Anti-gay videos from an ex-gay American pastor are only used by fundamentalist Christian organisations in Australia, right? Not necessarily — I remember watching them as a student at Shore School, or more correctly, Sydney Church of England Grammar School.

All week, The Sydney Morning Herald has been publishing feature stories exposing the extraordinary link between Gloria Jeans Coffees, the Pentecostal Hillsong Church and the dubious Mercy Ministries — an organisation caught up in allegations of psychological torment through exorcisms, forced submission and isolation.

The SMH journalist at the centre of the investigation, Ruth Pollard, has revealed allegations from many young women who went to the ministry seeking help and came out tormented by the fundamentalist teachings and techniques.

It seems like another world, but yesterday’s feature about the training videos had my jaw drop as it was revealed that Mercy Ministries used the same videos as a senior Divinity teacher at my school. He would, along with many of his religious colleagues, openly condemn homos-xual practice and show us the videos in class of Sy Rogers who proudly claims that “homos-xuality can be overcome”.

At one stage, I remember the teacher speaking to us one lunch-time peddling the theory that the social acceptance of homos-xuality would eventually lead to a social acceptance of paedophilia.

I don’t know whether the school, in the well heeled suburb of North Sydney uses the videos anymore, but they certainly did while I was in my formative teenage years in the mid 1990s, just ten years ago.

Would the parents of students at this elite private Anglican school believe that teachers were once using films like this to teach their wards about the evilness of homos-xuality and ways to suppress those urges?

It is easy to look upon such behaviour as character building and just part of the rough and tumble of an all-boys school which proudly defended its record in cricket, rugby and rowing. But for many others, especially those that came from the country, such messages from a respected master at the school would merely fan the existing intolerance towards gay or camp behaviour. I look back on it astonished that such material was used.

The school’s history is steeped in the Anglican tradition, with the governing council consisting of the Archbishop of Sydney who is president as well as six clergymen and six laymen elected by the Sydney Diocesan Synod plus past students.

In 1991 the school ‘reaffirmed’ its aims of stating that a boys education should be with a “Christian perspective of the world in which they live”.

It goes on to state that “regular Christian Studies teaching is undertaken by qualified lay teachers as well as the Chaplain and Assistant Chaplain. In this way, together with an emphasis on pastoral care for each boy, the School strives to develop personal integrity and sound moral character. Emphasis is given to awareness of the nature and needs of the outside community, as the idea of service is fundamental to the aims of a Christian School.”

Never in their wildest dreams do I think that the people that wrote this charter would have imagined that some staff would use training videos that are also associated with an organisation as dubious as the Mercy Ministries. 

To many, organisations like the Mercy Ministries might be a world away, but in reality it is just a step away from the mainstream – especially when organised religion is involved.

Peter Fray

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