Anthony and his 'Demon'

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Anthony Venn-Brown
Joined in 2005
February 14, 2010, 13:34

I just received this from Emilia Bresciani. She is a student at UTS doing her MA and interviewed me for a writing project.

Thought this story might be helpful to some even though it is over the suggested word limit. She got a distinction for her assignment.

thanks Emilia for allowing us to post your work here.


When does the true story of a man start?

In the case of Anthony Venn-Brown it began one cold morning in 1991 when he stood before an 800-strong Christian congregation and condemned himself for his “disgraceful extramarital sins”. ‘That confession was a blessing because that day the pretend Anthony died. ’

For more than two decades Anthony had been living two irreconcilable lives. One: a loving spiritual minister of the Assemblies of God, honourable husband and father of two; and the other: a danger-seeking confused homosexual who believed he was the vessel of evil. To save his life he sought psychiatric help, rehabilitation camps and when these failed, exorcism.

Born in Sydney’s north shore in the early fifties, Anthony grew up in an Anglican family with Victorian standards, where sex, politics and religion were never discussed and homosexuality: absolutely shunned. ‘All the messages I received told me that homosexuality was a perversion, a heinous crime.’

Anthony was the youngest of three children, with two elder sisters with whom –to the chagrin of his father- he sometimes played with dolls. In his memoir about the trials and tribulations of his life, A life of Unlearning, Anthony recalls that he wanted to become a fireman or a “ballerina man” when he grew up.

Years later we sit in the comfort of his apartment in Surry Hills to discuss the transformation of his life. The sun filters through the leaves in the balcony bathing the lounge-room with soft light. He is still a handsome man, proud of his appearance –designer shirt and impeccable creases on his trousers. He moves swiftly as he makes two mugs of coffee in the island-kitchen and tells me that his love for God and his sexual identity are no longer in conflict.

His discovery follows years of pain and the suffocating prison of a bottom-of-the-barrel self-esteem. The public humiliation he endured during and after his confession kept him in emotional limbo for years. Despite his troubles Anthony has retained a candid nature. When I ask about his alleged sins he either giggles or gives me a Mona Lisa smile. I scan the language of his face as he speaks of his years of cruising the streets at night after his Evangelical tours around Australia; and of his visits to Sydney’s public toilets in the 80’s and 90’s looking for sexual relief. I find no traces of bitterness in his words or in the shape of the lines that frame the side of his lips. His gaze is clear, revealing the transparency of his feelings. I tell him that his behaviour was a sort of suicidal mission when AIDS was a prevailing threat. ‘It was more an addiction than a death wish you know,’ he shakes his head. ‘I was driven to it… like a heroin addict. But I have to say there were times I prayed I got run over by a car. I was even beaten more than once.’

‘Did you at least have pleasure having sex with strangers?’

‘Very limited. My sexual encounters with men would last 30 seconds or a minute; never any connection. No name exchange, no affection. When people like me have been tortured to repress their true nature, this thing comes out like an obsession.’

The discovery of his homosexuality was a “sentence” he found hard to deal with. ‘My world said it was wrong and I believed it. I was so unhappy with my life that I attempted suicide several times. Being gay meant I could go to jail because homosexuality was decriminalized here only in 1984.’

Prior to entering the Evangelical congregation Anthony Venn-Brown became a member of the Communist Party, something inside him was calling for rebellion. But as fear associated with the Cold War had penetrated the Australia psyche, he was terrified his activities and private life would become a target of ASIO and he quickly abandoned his affiliation. His escapades in the 70’s took a radically different path. Sporting his favourite burgundy corduroy trousers, a top hat, feathers and beads, Anthony often strutted along the trendy streets of Paddington popping in and out of art galleries and psychedelic shops fascinated by their nouvelle flair. Sometimes his penchant for adventure took him to the Domain to listen to the string of speakers most of whom spoke with unrestrained grandiloquence about politics, religion and even witchcraft. It was then when Anthony began to be interested in the Occult. He became an avid reader of Psychic Weekly and found the topic of Satanism intriguing, exciting and at the same time frightening. In search of non traditional answers he used the Ouija Board to connect with the spirit world but soon one of his experiments with domestic witchcraft backfired. Anthony and his neighbour had concocted a hex against the neighbour’s boyfriend for being “a flirt”. They managed to get a lock of his hair, buried it in the backyard whilst reciting invocations to the dark forces, and then both of them urinated on top of the spot. A few hours later the boyfriend came home possessed by an unprecedented rage and sent the neighbour to the hospital. The young Venn-Brown was forced to rethink the direction he was following and swore never again to meddle with unorthodox affairs.

