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August 10th, 2021

Survivor’s Reactions To “Pray Away”

I’m seeing some reactions to the documentary “Pray Away” now from survivors of conversion therapy. The main criticism looks to be the film’s focus on the leaders of the various groups showcased. There’s a lot of hurt here, wounds deeper I think than any of us who didn’t go through it will ever know, even those of us gay folk who grew up under the cold icy glare of cultural hate that came at us from all directions back in the 60s, 70s, 80s… We need to listen to them because this is their story. Because these wounds aren’t healed simply because the doors to some of these places have since closed, and their operators have renounced the practices.

The following was posted by a friend on Facebook, Jeff Harwood. I would strongly suggest that anyone who watches that film, also take time to seek out and listen to the other voices of those who were there.

Thoughts on Pray Away:

I just finished watching the documentary Pray Away. I want to document just a few of my thoughts.

1) Seeing myself on screen was painful. I completely remember that occasion. 20/20 had come to Love in Action to film interviews with some of the clients. The piece they aired was promoting and humanizing conversion therapy. At the time, we all believed we were doing the right thing. Looking at us now, all I see is a group of men who are fucking miserable. There were plenty of times while watching that I was unable to look at the screen and had to struggle to even just listen to what was being said.

2) The entire ex-gay movement, then and now, is a cult. I am disappointed that the documentary didn’t make this clearer. I am not surprised that Ricky Chelette and Anne Paulk refused to be interviewed. They are cult leaders, and they must control their narrative and how they are perceived by the members of the cult. Since they weren’t interviewed, they can now continue to play the victim and further reinforce their elitism to their followers.

3) Several times throughout the documentary individuals refer to their brokenness. I place the blame of the this squarely on the teachings of the Church Universal. You are taught from an early age that who you are at your core is sinful and heinous. (I can still quote the verses verbatim. The one that sticks with me the most is, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9) You are taught that you cannot trust yourself and that you must be circumspect of all your intentions and feelings. That teaching warps your heart and your psyche. It prepares you to fully accept that your only hope lies outside of yourself. It leaves you vulnerable and exposed. If you are part of the LGBTQ+ community, it leaves you susceptible to these cult leaders.

4) I wish that the documentary had touched more on the damage that conversion therapy does. I am disappointed that it continues the narrative of trying to humanize those who are still in leadership of the ex-gay movement. I have only seen two films that truly touch on the damage of conversion therapy, Save Me (2007) and Kidnapped for Christ (2014).

5) I am disappointed that the damage done by conversion therapy was couched in terms of spirituality. The majority of survivors are struggling with mental and emotional trauma. Many of us don’t give one flying flip-fuck about the spirituality of it all.

I am certain that I will have more thoughts in the days to come. However, this is all I have right now.

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