to fall. I was too weak. We said hello and walked out onto the street. I was surprised at what came out of my mouth as we walked away from the theatre together.
‘Would you like to come back to my caravan for a coffee?’ I asked with a trembling voice. It had been nearly twelve months since I’d had sex with a man and as we walked to the caravan park, the battle continued in my mind, the thoughts of resisting slowly overtaken by thoughts of yielding. I couldn’t believe the lies I gave to his questions about who I was, why I was here and where I was going. The words I’d often heard, ‘the life of the homosexual is a life of deceit’, kept playing in my mind. Once inside the caravan I made a cup of coffee and was hoping that if I stalled, somehow, I might become strong enough to say no, just have a conversation, maybe even tell him that Jesus could set him free and he should become a Christian. That would be a wonderful victory. While I was making the coffee, he moved from the galley seat and started kissing the back of my neck. That was all I needed; I was gone. The sexual play was awkward, amateur and quick—all over, for me, in a matter of minutes. The many thoughts running through my mind ensured I couldn’t focus on pleasure. As usual, I wanted to get away from the person immediately; the sense of guilt and failure had settled in.
The man was obviously very dissatisfied and kept pressuring me to let him stay the night but I resisted, making up every excuse I could think of. I was getting worried about being alone with him in the caravan and wondered if I could resist him if he tried to attack me. What a fool I’d been to once again place myself in such a vulnerable situation. Finally, realising that I was totally disinterested, he left.
I had something else to contend with now—the thought that the demons that had been cast out of me would come back in again. Jesus said that if a person who had been delivered allowed the demons to come back they would bring many more with them, so that person’s state would be worse than before. I fell into a restless sleep, crying and pleading with God to forgive me. Could it be possible that I’d become demon-possessed again? I really didn’t know.
Chapter 7 – Rehab with a twist – my ex-gay experience
By the morning the glow of allowing a man to touch my emotions and soul was diminishing and the all-too-familiar insidious guilt took over. I said goodbye to Ben knowing I could never face him again and rang the pastor to confess my failure. He told me to come immediately to the church. Within an hour I was in his office telling him the details of how much I’d struggled with homosexuality and my numerous attempts at breaking free. I’d never spoken so openly with Pastor Paul before but I guess this wasn’t any great new revelation to him.
He said, ‘You know you can’t keep going back into sin like this, don’t you? Eventually God will give up on you. The Bible teaches us that God turns his back on those who consistently sin because they grieve the Holy Spirit. This is probably your last and best chance to overcome this.’ I knew the scripture well and as Pastor Paul spoke the fear of God hit me. How could I keep on falling into sin and expect God to forgive me? ‘
The only way for you to really beat this, Tony, is to go into rehabilitation. Are you prepared to do that?’ he said, in a challenging, authoritarian voice. With my head in my hands and too ashamed to raise it to speak, I replied, ‘Yes, I’m sick of this defeat. Whatever it takes. ’There had been times I’d considered this drastic step but always felt that somehow God and I could overcome it together. But the two years of unsuccessful struggle and repeated cycles told me this was the only way.
Paradise was an independent Pentecostal church in the southern suburbs of Sydney that had gained some fame for its success in rehabilitation. It was pastored by two women, Joyce and Edna, which was highly unusual as most Pentecostal churches banned women preachers because of the teachings of St Paul who said in 1 Timothy 2:11-12: ‘A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man, she must be silent.’ The fact that Joyce was also divorced was another mark against her in most Bible-believing circles.
One of Joyce and Edna’s great trophies was Marion, Queen of the Underworld, who had been a hooker and also heavily involved in crime. She’d been rescued by Edna from the streets of King’s Cross and after rehabilitation Marion went around the churches telling the stories about what she’d done before becoming a Christian. Most people in the churches found this incredibly exciting because they were so far removed from that type of existence. Even though Jesus was often accused of being a friend of prostitutes and sinners, the average church person would never allow themselves to be in a red light area, let alone be like Jesus and befriend a prostitute.
Paradise had also been successful with a few drug addicts. (I think they were more drug users than addicts but the term drug addicts sounded more dramatic.) Apparently they had also been able to rehabilitate homosexuals—a couple of guys living at Paradise were almost ‘free’ and one had completed his rehabilitation and was now engaged to a girl in the church. When I met Nigel he still seemed to have feminine traits and rarely showed any affection towards his fiancée Lynn, but who was I to judge or doubt his miracle? It was arranged for me to go down the next day and discuss my rehabilitation program.
Now I had to go home and face Mum and Dad. What would I say? I really felt sorry for them and all the stress I’d been putting them through. I told Mum what was happening, and once again I was told it would be best to keep the full details from Dad. When Dad discovered where I was going, he became very concerned. He didn’t want me to go because the controversial tactics used by Paradise had been publicised in the Sydney press and it had been branded a cult. I reassured him I would be safe and if there were any difficulties, I promised I’d come home.
I’d met Joyce, the leading pastor, in New Zealand, when she came and spoke at bible college. I was still in a euphoric state just after my exorcism but she’d implied that the only way a person can really be delivered of homosexuality was through a rehabilitation program—I needed to change my way of thinking not just have the demons removed. According to Joyce, Paradise’s system was the only successful program available in Australia. I didn’t want to believe her at that time but now she had me just where she wanted me. I remember her saying more than once: ‘Not all Christians are like Paradise Christians’, insinuating that they were somehow superior. She was very open in her condemnation and considered most Christians shallow. This elitist, arrogant attitude made her fairly unpopular, as you can imagine.
Dad and I drove down the steep, narrow windy road towards the water and arrived at Paradise. The tyres crunched on the pebbles in the large parking lot that had been built to accommodate the cars for services held at the mansion. It was a stately two-storey sandstone building that had been converted for the dual purpose of live-in rehabilitation and weekly services. Dad drove off as Joyce greeted me at the door, and then led me into her large, tastefully appointed office. When she sat at her desk I could see the idyllic view she had through the windows behind her of the boats on Port Hacking Bay. The décor spelt class, with fine furnishings and antiques that matched the historic building. Joyce wore the uniform she had established as the dress code for the women in Paradise. Clones of Joyce and Edna were everywhere, modestly attired in twin-sets in the most insipid pastels, set off by a small string of pearls, and tartan skirts with the hem no less than three inches below the knee.
I heard the door open behind me and turned around to see a tall, ruggedly handsome man. ‘This is Patrick,’ Joyce said and I rose to feel the strong masculine grip of his handshake engulfing my much smaller hand. Patrick wore the Paradise male uniform, which consisted of brown riding boots, moleskins and a plain country-style shirt. His simple manliness made him very attractive. I wondered if Patrick was their successful example of a rehabilitated homosexual man, but Joyce assured me, ‘Patrick’s straight and married to Rachael but he understands what you will be going through.’ I wondered how, but becoming a man like Patrick was very appealing. Apparently he was to be my ‘minder’ and, more importantly, the strong male role model I’d lacked.
The rehab program was based on what later became known as reparative, ex-gay or conversion therapy; a type of therapy that has been unsuccessfully used by the ex-gay ministries in fundamentalist churches for the last thirty years, and championed by the Christian/Religious Right in America. (Ex-gays are Christians who believe God has cured them of homosexuality.) The theory of reparative therapy proposes that homosexuality is environmental and caused by the lack of a strong male figure, or a father who was distant, and possibly a dominant mother. This model was directly in conflict with the Bible’s ideal of the family where the male is the head of the home and the wife is submissive. The lack of a correct male model meant I was confused about gender and my development into a normal male had been warped. If that was the case then there must be an entire generation of latent homosexuals out there, as that was very much the culture of my day. Fathers fulfilled the role of provider and most didn’t show affection or love beyond a practical way. Just as authority figures such as headmasters and managers believed, distance not closeness was the way to rule.
