In the 1970s, five men struggling with being gay in their church started a Bible study to help each other leave the “homosexual lifestyle.” Seemingly overnight, they received 25,000+ letters from other people and formed Exodus International. Their “pray the gay away” movement would go on to affect millions of lives forever.
Pray Away interviews the leaders of Exodus International about the impact the nonprofit organization had on countless members of the LGBTQ community worldwide over the organization’s almost forty years of operation, as well as Julie Rodgers, a survivor of more than a decade of trauma related to Exodus’ conversion therapy.
We were doing what we thought God wanted us to do.
Randy Thomas, former Vice President of Exodus International
Director Kristine Stolakis’s goal to shed light on the leaders of the “pray the gay away” movement and the harm behind the movement, is well-portrayed within the documentary. From minute one, Stolakis sets up the central themes of the documentary, affirmation, and self-acceptance, through Jeffrey McCall, a formerly transgender man, whose cornering of people exiting a store and talking to them about the anti-gay movement brings about a very cornered feeling. Starting with Jeffrey allows space for the viewer to debate his actions, the motivations of the anti-gay movement, all before Stolakis even shows past leaders of Exodus International on camera. It’s one of the many ingenious philosophical moves Stolakis uses throughout the documentary to bring the viewer to understanding instead of hate. However, there are moments within that lean towards hate, like when Yvette talks about her conversion therapy or when the congregation is praying over Jeffrey, “casting the evil out” of him by stretching their hands towards him.
So I wanted to be Jesus’ friend. I wanted to be good.
At the same time, what Stolakis does with Rodgers…to put it plainly, her part of the documentary isn’t as well portrayed as Exodus’ or even McCall’s (who’s in it for a shorter period of time than Rodgers). It felt like as soon as Rodgers got into the more emotionally scarring things that happened to her at the behest of Exodus International, Stolakis felt uncomfortable sitting in that emotional rut of despair and helplessness. So much of what Rodgers tells us goes in one ear and out the other because we’re already learning new information, as harsh as that sounds.
We really believed that if you kept repeating it, if you kept claiming that God was changing you, He would.Randy Thomas, former Vice President of Exodus International
Furthermore, this documentary is ill-paced. With the amount of information told to the viewer in the first 47 minutes alone, a mental break would have been nice. I’m not one for suggesting improvements to anything I review, as I see it to be meaningless in the grand scheme of things. However, Pray Away‘s structure is much more conducive to a docuseries, with each episode being 45 minutes or a little longer, so that the viewer can more readily absorb the information portrayed here.
The conservative Christian lobby always needs something they can really get their constituents riled up about…Yvette Cantu Schneider, former head of Exodus’ women’s ministries and a former policy analyst and “ex-gay” spokesperson for the Family Research Council
If you would like to learn more about the anti-gay movement, Pray Away is likely the best resource you will get from a modern documentary for a long time coming. It’s everything you want in a documentary. It provides a wealth of knowledge to the viewer, provides context for said knowledge and plants an interest in the viewer to go out and do their own research about Exodus International and the “pray away the gay” movement.
Pray Away premieres on Netflix today.
Until next time!