Hon. Michael Kirby

A Life of Unlearning - a preacher's struggle with his homosexuality, church and faith
by Anthony Venn-Brown
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

Copyright © 2007

Copyright © 2007 - 2012 text: Anthony Venn-Brown

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