I wondered for a moment how useful my relationship with Patrick would be considering we were being dominated by two very strong willed women. Maybe Paradise was a breeding ground for homosexuals. Joyce interrupted my thoughts, ‘To be rehabilitated permanently from homosexuality will take at least twelve months, possibly two years.’ My heart sank.
Joyce laid down the rules I was to live by for the next twelve weeks of full-time rehab. ‘We’ve found’, Joyce added, ‘that homosexual men like bikini underwear.’ No bikini underwear was to be worn as it was too sexual. Y-fronts only. (That wouldn’t go down well today with the popularity of Calvin Klein among gay men.) I was not to be alone at any time—if Patrick wasn’t with me, someone else would be assigned to look after me. I was to be up promptly at 6 o’clock in the morning, so I didn’t lie in bed and masturbate. Another downfall of the homosexual. While in the shower Patrick or one of the other counsellors would be standing by to make sure I didn’t masturbate. I would work hard all day so that when I went to bed at night, I’d fall asleep immediately. Guess why? So I wouldn’t masturbate. I was beginning to get the picture; Joyce’s bluntness was embarrassing.
Patrick took me to the bunkroom I was to share with four other guys and went through my luggage to remove every piece of offensive homosexual clothing including my new trendy pink shirt and matching socks. Real men don’t wear pink.
I quickly learnt that Paradise was incredibly creative with minced meat— it was unbelievable, they must have bought it by the truckload. One day it was meat loaf, the next savoury mince, and then bolognaise and then shepherd’s pie. The only deviation from mince was a stew made with the cheapest beef or old boiling fowls. Obviously Paradise was on a tight budget.
I spent the first week adapting to the structure of the daily program. After breakfast I began the day by listening to tapes of the Bible, which I listened to while I read the same verses from the Bible in front of me. This double reinforcement—the aural and the visual—was to reprogram and renew my mind. The rest of the day I was allocated chores including gardening and maintenance work around the properties—always male chores that would help me become a normal man. Never cooking—I was told that homosexuals loved to cook. The entire church consisted of about one hundred and fifty people. Approximately twenty ‘lived-in’ at Paradise; another thirty lived at the other property at Cronulla, which as a Bible training and rehabilitation centre would be the next step I would take in my rehabilitation program. The remainder of the congregation was made up of locals. All church meetings were compulsory: Sunday morning service was at Cronulla then back to Paradise for the evening service; Monday night was prayer meeting; Wednesday night was family dinner at Paradise; Thursday night was worship night down at Cronulla again; and the Saturday night youth group was also held at Paradise. Not much time left!
The basic philosophy was that by living in a totally protected environment, you were able to overcome your sin. Once you learnt not to sin then you would be given more freedom, eventually being strong enough to live victoriously in the outside world. I was angry that I’d allowed myself to get to a point where I had to give total control of my life over to other people.
The leaders had developed a warped theology that was based on the Greek word for love, agape, which is the highest form of love, the unconditional love of God. According to Paradise theology, loving someone with the love of God meant you could do anything as long as it was for their highest good. This was used to justify humiliation, deprivation, manipulation and sometimes even physical abuse. Seeing one of the girls with a black eye one day, I questioned what had happened. She had a rough counselling session apparently—of course it was for her highest good she didn’t leave the program. The leaders’ authoritative methods and motives were never questioned.
An example of the way they showed their agape love involved Sharon, who had come to Paradise just before me. She’d been sexually abused by her stepfather and other family members and was finally thrown out of home by her mother. Her mother saw Sharon as a threat to her marriage and accused her of leading them on. Sharon had come to Paradise seeking help and a way out of her life of drugs and prostitution. It had taken her at least a week to feel comfortable in the household, as this was the first time in her life she had been with people who seemed genuinely concerned for her welfare. Fifteen of us sat around the large kitchen table—Sharon and I for our first compulsory Wednesday family dinner. At the conclusion of the meal it was time to give a special greeting to the newcomers. ‘I’d like to introduce you to Sharon.’ Joyce commenced. ‘But you really wouldn’t like to know Sharon.’ What did she mean? I thought. Joyce continued, ‘You see, Sharon is selfish and not a very nice person. She’s proud, conceited and a slut. After some time here, if she lets God work in her life, she will change.’ Sitting opposite Sharon, I watched her face change from smiling, to shock, to tears and finally to hang her head, sobbing. She was devastated and so was I, and I wondered why I’d been spared a similar ordeal. That was to come later.
After a few weeks of compliant behaviour, I was allowed to venture out into the real world and get a job that would help pay for my rehabilitation and the next step, training college at Cronulla. Patrick took me to the Brownbuilt factory a couple of suburbs away, where I was given the stimulating job of putting handles onto steel lockers. But it was a relief to get away from the oppressive environment for eight hours. Another reward for my compliance was a trip to the south coast for a Saturday outing with three other people from the church, to see the sights and spend time being normal. We stopped for lunch at a little town where the main street was called Queen Street and, being the clown I usually was, I ran over to the street sign and assumed the position of a hooker. One of my companions took a photo, unaware that this bit of frivolity was going to be my downfall.
The next Sunday night a carload of my friends came down to see me. We hadn’t had any contact for six weeks and I knew they were concerned about me so it was great to see them again. We were standing together chatting in the lounge-room after the service, surrounded by about sixty other people, when Joyce suddenly stormed into the room. I knew I was in trouble as she marched towards me.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ she screamed, having no regard for the friends around me. In fact, I think she had particularly chosen this time to ensure my humiliation. Then I saw the photo in her hand. ‘I suppose you think this is funny?’ she yelled, waving the photo in the air, continuing her barrage as she tore the photo to shreds in front of us all. ‘So you’re a queen, are you? Well, if you want to be a queen we can arrange that for you. If I ever catch you doing something like this again I’ll get that photo and put it on the noticeboard so the whole church can see. Understand?’
I tried to speak and defend myself but nothing came out, I was numb. My friends stood in shock, wondering what horribly evil deed I’d done to deserve such a tirade.
‘You’d better go,’ I said quickly, knowing I was about to break down. Quickly escaping to the kitchen I cried like a little child. I remember thinking how infantile my response was, but I couldn’t stop sobbing for the next three hours. I knew some people at Paradise felt sorry for me but no one dared console me or challenge Joyce’s tactics. The Bible said that, ‘rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft’ and to rebel against the God-given authority of the pastor was considered the same as rebelling against God. And anyway, Joyce was showing me agape love because she was dealing with my homosexuality.
I was still shaken from the weekend humiliation when Mum phoned to see how I was going and when I was coming home. I was very noncommittal, as I knew it might be years. The frustration at my lack of disclosure prompted her to exclaim, ‘Sometimes, Tony, I wish I never had you!’ I understood her frustration, but at this point this was not what I needed to hear and hung up. I’d never done anything like that to my mother before. As a rebellious teenager there were times when I hated my parents but since becoming a Christian I did really love them. I knew that we frequently didn’t understand one another but we were doing the best we could.
The next day was payday at the Brownbuilt factory and I was ready to break out—I’d had enough. A new privilege I’d been given was to catch public transport to and from work so as soon as I picked up my pay envelope, instead of taking it to Paradise and handing it over, I hopped on the train to the city. Arriving at Town Hall Station I had five-minute masturbation with a stranger and then just had to get a drink. I knew there was a homosexual underground somewhere in the city, probably King’s Cross I thought, but having never been involved in the scene I had no idea how to find it. I went to a hotel and drank until I could hardly stand, and then put myself back on the train to go home to Paradise, the only place I believed I could get help.