His inclination for adventure and radical solutions began to fade under his need for acceptance. In his search for a community, Anthony Venn-Brown found a family in the Assemblies of God, a Christian Pentecostal movement of revivalist origin and rigid belief system. It has over 300,000 churches around the world and is the fourth largest Christian denomination worldwide. In Australia the fellowship has now changed its name to The Australian Christian Churches. ‘After a youth camp I felt this calling. I felt I wanted to serve God. The more I threw myself into the affairs of God the less I had to think about my stuff.’

Although his heart was swelling with God’s love and his mind busy with spiritual demands, his body refused to give up his homosexuality. ‘Denying your nature is denying your true story’. Anthony sought rehabilitation in mind-restructuring camps where he ended up being more food starved than sexually modified. His trips to a psychiatrist did not help and when he finally confessed to a church elder about his sexual obsessions, the clergyman told him he was sheltering a demon inside. At the age of 20 Anthony flew to New Zealand to eradicate “the demon from within” for at that time the Pentecostal movement did not hold such ceremonies in Australia. During a four hour prayer session, he allowed himself to be fastened to a wooden bench in some remote hall of New Zealand’s north island while six religious elders began to pound at his conscience. They yelled and commanded the evil of homosexuality to leave Anthony’s body. ‘It’s terrible thing for a human being to get to a place where he believes that he’s controlled by demonic powers.’

Anthony’s naivety had placed his sanity in danger. ‘Not just naivety because what’s stronger was my desperation to rid myself totally of this…thing that was inside me. It demonstrates more than anything else the enormous dissonance created by a person’s belief and their reality.’ He stares at me, ‘It was a miracle I did not go mad after that.’

Giving his power over to others to restore him to the Grace of God reinforced the strength of Anthony’s faith; however, exorcism did not come as a cure. His need to find relief in clandestine rendezvous continued. This time he kept his urges to himself in the hope that God would eventually come to his aid.

‘But why did you choose the Assemblies of God?’

‘I didn’t actually choose Pentecostalism. It was more about me having a relationship with God where Jesus was not a historical figure but somebody very real to whom I could talk every day.’

Driven by the need to be heard by God, Anthony worked relentlessly in the growth of his Evangelical movement. His faith and his ability to communicate brought him success and in a couple of years he became a youth leader, attracting the admiration of the church elders who singled him out as a promising son of the church.

For a while his activities and prominence in his congregation gave him the peace he’d been seeking in his life, and the time came when Anthony found a partner. He married Helen, a young woman of Russian background with whom he had two daughters, Hannah and Rebekah.

‘We met in the church and we were good for each other, but I loved her as much as a homosexual man can love a woman. But, and this is a recent revelation, I think I was more in love with the idea of being a husband and a father. I wanted that so much because it made my world perfect. It meant the end of my struggle and my acceptance within the church context and in the world.’

One evening soon after he turned 40, as he cruised a beat in Brisbane, Anthony met Jason. It was love at first sight. An affair began with daily phone calls and regular trips to Brisbane. ‘It wasn’t just about lust, I needed the connection, the emotional intimacy. For 22 years I gave my life to the family, to the church and then when it’s all done there is a person inside yourself who says, what about me.’

After his wife discovered the affair, Anthony confessed details of his secret life. Despite being told by the elders that he had to leave the ministry immediately, Venn-Brown felt true happiness for the first time. ‘It was the start of being me.’ Little did he know that Jason would not be ready to live with him. The moment Anthony asked Jason said no. s But Anthony did not fall apart, instead, he chose to see in Jason’s rejection a sign that God wanted him to continue with his ministry. He returned to Helen and to the church elders and begged for forgiveness asking for additional help to be rehabilitated again. He swore he wanted to maintain his links with God. The elders in return told him that if he confessed his sins before his congregation, one day, when the dust settled, he may be able to return to the ministry.

Anthony’s eyes moisten as he remembers that sombre Sunday morning at the church hall. The night before the confession he tried to throw himself off the cliff at Terrigal. ‘I was so, so traumatised that I wanted to disappear. To know that I was going to give away the last bit of self respect I had before my family was so humiliating.’

