Liberty Christian Ministries believes gay Christians should stay celibate if they’re unable to be in a heterosexual relationship. While the organisation does not endorse "conversion therapy", some LGBT Christians believe this message is just as harmful.
Liberty is an evangelical Christian ministry that claims to offer “support, hope and education to Christian men and women who experience same-sex attraction.”
In August, the Sydney-based ministry sold tickets for a conference on the topic of “flourishing”.
In the event description, the ministry said it recognises “that being human in a fallen world means being attracted to things that are contrary to human flourishing in God.”
“During the conference, there will be practical advice on how best to persevere in faithfulness and obedience to Jesus,” the description read.
It also used the term “sexually broken” in relation to those “wrestling with sexuality”.
The Feed purchased tickets to the conference but Liberty rejected the ticket sale.
‘I thought being a Christian would cure my sexuality’
Brad* was in his 20s when he started sporadically attending Liberty conferences in the early 2000s.
He told The Feed that he believed becoming a Christian could help him “overcome” his same-sex attraction.
Brad says while Liberty doesn’t preach conversion therapy, he believes “they do all the steps leading up to it.”
“It's all about this idea of ‘sexual purity’, that you're meant to find fulfilment, in being in relationship with God,” he said.
“It's the idea of ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’. Like it's an affectation or some disorder or some brokenness within me,” he added.
“[They] inculcate people with the idea that they're not normal, that they're not approved by God. So it's still a very damaging ministry, even if it's done within the current framework.”
Brad claims that someone from Liberty referred him to a counsellor who charged him $50 for sessions in his garage.
Brad says the man-- who now works as a psychologist at an elite all-boys’ school-- told him that the reason he was gay was because of his father.
It was “very much the idea is that you grew up wanting your father's approval and you never quite got it. And therefore, at some point, your wires got crossed and you decided to seek out that missing element,” he told The Feed.
According to Brad, the counsellor terminated the sessions when he refused to send a letter to his father discussing his sexuality.
“That was devastating because I failed my own conversion therapy,” Brad said.
“He was really with a targeted agenda, which was to take me on this path,” he told The Feed.
“It was brainwashing more than it was healing and it did an enormous amount of damage.”
At the age 26, Brad claims he became chronically depressed and ended up in hospital after attempting to take his own life.
“[Being gay] is not a lifestyle, it’s a life. It took me the longest time to realise it’s not just something you do on the weekend. It’s who you are as a person.”
In a statement to The Feed, a spokesperson at Liberty said the ministry “does not support, teach or encourage so-called ‘gay conversion therapy’ or offer psychological services or counselling”.
The spokesperson said the ministry is a place “where Christians from sexual minorities will feel supported and safe to share their lives and their faith journeys with their brothers and sisters in Christ”.
Liberty offers “support to Christians with same-sex attraction in the form of seminars, discussions, bible reading and prayer,” the spokesperson said.
“We uphold the historic Christian position of God’s holy call for all Christians (including same-sex attracted Christians) for faithfulness in heterosexual marriage and for celibacy outside of heterosexual marriage,” they added.
The spokesperson said Liberty does not “condemn” or “generalise” people’s experiences of same-sex attraction.
“We affirm that all people, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, are made in the image of God and deeply loved by him,” they said.
“We believe God in Heaven is a good and loving Heavenly Father who wants the best for his children. We all strive by the power of his Spirit to trust and obey God’s teachings in the bible,” they added.
“Liberty encourages Christians to read the bible for themselves and pray in small groups and with friends.”
‘Celibacy shouldn’t be compulsory’
Karl Hand is a pastor at the LGBTI-affirming Crave Metropolitan Community Church in Sydney.
Karl's been in a committed same-sex relationship for 10 years and believes gay people shouldn’t be “required to be celibate” or bisexual people must be “required to limit themselves to straight relationships”.
He told The Feed that since the 80s, Christian churches have moved away from open hostility towards the LGBT community but these topics are still treated as “sensitive” or taboo.
“They’ve restrained themselves to speak in a way where homosexuality is seen as a sin like any other sin and ‘we want to tell people to repent of that’,” he said.
Karl says, for that reason, many religious organisations don’t want to be seen as taking a stance on LGBT issues.
“In a sense, no matter what they do, they're going to lose,” Karl said.
“If they're seen as being affirming of gay people that will mean their own organisations won’t support them as much. Most religious organisations will just avoid this topic when they can,” he added.
While organisations like Liberty do not practice conversion therapy, Karl says being welcomed by a religious organisation and later discovering that “your sexual orientation is frowned upon” can be a hurtful experience.
“Now they almost feel like they've been tricked and they invested their lives in the community but suddenly they find out ‘oh, wait, okay, so people are all saying that there's something wrong with me but they won’t say it to my face’,” he said.
But he also believes places like Liberty can provide a safe space for those who are gay and wish to remain celibate.
“There are a lot of LGBT Christians out there who want to be celibate and there’s almost nowhere for them to fit in. I think it’s very difficult for a person in that position to make any friends in the broader LGBT community,” Karl told The Feed.
“There’s a lot of people who feel they have a need for a place like Liberty because they don’t have any other community that understands them or what they’re going through,” he said.
“Shutting down Liberty would leave so many people isolated right now. I don’t think we should resent the fact that these people have a community they can belong to.”
If this story raised issues for you, help is available. Contact a crisis support service below.