I was still very drunk when I arrived by taxi at 10.30pm with my reduced pay packet. Patrick greeted me at the door with a predictably displeased look and took me to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. We were both sitting in silence when Joyce appeared with Patrick’s wife Rachael. Patrick rose to his feet and the three stood over me.
‘What have you been doing?’ Joyce asked.
I started to cry again and apologised for what I’d done.
‘Did you have sex with anyone?’ Joyce continued.
‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘Was it good?’
‘No.’ I knew I was being painted into a corner.
‘Well, that was a waste of time and money, wasn’t it?’ she said gleefully.
‘Please let me stay, I’ve nowhere else to get help,’ I pleaded. ‘I’ve got to keep trying.’
‘Go to bed, we’ll talk in the morning,’ was all that was said.
I was expecting much more. The next day I had a shocking hangover and Patrick and Joyce thought it amusing that I couldn’t keep breakfast down. Summoned to the office, I was given my schedule for the day. First of all, no work. I was pleased about that. An appointment had been made for me with a doctor at Cronulla at 11am so that I could have a VD test. I was told this was necessary, as there were children at Paradise, though I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. Did it mean that they thought the same way many other people in society did—that homosexuals were paedophile predators and that I might try and molest the children? I didn’t question their reasoning, but as uneducated as I was about sexual things, I really didn’t think I could get an STD from masturbating with someone. Maybe it was just another way of humiliating and reminding me of how disgusting and dirty I was.
The doctor was more reassuring and after questioning me about what actually happened, obviously felt this was an unnecessary degradation. Of course, I was eventually pronounced clean.
After six months of ‘treatment’, I lost all desire to fight my homosexuality. I was tired and just wanted to get out. But how? I’d already run away once and my money was kept in trust. I asked to see Joyce and Edna and was granted an audience.
‘I’m finding it hard to fight my homosexuality,’ I began. ‘I’ve never really known what it is like to be a true homosexual. Maybe if I go out and find out what it’s like, I’ll learn to really hate my sin and then when I come back I’ll have more motivation.’ This was only half true. I had lost motivation but I still wanted to be free from homosexuality and was hoping there would be another way other than Paradise. If God was ever going to set me free it wasn’t going to be through bullying. Joyce and Edna knew it was impossible to work with someone who’d lost their motivation so agreed I should leave. They reminded me of my future as a homosexual, which included never having a lasting relationship and never finding happiness.
‘It’s a shallow world of bitchy, dysfunctional, nasty, lonely people,’ they said.
I was allowed to make a call and arrange for my sister and brother-in-law to pick me up the next Sunday (they weren’t allowed to come immediately, the hope was that I would change my mind) and as with every call I’d made previously, Patrick sat next to me to make sure I said the right things. From that point, people treated me as if I was unclean, except for a couple of friends I’d made. According to 1 Corinthians 5:5, because of my willingness to be a fornicator I was to be ‘handed over to Satan, so that the sinful nature might be destroyed and my spirit saved in the day of the Lord.’ As someone who had now consciously rejected the grace of God, I was to be treated as an outsider.
When Sunday arrived, I purposely sat at the back of the congregation so I could see when the family arrived in the car park. The service was almost over when I saw Sue, already showing signs of her first pregnancy, and Ian on the veranda and moved quickly to make a fast getaway. Joyce caught the movement out of the corner of her eye and was hot on my heels. Just before I’d reached my sister Joyce grabbed my arm and held me back; even though she was skinny she was very strong.
‘Do you know your brother is one of Sydney’s worst homosexuals?’ she began. ‘He is filthy and disgusting and does …’ She told them everything I’d done but exaggerated wildly. I remember thinking that she made it sound like I did drag and had sex with men on Saturday night then went to church the next morning, still wiping the make-up from my face. It was incomprehensible to think that she could lie so blatantly in front of me. She knew that I had never even been inside a gay club or bar.
Sue and Ian were having trouble hearing such things; so was I. It was important not to cry this time as I had to show Joyce she couldn’t break me anymore.
My sister Sue straightened herself up and with the strength and integrity that my older sister possesses, said, ‘Well, there’s a lot of love in our family, I’m sure we’ll work it out.’
I was so proud of her. Good on you, Sue, I thought. Joyce persisted in assassinating my character but Sue refused to be intimidated. ‘Well, there’s a lot of love in our family,’ she kept repeating.
Ian picked up my bags and we walked to the car in silence but when I sat in the back seat I breathed a sigh of relief and broke down. Even though it was so good to be free of the oppressive environment, I wondered how this might affect my salvation. What if I should die while I’m away from God? I knew I was taking a huge risk.
Travelling home, we didn’t talk about what had just happened, we focused on good things. In fact, we never really talked about it until twenty-eight years later! Families such as ours found it difficult to deal with awkward and painful moments, but there came a time when I realised I needed to acknowledge the power of those words ‘there’s a lot of love in our family’ and thank Sue and Ian for rescuing me.
Youth Alive (extract from Chapter 12 “Dreams come true”)
As my ministry increased in popularity, an area that became extremely effective for me was speaking at youth groups and camps, so the leaders of the Assemblies of God approached me to unite the youth groups of the churches all over Sydney with large-scale events. Initially, I was reluctant to take this on because Every Believer Evangelism had become a growing concern, but I was also aware of the enormous need of youth. For many years, the Sydney Assemblies of God youth met for a combined meeting every few months with just over one hundred attending, mostly second-generation Christians who’d been brought up in the church. The youth of the churches were unwilling to work together and there were hostilities over a variety of issues, as well as power struggles between the most significant churches, each group thinking they should take the leadership and do it better. I could circumvent these issues because I was an independent preacher with no particular loyalties to an individual church, so I decided to take it on, get it established, then hand over the leadership to someone else. Once this was successfully underway I could then give my total focus to Every Believer Evangelism.
To achieve my goal, I had to get as many young people on side as possible so I worked hard, building relationships and encouraging youth leaders in the city to get involved and work together, knowing that a combined, large visible presence was much more powerful than just their little group meetings in the suburbs. I tried to impart a large vision: one I knew they had never seen before. The mission, should they choose to accept, was to create a lively, contemporary rally that would present Christianity in a way that was relevant to youth in the largest entertainment venues Sydney had to offer. What I was planning on doing was radical and I needed sound and production people as well as contemporary Christian musicians. The existing name of the Assemblies of God youth, Christ’s Ambassadors (or CAs for short), had to be changed. Who’d go to a youth rally called Christ’s Ambassadors? I knew I wouldn’t.
After much arguing and persistence, the name Youth Alive became the name of the organisation, but as we prepared for our first event, other problems began to develop.
Within Pentecostal churches, most people had been taught that rock music was from the devil and some sensationalist preachers, like Gary Greenwald, even said that some rock musicians used backward masking to hide demonic, subliminal messages that could be heard when songs were played in reverse. Greenwald claimed that back-masked messages propelled listeners into sex and drug use. The White Album by the Beatles was said to contain backwards messages such as the repeated words, ‘Number nine, number nine, number nine … ’ in the song ‘Revolution 9’, which backwards supposedly became ‘turn me on, dead man, turn me on, dead man … ’ Probably the most well-known example of alleged back-masking was Led Zeppelin’s song ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ If a particular portion of the song is played backwards, then supposedly the phrase, ‘Here’s to my sweet Satan,’ can be heard. Those who had the sense to investigate the claims discovered that, given a randomly generated series of syllables, it would be easy to find a two-syllable pair that could be liberally interpreted as ‘Satan’. It was possible that any person with some creative interpretation skills could play virtually any song backwards and uncover ‘Satanic messages’, especially if you were a Christian preacher and rock music was taking away your young people. Christian youth were being encouraged to forsake the rock stars and burn their records. Foolishly, in this highly-charged, controversial environment, I wanted to introduce Christian rock music at Youth Alive rallies.
