Bray Away: The Whiny Lament of Ex-Ex Gays
Netflix just dropped ‘Pray Away’, a documentary intent on exposing the ‘harm of conversion therapy’ as to ‘end it’; first time feature director Kristine Stolakis delivers only a meandering piece of propaganda for the rainbow set. Boring. Aren’t we all a little weary of weepy narratives spliced to become sacred LGBTQ+ scripture? Stolakis selects and spotlights the stories of former ‘ex-gays’ who found the narrow way of following Jesus abusive and now claim redemption through devotion to the rainbow gods. Been there, heard that. Not subversive enough. Give me stories about real sinners and the real God who bears sin.
Stolakis edits to support her beliefs. For her, happiness hinges on making peace with one’s LGBTQ+ self. Her only problem with ‘LGBTQ+ Christians’ is the one you have with them. Unhappiness is ‘internalized homophobia.’ Any orthodox Christian who has internalized 2000 years of Church teaching on the meaning of sex and marriage and reconciliation to one’s biological sex is sick. And sicker still for standing with others who believe the same. Stolakis seeks to reorder the Christian conscience through emotional stories. Any who interpret ‘gay’ desires or gender dysphoria as disordered needs deliverance. Her way. The broad way. Bow to the rainbow gods.
Her effort is sincere, and as she alludes in a recent interview, ‘born of love and grief’ over a family member. Apparently, Stolakis’ uncle underwent ‘conversion therapy’ for gender dysphoria then experienced addiction and anxiety as an adult. She attributes his problems to the horror of ‘conversion therapy.’ And her impetus for making ‘Pray Away.’ Poor logic. ‘Gender reassignment’ only exacerbates anxiety and addiction.
‘Pray Away’ employs the elusive device of ‘conversion therapy’ as the problem when in truth the orthodox Church is her target. Free Jesus-followers from self- hate and guilt! Drawing from ‘survivors’ of Exodus International, a grassroots ‘Jesus-people’ movement that grew globally from 1975-2012 as a peer support community for Christian adults seeking to leave homosexual identification and practice behind, the film ascribes to this rather humble evangelical organization the ‘crushing of souls’ through coercive techniques, resulting in self-harm if not suicide. (Suicide-watch extraordinaire! The film ends by appealing to all whose lives hinge on rescue from the ‘conversionists’ via an LGBTQ+ website.)
False. I helped steer Exodus throughout the 1980’s and can say without shadow that my colleagues were sincere Christians who gave all to support homosexually vulnerable peers in truth and love. We were not clinical but caring, releasing, not coercive, and extended Jesus’ mercy as to free those we served from toxic shame. We had no ‘conversionist’ techniques, as we simply accompanied our friends toward wholeness. (We valued sound therapy, but as lay persons did not do therapy.) We were young and made mistakes from which we’ve grown; I will highlight what I’ve learned in next week's blog. Overall, we loved well, grateful for this Jesus who welcomed us as we were and cast vision for clear personal identity, boundaries, and new ways of relating to others. Jesus took away our sin. Now Stolakis and her braying witnesses take away the sins of the world.
‘Pray Away’ quietly demonizes those whose consciences guide them to know and follow Jesus differently than the film’s creators. Ex-trans Jeffrey McCall of Freedom March--a fun Pentecostal force that mobilizes Christians who bear public witness to freedom from LGBTQ+ backgrounds--starts the film and reoccurs throughout it as a reminder that the ‘conversionists’ are still here, ‘still harnessing its toxic power’ (in the words of one reviewer.) Listen for the screeching strings that Stolakis employs to accompany McCall’s band of witnesses. His ethnically diverse and earthy prayer meeting ignites the film; for a moment, I was roused from the dull braying of the upper-class white ‘victims.’
Like a wolf clothed in white, ‘Pray Away’ is swathed in compassion yet stinks of a new sanctimony.
Why else would ‘Pray Away’ showcase a handful of Exodus ‘survivors’ without including anyone who loved the organization and who stands today on its core message--the God Man Jesus, not a method, freed us to leave homosexuality behind? That was Exodus' mantra, a simple truth ‘Pray Away’ fails to recognize while flinging ‘conversionists’ charges at Exodus. No-one contests them.
And could have. John Paulk, an Exodus leader in the nineties alongside then wife Anne, jaws a lot in ‘Pray Away’ about his historic unsated ‘man hunger’ for which he ditched Anne and kids in pursuit of a questionable second act. ‘Pray Away’ frames him as a victim virtuous in his authentic ‘love’ for a man half his age. Ever narcissistic, John still promotes himself as the shiniest star of the Exodus firmament. No-one from the film asked Anne for her take on things (contrary to the film's closing frames.) She is the real Paulk hero: staying true to Jesus and chastity as an ex-identified ‘lesbian’, holding the family together while initiating and leading the Restored Hope Network, a better version of Exodus. Stolakis didn’t include her or any historic voice of reason and real change.
Finally, the ‘survivors’ describe their new refuge in the rainbow community, apparently an unforgiving one which may never release them for once turning their backs on the LGBTQ+ juggernaut. And teaching men so! Now out and proud Randy Thomas describes a ‘gay’ activist who cursed him with ‘blood is on your hands!’ for his then ‘ex-gay’ position. Randy sheepishly replied; “I can’t even look at my hands...’ He repents by now calling the rainbow set ‘his people.’
The true Christian is defined by Jesus. Period. Except for fiery McCall, ‘Pray Away’ gives us a rather dull look at the braying of ‘victims’-- self-justifiers who demonize the faithful. Their faux righteousness now prevails on the planet. Give me Jesus.