The church elders did not keep their promise. Weeks after the confession Anthony received a letter informing him that he would never be able to hold a ministry.

Life continued without the perks of his former occupation: his parishioners’ love, the car and the salary. He became a salesman, stepped away from the church and lived with restricted means. Six months later, Jason phoned and that single “hello” became the sign for Anthony to break away from the past. He packed a small bag and, after kissing his daughters before they went to school, he left home without saying goodbye.

The coffee mugs are now empty and the afternoon sun fades under the horizon leaving orange blotches in the sky. I ask Anthony whether he has any regrets. ‘I’d like to say I regretted not coming out earlier but life has valleys and detours. Mine was like the hero’s journey, you have to walk that path. My true regret is that I did not speak to my daughters before I left but the only bit of courage I had left, I used it to leave that day.’

His daughters are reconciled with him now. The book is dedicated to them. Helen is now remarried and their relationship has ended. ‘There is no time for the past in her life, she now has other children.’

After a few years in spiritual darkness, Anthony has returned to worship at Hillsong Church, a newer version of Evangelical movement and a member of The Australian Christian Churches.

‘Aren’t you upset with the lot?’

‘ I have to say that without forgiveness I wouldn’t be where I am. They are changing, I’m working on them.’

Anthony has founded the organisation, Freedom2B, and become an inspirational guide for homosexuals struggling for self-acceptance. ‘I lead a different type of community now. It’s written in the Bible that the gifts of God are irrevocable. I still have my calling.’

Nowadays he is a corporate coach and in 2007 and 2009 he was named one of the most influential gay persons in Australia by SameSame, a media website of gay lifestyle. The list includes former high court judge, Michael Kirby.

Before I take my leave I asked him about love and he blushes. ‘…a relationship would be the icing on the cake… but the cake is quite good as it is. In fact my life is…’ he giggles, ‘a fruit cake.’

2010 Emilia Bresciani Non-Fiction 57031 Biography : Anthony Venn Brown

Ann Maree
Joined in 2008
February 14, 2010, 23:13

Hi avb

Thanks so much for posting this. What an amazing story! I especially liked what you said about the gifts being irrevocable. I think Emilia did an excellent job too.

I really marvel at your forgiveness which gives me lots to think about. It’s more than that of course – it’s a great challenge to my spirit.

Many Blessings,

Ann Maree

Anthony Venn-Brown
Joined in 2005
February 15, 2010, 02:01

thanks Ann Maree…..haven’t you read my autobiography yet……I go into the aspect of forgiveness there and when it see my free to be who I am today…..a resolved person at every level. Resolved with my sexuality, faith, …..and others.

Ann Maree
Joined in 2008
February 15, 2010, 08:59

Ah …no, not yet. I’m probably the only one who hasn’t read your book. I am planning to, like with quite a few books I have waiting for me. I look forward to reading it, especially about the forgiveness part.

Anthony Venn-Brown
Joined in 2005
February 15, 2010, 15:18

OMG…..I can’t believe that……hehe.

BTW…..did you know that a number of mental health professionals use the book with clients in therapy.

Ann Maree
Joined in 2008
February 15, 2010, 19:03

Oh wow! No I didn’t know that, avb. So your book and life have far reaching healing abilities, well beyond the church. That’s great. 🙂

Joined in 2008
February 15, 2010, 21:00

I can’t recall your autobiography mentioning the Occult? It probably makes your “conversion” to Pentecostal christianity all that more wonderful, and a sign that God had definite plans for you.

Anthony Venn-Brown
Joined in 2005
February 16, 2010, 01:13

yep….that part she recorded correctly. I believe its in the second or third chapter. Different things stick in different peoples minds impacted by thier experience and where they are currently at. I guess that is why some people read it several times.

Anthony Venn-Brown
Joined in 2005
February 16, 2010, 01:25

Oh wow! No I didn’t know that, avb. So your book and life have far reaching healing abilities, well beyond the church. That’s great. 🙂

Its not something that is commonly known. People from christian background present to a psychologist or psychatrist…… order to get to the issues quicker the professional might suggest they read my autobiography….then when it raises certain issues….they talk about during the therapy sessions. I believe its called bibliotherapy.

Some people read it without a therapist and it sorts out their issues.

Ann Maree
Joined in 2008
February 16, 2010, 15:24

Yeah I often recommend books for clients and sometimes work through chapters or work books with them. It;s a great resource to have. 🙂

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