On 23 February 1985, Youth Alive’s first event began with a day of evangelistic outreach at Manly, one of the major beach suburbs of Sydney, consisting of a concert in the mall using a variety of Christian bands and singers, drama and dance. Several hundred Christian youth showed up and people spoke excitedly about the innovative program we’d put together—Sydney had never seen anything like this before. We talked to many people on the streets about having a relationship with God—even a few of the local street kids prayed to receive Christ into their lives. The day climaxed with a youth concert in a nearby basketball stadium. The entire event had been a great risk but the evening rally was to be the greatest test.
The excitement increased as the audience in the stadium grew to five hundred people (an unheard-of figure among the youth of Pentecostal churches) but I could also sense tension building when certain groups arrived. They were so straight-laced and boring it was understandable that their youth groups were small. Their youth leaders fostered a defensive siege mentality, and their only objective was to protect their young people from the temptations of the world, not to reach out to young people in need outside the church. Even if they had attempted such a radical thing I doubt they would have related or been able to communicate with them anyway. They were fearful their Christian youth might find out how much fun you could have enjoying life—if they discovered it, they’d defect from Christianity. The program was about to commence. I prayed together with the performers at the back of the stage for God’s blessing and most of all that we would somehow be able to communicate to young people how much God loved them.
The hall was in darkness … Wah,wah,wah,wah, a sole electric guitar whined and screamed … then the drums kicked in … Boom, boom, boom …lights flashed and we were underway. I loved it, but others didn’t. Some of the youth leaders became restless, you could feel the tension rising in the air as they muttered to each other about the music, lights and atmosphere. One of the leaders stood up, gathered his little flock of young people together, and walked out. I was standing at the back of the stadium watching the band when another youth leader moved towards me, his eyes flashing with rage.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ he shouted, trying to make himself heard above the Christian rock band. ‘You can’t win people to Christ with this type of music, it’s satanic!’ I tried to settle him down and reassure him that it would be okay.
‘Just wait and see,’ I said, but he wouldn’t listen, returned to his group sitting near the front and marched them out defiantly. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was called out to the car park where another leader was so upset he had gathered his group and was praying against us.
Apparently I was doing the work of the devil. As the program continued, even more walked out, arguing with me as they departed. I was trying desperately to keep cool and calm, wishing my spot in the program would hurry up so I would have some people left to preach to. At the conclusion of the one-and-a-half hour program, when I was scheduled to preach, we had lost at least a third of the crowd.
I preached like a man possessed that night, possessed with a mission. A mission to reach out to young people, to let them know God loved them and there was a better way to live; they could have hope, healing and the power to change their lives. A mission to also let young Christian people know that they did not have to be dull and boring, looking and acting like they belonged to a former generation, totally out of step with the rest of the world. I was also angry. Angry that the youth leaders had judged what we were doing, judged the Christian rock musicians who were using their talents for God’s Kingdom. I was disgusted by their religious, sanctimonious, pious attitude—it was the greatest barrier to God’s love touching the world. As my message ended I needed God to perform a miracle. After all we had done and been through we had to see results. Preaching into the glare of the spotlights only heightened the feeling that came over me several times. Is anyone out there? Is anyone listening? I could barely make out the sea of faces as I asked people to come to the front and ask God to come into their lives. There was a long deathly silence that was occasionally broken with a nervous cough from somewhere in the stadium. No-one moved. I waited and asked again. ‘Who would like to give their life to Jesus tonight?’ Still nothing. One more time, I had to have results from all the work we’d put in.
Then I heard a chair move, a rustling at the back of the hall, and a big biker in leathers moved quickly towards the front out of the darkness, the sound of his boots on the wooden floor echoed throughout the building. I had never seen anyone come to the front at that speed before and for a moment thought he may have been angry about my Christian preaching and was coming to attack me. He stopped directly in front of me. ‘Have you come to give your life to God?’ I asked hesitantly.
‘Yes,’ he replied in a strong, confident voice that could be heard throughout the entire auditorium. The crowd burst into spontaneous applause as I jumped off the stage to shake his hand. One person, but it had been worth it for just one. I nearly cried at the sense of relief. Then I heard other footsteps as another came down the front, then another, then another, until within minutes there were twenty young people standing with me. Some were crying, others smiling. All young people who previously had little or no experience of God but wanted to make changes in their lives. Afterwards, when we talked and prayed with each of them, we discovered most had come from difficult situations and were in great need. Mission accomplished, and the foundation laid that Youth Live would always be about reaching out to young people in a contemporary and relevant way.
The high of that night lasted for days, and I assumed the results of our first Youth Alive outreach would speak for themselves. Sometimes I was so naive. The Assemblies of God Executive Committee requested I meet with them immediately because the youth leaders who’d walked out had complained about the concert. We’d achieved at our first youth rally something many had wanted for years and I knew the methods we used were essential for the continued success of Youth Alive. I was not going to compromise but would stand my ground—a new position for me.
Waiting outside the meeting was daunting as I had never been in trouble with the Executive before. It felt like I was a naughty little schoolboy waiting outside the principal’s office, about to be disciplined for some misdemeanour. The door opened and I was asked to enter. I knew all the Men on the Executive, most on a first-name basis. I showed others respect by calling them ‘pastor’. None of them was under forty, all attired in their outdated, conservative suits. Their greetings were formal and cool and their faces told me we had some serious business to deal with. I was still grinning ear-to-ear from the excitement of the previous Saturday night. The seating arrangement was ridiculously intimidating—a solitary seat faced the dozen men. Images of a firing squad flashed through my mind.
‘Mmmmmmm, we’ve had numerous complaints about your rally on Saturday night,’ was the superintendent’s opening comment, spoken in a slow, deep tone to reinforce the seriousness of the statement. I listened as they detailed the reports they’d been given about the worldly music, seductive dance and dark atmosphere, just like a rock concert. We had used rock music to share the Christian message, we had used flashing lights and created a rock concert atmosphere, we had used a contemporary dance sequence to communicate a powerful message, the Christian youth had danced exuberantly. It had been intentional—to communicate in a medium and language young people understood. I denied nothing.
Today it seems so ridiculous that this was so controversial—now this is the normal Sunday service format in almost every growing Assemblies of God, Hillsong and Pentecostal church in Australia. I knew there were a couple of men in this group who supported the changes I had to make, but in this arena with their peers they made no comment. As a group, it seemed the Executive were asking me to go back to the old way of running a youth service,
maybe a middle-of-the-road approach to please everybody, they suggested, be less controversial. They were concerned that by using contemporary means and rock music to communicate with young people, we were lowering our standards and using worldly methods.
‘Yes,’ I finally responded after listening to their criticisms, ‘We have lowered our standards. In fact we have lowered them so much we were actually able to reach twenty young people for God.’ There was silence in the room. Knowing Youth Alive’s success depended on developing what we’d started, I gave them my ultimatum.
‘Here are the options, gentlemen.’ (Even I was shocked by the assertiveness of my statement.) ‘If you’re not happy with what I’m doing with the youth groups of Sydney then I’ll resign now. If you want me to continue then you’ll have to leave me to do what I feel is right to reach young people with the gospel. I’m not going to come in here after every rally and have to justify our program. You’ll just have to trust me.’ I smiled and made eye contact with everyone in the room.
