Julie Rodgers shares story of surviving ‘ex-gay’ ministries in new book and Netflix documentary

Conversion therapy survivor Julie Rodgers at church in “Pray Away,” directed by Kristine Stolakis. Image courtesy of Multitude Films

CHICAGO (RNS) – Julie Rodgers had one hell of a trip.

Seven years ago, Rodgers was hired by the chaplain’s office at an evangelical Christian college to be a spiritual counselor for LGBTQ students on campus. In this role, she pledged to remain celibate and support the school’s belief in the “sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.”

When her views changed, she left her work and the evangelical world behind.

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Rodgers shares his story in a new memoir, “Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story” and in “Pray Away,” a documentary that premiered this week at Doc10, a documentary film festival in Chicago.

“Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story” by Julie Rodgers. Courtesy Image

“I wanted to share a story and put a human face on this experience – and a really serious experience that tried everything they suggested – in the hope that maybe the next generation of children will respond differently. homosexuals, ”she told Religion. News Service ahead of the Chicago screening.

The 35-year-old feels like she lived through interesting times: the rise of LGBTQ rights; a social media boom that has offered others a glimpse into the lives of LGBTQ people of faith; evangelical Christianity grappling with sexuality; and the evolution of her own thinking about her sexuality as a gay Christian.

“I felt responsible for offering some thoughts and just sharing what happened and what I saw,” Rodgers said.

Dating as a lesbian as a teenager in the Bible Belt met meetings at Living Hope, a ministry that taught her that God can “heal” same-sex attractions, she writes in “Outlove.”

Rodgers has been in the ministry for nearly a decade, attending meetings several times a week and living for a time with founder Ricky Chelette and his family and later at the Living Hope Recovery Home, she writes. . Chelette trained her to share what she called her “ex-gay” testimony, and she then spoke at conferences hosted by Exodus International, which at the time was the oldest and largest organization. of the so-called “ex-gay” movement. She then spoke at the Q Ideas conference, sharing her evolutionary perspective that while she couldn’t be straight, her faith demanded that she be single.

While at Living Hope, she began to hurt herself, burn her shoulders, and then heal her injuries to calm down, as she describes in both the book and the documentary. She also saw the harm that theology did to her LGBTQ friends, whose self-loathing turned into similar self-harm, as well as drug addiction and suicide attempts.

And she realized that her story was being manipulated to reinforce the views of other Christian leaders on sexuality.

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Prayer rally of members of Freedom March, a millennial-led

Prayer rally of members of Freedom March, a millennial-led “ex-gay” organization, in “Pray Away,” led by Kristine Stolakis. Image courtesy of Multitude Films

“Pray Away,” which arrives on Netflix in August, focuses on the stories of a number of former Exodus leaders who left the “ex-gay” movement and the organization before its closure in 2013. The The documentary also features Rodgers as someone who survived the movement and features Jeffrey McCall of Freedom March, a former transgender activist, as a leader of the next generation of similar ministries.

Director Kristine Stolakis said the documentary was “born out of heartbreak and love for my uncle,” who was sent to conversion therapy when he became transgender as a child. She witnessed the consequences in her uncle’s life, including substance abuse and mental health issues, and swore at film school that her first film would focus on conversion therapy and the ex-movement. LGBTQ.

Kristine Stolakis.  Photo for S72 Corporate Portraits

Kristine Stolakis. Photo for S72 Corporate Portraits

Her own Catholic education inspires her to want to leave the world in a better place, Stolakis said.

The American Psychiatric Association has since 1998 expressed its opposition to conversion therapy and any other practice that assumes that same-sex attraction is a mental disorder or that it can or should be changed.

“When I started doing research, like a lot of people, I assumed the conversion therapy movement was a thing of the past, and it’s not true,” Stolakis said.

“We know that almost 700,000 people in the United States alone have been there. We know that it exists on all the major continents of the world and we know that this movement continues today, ”she said.

Stolakis expected to be angry with the leaders of the movement while she was directing the film. Instead, she felt sad, she said, acknowledging how influenced they were by a culture of homophobia and transphobia that endures in many churches.

Rodgers’ story of finally finding love and faith as a gay Christian shows that “there is hope that you can find community and acceptance outside of this world,” Stolakis said.

“There are places that will fully accept you and fight for your rights and dignity, just as you are. And if you are someone who has been through this and you do not want to be part of a religious community, that is also OK, ”she added.

Julie Rodgers.  Courtesy photo

Julie Rodgers. Courtesy photo

Agreeing to be part of a documentary was “a crazy decision,” according to Rodgers, who joined the Episcopal Church and married marketing director Amanda Hite at the Washington National Cathedral in 2018.

She hopes people around the world will hear her story and see “the possibility of a positive future as a queer person of faith.”

Rodgers also hopes to raise awareness that conversion therapy still exists in various forms in evangelical churches, and it may not sound like what people imagine. She still hears young adults in programs like Living Hope telling her they are gay, but they can’t imagine a life outside of the conservative evangelicalism they’ve experienced.

“I think people think it’s a thing of the past so I want people to know it’s alive and thriving,” she said.

She wants other Christians to see the humanity of the LGBTQ people she has walked with.

“I think our experiences matter. Their experiences matter, their suffering matters, and if we see anything in the scriptures, Jesus is continually moved by and for those who suffer and the vulnerable, ”said Rodgers.

She also wants to humanize people who she says have hurt her and continue to hurt others, including people who have led “ex-gay” ministries. Many of these people have good intentions but have been misled by those in power, she said. Many are portrayed as fanatics or backward in public discourse, she added, but she cannot match this image with people like her own mother, whom she knows loves her.

“I think if we’re going to have some kind of healing we’re going to have to start really trying to see each other. So I wanted to do it through a story, ”she said.

Congregation praying during the testimony of Jeffrey McCall, founder of Freedom March, a millennial-led “ex-gay” organization, in “Pray Away”.  Image courtesy of Multitude Films

Congregation praying during the testimony of Jeffrey McCall, founder of Freedom March, a millennial-led “ex-gay” organization, in “Pray Away”. Image courtesy of Multitude Films

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