Pray Away Parent Guide
This documentary asks disturbing questions about how well meaning people could do so much harm to those they were trying to help.
Parent Movie Review
There’s a simple litmus test for determining how you’ll feel about Pray Away: What do you believe about homosexuality? If you see it as an inborn, innate part of a person’s identity, this film will leave you feeling sad, angry, and vindicated. If you think homosexuality is a choice; a behavior that can be changed, then your response will likely be more complicated. You will feel challenged and you may find yourself either questioning your beliefs or marshaling arguments against the points made in the film.
Pray Away is an unusual documentary in that it isn’t investigative, rather it’s confessional in tone. Most of the interview subjects are past leaders of the ex-gay movement who are convinced that despite their good intentions, their attempts to help LGBTQ Christians go “straight” wound up being profoundly damaging. As Randy Thomas, past leader of Exodus, a leading ex-gay group says, “I’m afraid to look down at the blood on my hands.”
What makes this documentary so unsettling is the question at its heart: How did well-meaning Christians wind up leading a movement that they now see as profoundly damaging? Michael Bussee started the Exodus program as a way to expand a local support group for people who desperately wanted to be straight . As the movement grew, Bussee was joined by the charismatic John Paulk, who married a former lesbian and had two children, and by Yvette Cantu Schneider, a bisexual woman who had spent years working for the socially conservative Family Research Council. Driven by a sense of mission, they diligently proselytized Christian beliefs and outlier psychology to people desperate to become heterosexual – until the fallout of their programs became undeniable.
In a wise move, director Kristine Stolakis doesn’t just speak to the remorseful leaders but turns her camera on a woman who spent almost a decade in the world Exodus helped to create. When Julie Rodgers came out to her mother at sixteen, she was swiftly taken to the Living Hope ministry for counseling and conversion therapy. For the next nine years, her “whole entire life was structured around not being gay.” Julie became a poster child for the movement, speaking at conferences – and burning herself with cigarettes and hot metal at night.
Although Exodus has been disbanded, the ex-gay movement still flourishes in the USA and conversion therapy remains a hotly contested issue in some states. Given the contemporary relevance of this issue, it’s helpful that Pray Away spends a fair bit of time with Jeffrey McCall, a devout, soft-spoken man determined to help people escape the LGBTQ community. Once transgender, McCall lived as a woman for many years before having a religious epiphany. Now he runs the Freedom March, a charismatic movement designed to lead people to heterosexuality. However damaging this philosophy has been to the other people in the film, the movie does not criticize McCall, letting him and his followers speak for themselves without editorial comments.
This doc is not an easy film to watch. The pain, despair, and self-loathing suffered by people at the hands of those who sincerely thought they were helping is heartbreaking. The power of the movie comes from its illumination of their life stories, of what they’ve learned, and what we can learn from them. Hopefully this is a film that will broaden viewers’ perspectives and help us respect each other’s humanity.Directed by Kristine Stolakis. Running time: 101 minutes. Theatrical release August 3, 2021. Updated August 4, 2021
Watch the trailer for Pray Away
Rating & Content Info
Why is Pray Away rated PG-13? Pray Away is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for mature thematic content, brief strong language, some sexual references and brief partial nudity
Violence: A woman discusses prior episodes of self-harm. A person briefly mentions having suicidal thoughts.
Sexual Content: Sexuality is the major topic of the film, although there is no explicit detail. There is brief mention of promiscuity, pornography, and prostitution. Someone talks about people dying of AIDS and there are brief images of people in hospital beds. There is a non-explicit mention of masturbation. There are scenes of same sex couples kissing. A woman recalls a sexual assault with no detail. Two women get married. (I didn’t see the partial nudity mentioned in the MPAA’s rating so it was obviously so brief that I blinked and missed it.)
Profanity: A sexual expletive is seen in print.
Alcohol / Drug Use: There are mentions of drug use. A person is seen smoking in one scene. A person mentions getting drunk and going to a gay bar.
Page last updated August 4, 2021
Pray Away Parents' Guide
What do you believe about homosexuality? Where do your beliefs come from – family, religious leaders, life experience, discussions with others? Have you ever had a discussion with someone who holds different views on LGBTQ issues? Did you learn anything from them? Are you able to find common ground?
What do you think about conversion therapy? Do you think it can ever be effective? Is it legal in your jurisdiction? Do you think it should be banned?
Related home video titles:
Boy Erased is a movie memoir of one young man’s experience in Christian conversion therapy.