They backed down immediately and from that time on I was never pressured or questioned by them again; they allowed me to fulfil Youth Alive’s vision of presenting a powerful witness in a contemporary mode. The numbers increased at each event, the word spread around Sydney and other denominational churches wanted to join us, so we decided to take over Sydney Town Hall for our last rally for the year. Once again, this was groundbreaking for the Assemblies of God. We had no money to fund such an event, but believed God would provide. When we inquired about a booking, apparently the only night the Sydney Town Hall wasn’t booked was the exact night we wanted. We took it as a sign from God that it had been kept for us. We had enough funds for the deposit so we paid that and worked on the preparations to produce the best program yet. It seemed like a big step of faith but if I’d waited for the funds to be in the bank before I did anything, I’d still be in Orange working part-time in the church.
When I walked into the Sydney Town Hall on the afternoon of 7 December 1985 to see how the preparations were going, it looked huge. I’d attended concerts there throughout my schooling and remembered it was large but now it looked so much bigger—and I was responsible for filling it.
There were a couple of brief moments of doubt as I wondered if we could draw a crowd big enough. The largest crowd we’d had to date was around 800, but for tonight to be a success we needed over 2000. We opened the doors half an hour before 7pm and the few people who trickled in only accentuated the emptiness of the building. More arrived, and then a steady stream of young people flooded through the doors and took up their positions in different parts of the ground floor. During the last five minutes the ground floor and balcony were packed. The atmosphere was electric, as most of these young people had never been to a Christian event of this size before. The crowd shouted and applauded as the evening’s program commenced. I felt both humbled and excited walking out on the stage at the end of the evening; it was a wonderful privilege to be speaking to this crowd of over two thousand young people. In my mind, I’d rehearsed my message over and over again knowing it would look ridiculous to come out on stage with preaching notes—it was important to speak from the heart. Preaching with passion and conviction, I spoke about the power of God’s love to heal, forgive and change anyone who was willing to acknowledge their need of Him. To say ‘I don’t need God’ seemed a ridiculous statement to me as I was constantly aware of my need for God’s love, forgiveness and power. The response was more than I had hoped for. Over two hundred young people came forward at my invitation to give their lives to God. A stillness came over the crowd as we realised the significance of what was happening. Certainly a new chapter was beginning in the history of youth outreach that would have an impact for years to come.
It was time to find someone else to take on Youth Alive and so I approached Mark, an experienced youth leader, who was managing a Christian organisation in New Zealand. As I’d been supporting myself through Every Believer Evangelism, Youth Alive had no salary to offer him and he declined. Pat Mesiti, the youth pastor of an Italian congregation in Sydney, had been my enthusiastic assistant, so he was my next choice. Pat did a tremendous job and under his dynamic leadership, Youth Alive continued to grow, opening up opportunities for him to preach around Australia and overseas. Seeing the potential in Pat, Brian Houston, the senior pastor of Hillsong Church, invited him to join their team. Basing himself at the large church in Sydney, Pat became a very popular speaker and sold thousands of tapes, videos and books on youth topics, as well as speaking regularly at multi-level marketing conferences for companies like Amway.
It hurt me when I heard, not long after I had fallen off the radar so to speak, that Pat had taken on the title of ‘founder’ of Youth Alive NSW. My teenage daughters were finding it difficult enough to come to terms with what had happened to their dad, but hearing Pat regularly acknowledged for what their father had done caused them even more pain. My sense of pride and achievement in founding a successful youth organisation, eventually growing to events of 20,000 or more people, was now, along with many other things, also to be taken from me.
However, Pat would eventually discover himself what it’s like to have your humanity become public knowledge, with all the pain and grief this brings to your family. In 2002, Pat was stood down from all ministry in the Assemblies of God because of misconduct, the result of a sexual addiction. I’m sure he was unaware how blessed he was to have a pastor like Brian Houston support him and his family in counselling and other ways. This support meant Pat could focus on getting his life and marriage back on track in order to be restored to the ministry. Sadly, even with that support, Pat’s marriage didn’t survive. Phil Pringle, the Senior Pastor of another mega-church in Sydney, willingly took Pat’s healing and rehabilitation in hand. In his new church home and with his new wife Andrea, Pat was re-instated as a preacher on Sunday 19 February 2006 and serves God with a new awareness, and one would hope with a little more humility.
The Christian Church—a place of love, forgiveness and restoration—proved to be so for Pat. His repentance opened doors and people came to his rescue. Why hadn’t it worked like that for me? I wondered. Was my sin so unforgivable?
CHAPTER 14 – The trap is set
Even though my calendar for 1991 was full and looked incredibly exciting, something was drastically different to previous years. I usually commenced the year with such enthusiasm and anticipation after our four-week break, but the ten days speaking to one thousand young people in Papua New Guinea in January had been demanding, and left me little time to recuperate. I was tired of the travel, tired of the emotional demands of the ministry and extremely tired of battling with the temptations in my mind. I think at some time I’d stopped fighting and just resigned myself to keeping things in check, but I couldn’t tell exactly when that happened. Concerned about my mental and emotional health, I was aware that if I wasn’t careful I could find myself burning out with the demanding schedule that lay ahead.
The year commenced with the six weeks of Adventure in Evangelism conferences around Australia. I completed the first three weeks in Sydney, Tasmania and Victoria, then flew to Brisbane to do it all again. I’d been asked to fly up early so I could spend a few days in Pastor Jim Williams’ bible college at Garden City Assemblies of God, Mount Gravatt in Brisbane (now Hillsong Brisbane). I found it hard to say no to invitations like this as these were the leaders of tomorrow, and the opportunity to share my concepts and ideas with them would bear great fruit in the future. I’d preached for Pastor Jim in Hamilton when he was the superintendent of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand. After moving to Australia, allegations of sexual misconduct rose against Jim, from the time when I had been in New Zealand. The Australian leadership of the Assemblies of God decided that he should stand down from ministry for a couple of years, and then be later allowed to continue as a minister.
After the five hours of lectures, I returned to my motel to relax. The motel room was a luxury— not luxurious, just a luxury for me. I’d spent years travelling, staying in pastors’ homes in the junk room, or being farmed out to people in the church who wanted to keep me up all night whingeing about the church’s difficulties or pouring out their own personal problems believing I had the answers. Churches were always trying to save money on accommodation. I found it quite draining not having privacy, unable to run my own schedule, watch television or eat when I wanted to. So often I was ‘peopled out’ and grateful of some time alone to do what I wanted. That night was one of my rare nights off.
It was a beautifully warm, balmy Brisbane night, on 27 February, 1991. I loved the tropics, especially at night, and always felt I’d been created to live in that climate. Just getting off a plane when in Asia and having that wall of heat hit me when I departed the air-conditioned terminal always made me feel like I was home. After finishing my meal at the motel restaurant, I thought I’d make the most of my night off. No one to pick my brains, no one to tell me how difficult their life was, no one to complain about their church or pastor. It was great. I’d hired a car to drive up to the Sunshine Coast on the weekend to run the Adventure in Evangelism camp so I drove into the city—I was always attracted by the bright lights and activity—and drove around for a while thinking about what to do to pass the time. I was feeling restless and uneasy. I wanted company, but not with Christians.
I decided to drive over to one of the trendy new inner Brisbane suburbs for some coffee and cake, and parked at Albert Park overlooking Brisbane city, to look down at the buildings and the bridges over the Brisbane river winding its way past the city and up through the suburbs. When I got out of the air-conditioned car I immediately felt the warmth of the summer’s night and smelt the beautiful, sweet aromas of tropical trees in flower. Occasionally there was a rustle in the Moreton Bay fig trees, then a fruit bat would fly out, screeching, as it moved on to its next feed. In the midst of this quiet park and the stillness of the night, there was another type of activity. As I’d driven up the hill I’d noticed a number of men strolling alone along the streets and realised I had arrived at Brisbane’s beat—my internal gaydar frequently helped me find places like this. Over the last twelve months my visits to beats had become more frequent because my ability to resist was weakened. It seemed the more I tried to suppress my feelings the more intense they became. Almost like an addiction.
