Pray the Gay Away

Pastor Jim Venice says he can turn homos into heteros. Credit cards welcome.

The half-hour video goes on to outline several tenets of the ex-gay ministry, namely that there is no "gay gene" and that homosexuality is a treatable disorder, no different from alcoholism or depression.

Soon after that first meeting, Don signed onto Venice's regimen for sexual redemption, a process the pastor calls "filling your bowl."

The theory, which Venice says he concocted following his own conversion, maintains that before developing an attraction to the opposite sex, people must become comfortable with their God-given gender. Most people, Venice asserts, achieve this before adolescence through relationships with their parents and same-sex playmates. Those who don't have a good chance of becoming gay.

Donna Thornhill hopes her son will someday realize the 
truth: You don’t have to be gay.
Donna Thornhill hopes her son will someday realize the truth: You don’t have to be gay.
The Reverend Carol Trissell labels Venice's ministry 
"spiritual abuse" and says its ill effects take years to 
photoillustration: jennifer Silverberg
The Reverend Carol Trissell labels Venice's ministry "spiritual abuse" and says its ill effects take years to reconcile.

"At age five or six, a boy will tell himself, 'My pee-pee is not like her pee-pee, and my pee-pee is like Daddy's pee-pee, so I must be like Daddy," Venice explains. "At this time boys start learning from Dad what it means to be a man, how to be masculine and do boy things like play in the dirt, roughhouse and catch frogs, et cetera.

"For girls it's the opposite," Venice continues. "They're filling their bowl with femininity and things that are soft and pink and pretty and pajama parties and hopscotch and jump rope and Barbies and tea parties."

At each meeting, Venice asks his clients what they've done to "fill their bowl." For a man, that might be weight-lifting, fishing or catching a Cardinals game with a male friend (provided he's heterosexual).

The goal, adds Venice, is for his clients to participate in activities with heterosexual males that will reaffirm their masculinity. He calls it "buddy time," the type of child's play most people enjoyed as kids.

During his treatment, Don dropped all contacts with his gay friends, even going so far as to move from place to place to further distance himself from temptation. He also completed a twenty-week course offered through the ministry. The class, titled "Living Waters," required Bible readings, homework and weekly meetings that incorporated hymns, worship and group therapy, akin to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings.

Including his one-on-one counseling sessions, Don spent as many as twelve hours each week focused on ridding himself of homosexuality.

During each visit, Venice asks for a donation to the ministry based on 1/1,000th of the client's income. A client earning $30,000 per year, for example, pays $30 per session. Venice accepts all major credit cards.

"I want the weight of the gift to be the same across the board," the pastor explains.

The ministry took in a modest $46,000 in donations last year, according to audit records, but Venice maintains he's doubled the incoming largesse each year.

The time it takes to complete the program, Venice says, depends on how far the person has fallen. For teenagers — Jim has counseled children as young as twelve — it may be just a matter of weeks. For one of Venice's clients, a 67-year-old retiree who often services men in the stalls of an adult bookstore, it might take years.

Three years after beginning his journey away from homosexuality, Don says he's happier with himself but readily confesses to having an impure thought every now and again.

"My attraction level went down, but it didn't go away," he says. "It's a daily thing. It's not like you're going to go to a class and you're healed instantly. I'm not going to tell you that."

For Venice, though, Don represents another success story and boasts that 75 to 80 percent of people who adhere to his program eventually cleanse themselves of homosexuality.

"Let me ask you," Venice begins. "What if over the course of the year someone's attraction level went from a ten to a one or a two? Would you say that's successful? I would, and most people who continue with the program will see their attraction level eventually go down to zero."

Jim Venice was born in St. Louis to teenaged parents. He was just four years old when his father went to prison — purportedly for a crime so distressing that Venice still won't talk about it. With three baby boys to feed, Venice says, his mother worked two jobs, often leaving little Jim and his brothers with female babysitters. Twice, he claims, the sitters molested him. He declines to elaborate.

"What does it matter," he asks brusquely, "if I was molested or raped? Molestation is traumatic no matter how it's performed."

More important, says Venice, is that people understand the roots of homosexuality — which, in his mind, can be largely attributed to sexual abuse during childhood and the lack of a strong father figure.

Suffering both, Venice says he quickly became a "mama's boy" and a "sissy," traits that lingered — like his inability to throw a ball "like a guy" — long after his mother remarried.

"I never bonded with my step-/adoptive father," the pastor writes in his online testimony. "You see, the damage was already done. I didn't like men. Men were bad. I was never affirmed in my masculinity. I didn't want to be mean, rough and tough. I didn't know anything about sports."

Adolescence brought further trauma, watching girls he trusted as friends develop crushes on male classmates. Without realizing it, Venice says, he began to envy these boys, seeing them as somehow more masculine. Alone in his thoughts, he wondered: What would it be like to be one of those "cute" boys?

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