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Dismay over church event with ‘ex-gays’

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Gay rights defenders have spoken out against a church event hosting an overseas organisation that encourages people to “break free” from homosexuality.

The Southampton Seventh-day Adventist church invited members of the Coming Out Ministries, a group of “ex-gays” who “found redemption, victory, healing and freedom from homosexuality”, to lead discussions during the weeklong event.

According to the church’s promotional flyer, the discussions include topics such as “the causes of homosexuality” and “how to treat a family member, friend or co-worker that is gay”, as well as posing the question: “Can Jesus really save homosexuals from their attractions?”

The flyer features an image of a man standing before a light who has broken free of chains standing under the banner, “such were some of you”.

The Seventh-day Adventist denomination considers homosexuality a violation of God’s commandments and the practice is considered a sin.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) rights organisation The Rainbow Alliance of Bermuda said it was “disappointed” by the event. A spokeswoman said: “It is disappointing to hear that there is an effort by the Coming Out Ministries guest speakers to alter the sexual orientation of individuals.

“The event flyer claims there will be discussions on how to treat LGBTQ family, friends or co-workers. The only way to treat any of these individuals is with the respect and dignity all humans deserve. ‘Conversion therapy’ is incorrectly mentioned as a ‘treatment’.

“Groups like Coming Out Ministries promote hurtful, exploitative, alienating and other ideas about the LGBTQ community that are harmful for impressionable children, teenagers and young adults who are indoctrinated from a young age to believe that LGBTQ identities are dangerous.”

Shari-Lynn Pringle, of the Two Words and a Comma campaign, branded the event “a disservice to Christians in the LGBTQ community”.

She said: “I identify as a pansexual — I am not attracted to gender I am attracted to the personality and the person.

“This ex-gay movement is making it seem like homosexuality is a disease that needs to be treated.

“If it is a mental illness, then maybe Government should be paying for us to be cured.

“When they [members of the LGBT community] start to run into difficulties in their life, they think that their sexual orientation is the reason. But maybe the reason is because you are having to keep it hidden.

“My issue is, why did they have to bring people in when they could talk to people in Bermuda and use those funds for better things?

“They do a disservice to people who do believe and who are Christians and who are homosexual. They do a disservice to children in Bermuda who already struggle with telling their parents because nine times out of ten they are going to get kicked out of the house or beat up.”

Pastor DeJuan Tull, of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, defended the event, emphasising that the overall message that the church wanted to convey was one of love. “We are a very compassionate church, but we are committed to the biblical education of the Disciples of Christ,” he said.

“In the past, there may have been Christians who may have not manifested the right spirit towards the gay/lesbian community, so the purpose of the meetings is to bring education and present the love of Christ.

“We are trying to get the people to understand that, while we may differ, that does not prevent us from loving each other. We are teaching respect and love for all mankind — that is the purpose of the meetings.

“The Bible teaches that those who practise such things will not inherit the kingdom of heaven — it is not just limited to homosexuality, it talks about liars and fornicators. Our [guest speakers] have overcome and they are a testimony that it can be done.”

Pastor Tull said that there were no Bermudians on the panel and that the church spent minimal funds flying the overseas speakers to the Island.

Vanessa Sutcliffe said she attended one of the events with an open mind.

“I believe this event was put on with the best intention at heart,” she said. “But if they are here to inform and ‘save’ people from the ‘darkness’, why not publicly advertise and/or display in public and not just within the walls of their own church?

“Why not personally invite members from the Bermuda LGBT? I’m sure they could appreciate a local island testimony about living a LGBT lifestyle in Bermuda.

“I was mostly neutral about this event. I’m open-minded, so I really went to try and hear them out. I left unchanged. I have nothing bad to say about them because this is their belief system and seems to work for them.”

Pastor Tull said that the church reached out to the LGBT community through its church members but said that he was not aware of the Rainbow Alliance of Bermuda.

“We don’t necessarily know who they are and that is probably just my lack of research. But we asked the church at large to invite their gay friends, which they did.”

There are two further meetings at the Southampton Seventh-day Adventist Church tonight at 7.00 and tomorrow at 11am and 4pm. Pastor Tull said that all, including members of the Rainbow Alliance, are encouraged to attend.

Shari-Lynn Pringle