The beat was incredibly active. As I walked across the road towards Albert Park, there were more men then I’d originally thought, scuttling about in the shadows like cockroaches coming out after dark. There were at least twenty of them, some together as couples but most strolling alone. Cars drove by slowly, parking, and then taking off again, backwards and forwards, over and over again in an endless parade. I knew there would be the usual collection of gay, ‘straight’, bisexual and married men all in various states of transition or curiosity. Some old, balding and overweight (something I never found appealing), and some young guys who were seething masses of vibrating hormones capable of having sex three or more times a night—and often doing so.
Beats could also be dangerous places. Queensland was much more conservative than New South Wales and had only decriminalised homosexuality the year before, 1990. There was the constant threat of poofter bashers and police harassment. But the beat held another fear for me. The possibility of being discovered or exposed by someone who knew me from the church was a constant threat. Every week I stood in front of thousands of people who knew me by face and name, but to me they were a mass of unrecognisable people. Total strangers often approached me at airports, shopping centres or in the streets and told me how much they enjoyed my preaching and what an impact it had made on their lives. I took a great risk going to beats—among those thousands there had to be some guys who were struggling unsuccessfully as I was.
Over the years I’d encountered most of the dangers the beat held— had even been bashed one night, ending up with broken ribs—and considered them warnings from God. It was very confusing. If God wanted me to be straight then why didn’t He take away those feelings and allow me to live with a peaceful mind, free of the struggle and torment that plagued me regularly? The Bible says God can look into your heart and know the motives, so He must know that in my heart I really didn’t want this. Why didn’t He do anything? It would have been such a tremendous testimony to the power of God if I could get up and say ‘God has totally delivered me from homosexuality’ but it just wasn’t true. I only felt momentarily free.
Walking along the road at the edge of the park, there was no battle. My focus was no longer on overcoming temptation but having a brief encounter and the relief I’d feel after being with a man. Recently I’d begun going to the gym, put on some muscle and lost five kilos, so now I was feeling, even at thirty-nine, relatively attractive. I scanned for any signs of trouble and at the same time looked out for the man I wanted to be with. Playing the cruising game I walked past man after man, smiling at those I found attractive, pausing for a brief moment to look around for any response and ignoring the advances of those I found unattractive. I walked the entire length of the park and back again without any success. Sometimes this outcome meant I was able to retreat with some sense of empowerment because I had overcome temptation, but mostly it was because there was nothing attractive on offer. I wasn’t in a hurry tonight so I cruised up and down for another twenty minutes making attempts at connection and wishing my luck would change. He stood out immediately.
He was in his late twenties or early thirties, sitting among the shadows on the edge of the low sandstone fence surrounding the park. His blue jeans were well worn but pressed so the crease was clearly visible and the light, white Indian cotton shirt, opened halfway down his chest, hung loosely on his body. His face was long, with strong, sharp features; his tan made him look healthy, and contrasted with the white shirt. I could see he was slim and tall, even though he was sitting down, but there was one thing that stood out more than anything. His eyes. They were an unusual deep, dark brown. Even under the shadowy light that filtered through the trees, they were striking. The combination of all these features made me think he must have been a model and how lucky people are to be born so attractive—so attractive, in fact, that I didn’t even bother to make an approach. Why would anyone that gorgeous want to be with me? At least half a dozen men were cruising him at the same time, like bees to a honey pot. Watching the antics of his possible partners, I really didn’t think any of them had a chance.
I sat down on the fence about twenty feet away to observe the activity. One after another they filed past, smiling and trying to gain his attention, but to no avail, he was a professional at rejection. That cold, stoic stare said it all. They soon moved on to other prey realising their cause was hopeless. As the last one moved away, he rose to his feet. I’d totally misjudged his height, as he was well over six foot, probably more like six foot two. Such a striking man—the term ‘tall, dark and handsome’ had been created especially for him. I expected him to pass as he walked towards me but instead he sat a few feet from me then initiated the conversation.
‘God, I hate these places, don’t you?’The comment took me aback as I thought all gay men liked beats; surely I was the only one who hated them. But then again I wasn’t totally gay.
‘Yes,’ I quickly replied. There was a brief silence because I really didn’t know what to say next. His attractiveness was alarming and I didn’t want to say anything to embarrass myself or sound stupid. Sensing my awkwardness he broke the silence.
‘So, do you live in Brisbane?’
That was easy to answer. ‘No, I’m here on business,’ I replied. ‘So what type of work you do?’ ‘I’m a sales representative,’ I answered hesitatingly, drawing on my past. My mind raced ahead trying to form the rest of the story, should he ask more questions. No more small talk, he got straight to the point.
‘Do you have somewhere to go?’ he asked in a confident manner, as if it was a foregone conclusion I wanted to be with him.
‘Yes, would you like to come back to my motel at Mount Gravatt?’
‘Can you drive me back to the city afterwards?’ he asked, knowing full well that I would have driven to the other side of the city to be with him.
His huge strides made it difficult for me to keep up as we walked to the car and I tried my best to make it look like I wasn’t running. I opened the door for him and then walked around the front of the car. Getting into the driver’s side I noticed he’d wedged himself into the corner of the door and the passenger seat and sat with his legs apart in an inviting, seductive manner.
‘I’m Jason,’ he said in a natural tone, so comfortable with the protocols of picking up strangers.
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ I said, giggling apologetically, realising we hadn’t even introduced ourselves. ‘I’m Tony,’ I said, feeling safe to use my real name.
As we drove to the motel all I could think of was how lucky I was to be going home with this amazingly handsome man and the fact I was in a motel for the night and not staying with a pastor. I turned towards him as I asked questions to catch a glimpse of him, and as he replied he’d lean over and place his hand on my leg. This must be what it’s like to have a boyfriend, I thought, as we made our way to the motel.
When I saw Jason in the full light of the motel room I remember thinking that if ever I was to be with a man then he was the type of person I’d like to be with. The strong fluorescent lighting made it awkwardly bright so I quickly moved around to adjust the bedside lamps to create a softer, more intimate ambience. His attractiveness made me nervous and I was finding it difficult to be natural. I offered him a cup of coffee. The electric jug clicked as it reached its boil and I turned to pour the water into the cups when he stood behind me, put his arms around me and began kissing me gently on the back of the neck. I melted into the mould created by his body.
His touch was electrifying. I turned around to face him and we began to kiss. First a gentle touch on the lips, then another, and another, passionate but still with an intoxicating softness. Placing one hand behind my head, he kissed me softly on the cheek and forehead. Cupping my face in his hands, he kissed me again, occasionally pulling away to smile at me while his eyes wandered around my face. I savoured the warm energy running through my body, weakening me with each kiss and touch. Jason moved his hands towards my shirt collar. One button and a touch of my chest, then a kiss, then another button, a touch and a kiss. I was thirty-nine and never had a man touched me this way before. It was wonderful.
He took his time removing my shirt and all that I could think was, Oh my God, this is magnificent. I was in the arms of a beautiful man whose only desire was to show me tenderness and affection, my pleasure bringing him delight. With my shirt off he began to touch my back with his fingertips, ever so slowly back and forth then around my neck and down my arms. Feelings of euphoria overwhelmed me. He was a master. This procedure was foreign to me so I repeated Jason’s ritual. First the lips, then the touch, then the hands around the face, then the buttons and then the touch again until finally we were holding each other. I could feel the flesh of his chest against mine. His body was slim, with not an ounce of fat—a swimmer’s build with toned muscle, but not overdone. He was in charge so I paused, waiting for him to take the next step. Closing his eyes he kissed me again and I felt the back of his fingers moving down my stomach to the top of my trousers, the tension building making me feel like I was about to explode. Like a movie in slow motion, he removed every piece of clothing, occasionally stopping and kissing me again and again, until I stood naked before him. It was obvious he delighted in seeing me in this state of ecstasy and having such power over me.
