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Pray Away (2021)Pray Away (2021)

I almost didn't watch this film because I thought that it would be an angry cheap shot at an easy target. I was badly wrong. Rather, Pray Away is a deeply compassionate documentary about conversion or reparative therapy — the attempt to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity by a religious leader, a licensed counselor, or through peer support groups. The genius of the film is that it lets the original leaders of conversion therapy, who are now "survivors" of the ex-gay movement, tell their own stories. In particular, the film focuses on the oldest and largest of such groups, Exodus International, which was founded in 1976 and that closed in 2013 after its leaders acknowledged how "completely wrong" they had been in their efforts to convert gays, the "crushing realization" about the horrible damage they had done to the people they thought they were helping, and how they had "lied about their [own] continued same sex attractions" (while claiming to be "healed"). I especially appreciated the story of Julie Rodgers, a former proponent of reparative therapy, who was hired by Wheaton College to support sexual minorities on campus, and who has published a new book called Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story (2021).  Even though there were mass defections from the movement after Exodus closed, and all major medical and mental health associations have denounced conversion therapy, the movement is by no means dead. The film begins and ends with Jeffrey McCall of "Freedom March," who's a former transgender activist and now a leader in the next generation of similar ministries that continue to advocate for conversion therapy. I watched this film on Netflix.

Note: For more on this subject see the memoir by Julie Rodgers, Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story (Minneapolis: Broadleaf, 2021), 235pp. On how  Rodgers was hired by Wheaton College and then resigned, see her essay:

Dan Clendenin:

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