Never taking his eyes from me for a moment he gently guided me onto the bed, pulled back the bedspread and lowered me onto the crisp white sheets. Stepping back from the bed, holding me in his gaze, he slowly undid his jeans and let them drop to the floor. He left his white briefs on, leaving that last piece for me to remove, somehow knowing the pleasure that would give me. He then lay beside me and we continued to touch and kiss for what seemed like hours—him on top of me, me on top of him—our bodies tangled together like a vine.
He gave me a quick peck on the cheek and pulled away, picked up his jeans and pulled out a condom. I began to feel nervous. I never felt comfortable about this kind of activity—the rape I’d experienced as a teenager had never been forgotten. I could never understand why anyone would find that pleasurable.
Jason sensed my awkwardness and that I was a novice, and took over completely. He placed the condom on me and moved into position. I groaned, screamed and came within a matter of seconds. No wonder, I’d been on the brink so many times during the last hour. He chuckled at my lack of self-control.
‘What did you go and do that for?’ he said, slapping me playfully on the chest.
I burst into laughter at the sheer relief from the sexual tension and said, ‘I’m sorry.’
The amusement quickly passed when Jason noticed the condom had broken.
‘You should be okay,’ he said in a reassuring manner, but for a brief moment I saw the concern on his face. ‘You are negative, aren’t you?’ he continued. I reassured him that I was but I had no way of knowing that—all part of my denial about what was really happening in my life. I was actually in a high-risk group, the bisexual and married gay men who never self-identified as gay and therefore had not really sought out information on safe sex practices. As far as I knew, all activity that I’d been involved in was safe, but I’d never been tested for sexually transmitted diseases; not since that time Joyce at Paradise sent me to the doctor at Cronulla.
Jason showered while I made another coffee and I wondered why this gorgeous man was so devoted to my pleasure. With towels wrapped around ourselves, we sat on the bed and talked. Normally, by this time, I’d be dressed and suggesting I give him a lift home.
Jason began to reveal the events of his life. I was surprised at his willingness to be so open with me.
He’d been out as a gay man for twelve years, done everything and was really over the scene. Tragedy after tragedy had happened, the most recent being the bust-up with his boyfriend Charles in the Blue Mountains after a five-year relationship. Jason had packed up and left everything he’d worked for after discovering his boyfriend was having an affair and arrived in Brisbane with only a suitcase and a few dollars. The first few nights had been spent sleeping in a park. He had just begun working at an amusement parlour in Brisbane Mall and was trying to put his life back together again. Hearing about his difficult life saddened me and I wished that somehow we’d not met like this because he was so in need of God. In other circumstances I’d be suggesting he pray and ask Jesus into his life, but the hypocrisy of the last hour meant I couldn’t even contemplate that.
I sympathised with him about these difficulties and made up quick fabrications to any questions about where I lived, what I did.
‘I’d better go now. I have to start work early in the morning,’ Jason said, getting up to dress. ‘I’d like to see you again. Do you come to Brisbane often?’
I wasn’t ready for that. I had a policy. What I was doing was bad enough but to see someone a second time would be like having an affair or giving up the fight with homosexuality.
‘Can I see you again?’ he repeated.
‘I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ I replied, surprised by his eagerness.
Undeterred by my comment, he took the notepad and pen next to the phone and wrote down his name and telephone number.
‘There you are, just in case you’re in Brisbane again sometime and you’d like to catch up,’ he said, placing the piece of paper by the bed.
For some reason Jason was reluctant to let me know exactly where he lived so I dropped him off near the park again and drove back to the motel. Lying alone in the bed, I couldn’t understand why this gorgeous man was so giving and wanted to see me again. I’d experienced one of the most wonderful nights of my life. It was difficult trying to put thoughts of him out of my mind. They’ll be gone by the time I’m speaking at the camp, I thought, unaware that night had changed my life forever.
Clearing the room the next morning I noticed the note still beside the bed and picked it up. I paused and thought about the consequences of keeping Jason’s details, then folded it neatly and placed it in the back of my wallet, planning to discard it before I returned to Sydney.
After packing the car I drove north to the Sunshine Coast for the weekend conference. The previous evening had left me in a state of euphoria and on the highway my thoughts drifted back to the sensational feelings I had when I was with Jason. I had to get a grip as I had a full weekend of ministry ahead of me and having thoughts like that in my mind wouldn’t work. Asking for forgiveness as I usually did would have been very hollow and lacking in conviction. I couldn’t say I hated what I’d just done. Before every session I prayed before speaking, publicly acknowledging I had nothing to give; I was just an empty vessel for God to use if He chose.
The weekend seemed to progress well and at the conclusion people were excited at how valuable they found the training. I’d presented the material that many times I could have done it with my eyes closed. To the outsider it seemed like nothing was amiss but inside me something had changed and I found myself falling in and out of the blissful feeling left over from that momentous night. Maybe I could see him again, just one more time, before going back to Sydney. Surely that wouldn’t hurt. Not to have sex but just see him and have a coffee or something. There was something fascinating and intriguing about this man and I wanted to know more about him. After the Saturday night meeting I removed the neatly folded piece of paper concealed in the back of my wallet and found an isolated public telephone booth. I tried several times to call but there was never an answer.
Just in case I was able to contact Jason, I rescheduled my flight to Sydney so I could have some time with him. I knew Brisbane fairly well from my frequent visits and remembered Jason mentioned managing an amusement parlour in the city mall. It was worth a try to see if I could track him down as I remembered seeing a couple of similar establishments when I’d shopped there previously. I was both nervous and excited as I drove back to Brisbane, aware that I was playing a very, very dangerous game. The amusement parlour was exactly where I pictured it and the entrance was cluttered with rough young teenagers who looked suspiciously like they could break out in gang warfare at any minute. I know I looked out of place in the long room—a mass of lights, game machines and electronic noises with every piece of spare floor space utilised. This parlour seemed particularly rough. I found it hard to picture Jason working in such an environment, as he carried such an air of class and style.
I recognised him by his height and the back of his head and stood waiting for him to turn around. He was standing in the change booth counting money and turned around to serve a waiting teenager when he looked up and saw me. He smiled as I waited for the youngster to move out of the way.
‘What are you doing here?’ he asked, appearing to be genuinely excited to see me but also shocked at my successful detective work.
‘I had a few hours before my flight so I thought I’d come and see if I could find you,’ was the best I could come up with.
‘I’ll be finished in half an hour. Can you wait?’ he said enthusiastically, his cheeky grin giving warmth to his words.
‘I’ll meet you out the front in half an hour but I have to catch my plane in two hours.’ That was a long half hour. I filled the time walking around the shops and I arrived five minutes early just in case, but waited another ten. Walking away from the amusement parlour I wanted to embrace him, kiss him, hold his hand, touch him or do something that gave us a physical connection but we were in Brisbane Mall and that kind of behaviour would have been outrageous, even dangerous. We moved quickly to a coffee shop in the middle of the mall and sat down.
Jason leant back in his chair and stretched out his long legs so that we touched under the table. Every so often he’d slip his hand under the table and stroke my leg. I was trying to act cool but I think Jason knew how difficult this was for me. Talking over coffee for the next hour we took every opportunity to touch. He’d touch the sugar bowl and I’d reach out and stroke his hand, pretending to move it, always smiling at each other and occasionally snickering at the secretive game we were playing in public.
The conversation made time fly and too quickly it was time to go to the airport. I could have rescheduled my flight again but I was beginning to get the uncomfortable feeling that I was being pulled into quicksand and didn’t know if I could keep things in control. We walked to the car park together. Out of the public eye, in the underground car park, we fell into each other’s arms, kissing with the passion of lovers who’d been separated for months. We then hurried to the car for more privacy. In the rental car, Jason’s kissing became more and more aggressive, so unlike the tenderness of our first night. Passion, abandonment and intensity were new sensations for me and there was an element of desperation in our five minutes in the car. We were both surprised how intense we were feeling and both let out a ‘Phew’ as we extricated ourselves from each other.
‘I have to go,’ I said, realising that the more I became involved with this man the greater the risk of exposure and even possible blackmail. If he discovered who I really was, would he use it against me? I didn’t really know who Jason was or what he was about. ‘I’ll call in a few days and let you know when I’ll be in Brisbane again, okay?’ Jason smiled; he knew that what had happened was too strong to keep us apart.
I arrived back in Sydney, then spent the one-hour drive to the Central Coast collecting myself and trying to organise my emotions in order to face Helen, the girls and the demands of the busy week before me. Pulling into the drive I honked the horn as usual and the girls came running out onto the decking and down the steps to greet me.
‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!’ Becky and Hannah screamed. It was a ritual they’d developed over the years to welcome me home and after hugging and kissing, helped me to the house with my luggage. I was unusually happy and light.
‘Let’s go out for Chinese,’ I suggested, trying to act as normal as possible, aware of Helen’s finely tuned ‘woman’s intuition’. Over dinner I let the girls talk about their weekend, but it was difficult to focus with such mixed emotions. Guilt, excitement and infatuation— all were present in the back of my mind.
I had made sure the small piece of paper in my wallet was discarded and Jason’s number memorised so I wouldn’t be discovered. I also wrote it down in a disused page of my diary just in case I forgot it. Already I was changing and becoming incredibly deceptive.
When I was in Melbourne the next week, Jason and I spoke almost every day on the phone, mostly about him, as I didn’t want to weave too large a web of deceit about myself. He told me about the daily bashings by his older brother, the ex-lover who betrayed him and married his sister because he wanted to have children, the unfaithfulness of his partner, Charles. His twelve years’ experience as a gay man was extraordinary and the more I heard the more fascinated I became. The stories were endless and I wanted to be the one to bring healing to his life, and say, ‘It’s going to be all right, I’ll be the one you can really trust and love.’
It was halfway through the week before the realisation hit me—I’d fallen in love. I was thinking of Jason constantly, planning my times to call, and looking forward to being together in Brisbane within a week. This is going to drive me crazy, I thought, feeling like a stupid little teenager in love. Even entertaining the thought of seeing Jason again was a huge risk. I felt like I was standing on the edge of a precipice.
Jason was still unaware of my true identity—I’d maintained the story of being a sales representative living in Sydney. I knew it was impossible for me to maintain a life of deception by having an affair so I planned to finish it after seeing him just a couple more times. I flew to Brisbane for another weekend of ministry. I’d already rescheduled the itinerary so that I could spend a couple of hours with Jason. He’d given me the details to find the new flat he’d moved into and the excitement and anticipation of seeing him again increased the closer I got.
Brian, Jason’s flatmate, let me in. I felt like I knew Brian already from the times I’d called to find Jason wasn’t home and we’d spent a few moments in idle conversation about the weather, work or some other easy topic, just to be friendly. The flat was sparsely furnished with tacky second-hand furniture and had the type of wooden parquetry floor usually found in the red brick home units built in the 1960s. Attempts had been made at decorating, obviously on a budget, by covering the worn lounge with an Indian-print fabric, and a purple two-dollar, rice paper light fitting hung from the ceiling. The few pieces of furniture had also obviously been purchased from a second-hand shop. The walnut sideboard, the teak bookcase with its array of carefully arranged ornaments, the glass and wrought-iron coffee table, cookery and fashion magazines fanned out in precision, revealing an eclectic selection of reading material, and the white portable television with a twisted coat hanger for an aerial. Nothing matched.
‘He’s sleeping,’ Brian said, as he opened the door of Jason’s room. Jason slept on a mattress on the floor and as I quickly took in the surroundings I noticed the second-hand theme had been carried through to the bedroom. There was a tiny, black plastic radio/cassette player by the bed with two cassettes on the floor out of their cases. Apart from the cassettes everything else in the room was neat and tidy, even the clothes on the clothes rack had been pressed and hung in order. Shirts, trousers, T-shirts, jackets, had all been placed systematically in categories of item and colour. Brian closed the door behind me.
Jason didn’t stir as I lay on the mattress beside him. Seeing him asleep for the first time I thought he looked angelic. It was an opportunity to explore every detail of his face. I touched his forehead gently, not wanting to disturb him but also wishing he’d open his eyes and acknowledge my presence. Lying next to him with one arm propping up my head, I smiled when he stirred and watched his eyes half open. The expression on his face told me how pleased he was to see me even though his lids closed again. He moved forward, and with a warm moist kiss, made me feel like I’d arrived home.
‘Hello, darling, sorry I’m not well. I have a terrible headache,’ he said, slowly returning to the pillow and pulling me closer to his side.
‘That’s all right, you sleep,’ I responded, glad of the opportunity to just be there to look at him.
No man had ever called me darling and immediately, hearing those words, feelings of warmth surged inside me. I knew that meant I was special to him. While Jason slept for the next hour I moved away enough to see his face and explored the smooth skin, the neatly trimmed eyebrows, the perfectly shaped ears, the flawless line of his nose, the dark hair with the slightest introduction of grey, the small tuft of hair on his chest and the splattering of freckles on his shoulders and back. Occasionally I leant over, kissing him on the forehead or stroking the side of his face as I kept my vigil. Every now and then he took hold of my hand, kissed the back of it then pulled it up under his chin or next to his face. I could have stayed there forever but knew time was our enemy.
After an hour I got a little impatient, knowing I must leave. ‘Jason,’ I said, gently shaking him, ‘let’s have some lunch, I have to go soon.
’This comment was enough to encourage an effort at waking and within seconds he was on his feet. I watched every movement of his naked body as he emerged from the sheets and put on his black Chinese silk robe. He leant over, took me by the hand into the lounge-room and after giving me another delightfully moist kiss that made me want to linger for more, disappeared into the kitchen.
Our conversation revolved around general things in our lives while Jason made a snack. I endeavoured to do the impossible—eat Sao crackers without spilling a crumb while we continued to talk. No, Jason talked and I listened. I was quickly learning that Jason always had a drama story. Jason was a talker and often the only way to be involved in the conversation was to interrupt him mid-sentence with a comment.
‘There’s something I need to tell you,’ was my successful interruption. ‘I want to be honest with you about my life. I’m married and have two children.’ Jason didn’t seem at all fazed by my confession and went on to question me about how long I’d been married and how old my children were. I gave him the particulars, and observed his reactions to see if he could handle the entire story. I was still concerned about the possibility of blackmail.
‘Would you leave your wife for me?’ he responded.
What a ridiculous question, I thought. It was so casual, the way Jason had asked, as if he’d said, ‘Would you like to go for a walk in the park?’ How could he think it was even a possibility? The question was absurd. I answered it anyway.
‘No, I love my wife and children.’ Jason didn’t appear upset with my answer and said nothing more, almost like it had been a test.
It was time to leave. No sex. Just that one question reverberating in my mind, like the numbing gong of a cathedral bell. ‘Would you…?’