The young host of a Christian music television show has come out publicly as a gay man, and to his surprise he has received more encouraging support than expected from churchgoers.
"I've received literally hundreds of emails from everyone around the world and they're all encouraging," said Azariah Southworth, host of "The Remix," in an interview with After Elton, a publication on gay and bisexual men.
While many of the e-mail were also negative, 21-year-old TV host said the "amazing amount of support and encouragement has astounded me."
"I've never received so much encouragement like this, not from the Church," he added.
Southworth made his announcement last week in Out and About, a Nashville-based LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) publication. He said it was a long time coming and that he now wants to live his life honestly.
"I believe by me living my life honestly and authentically now, I am able to be a better person and a better Christian," said Southworth.
Southworth personally believes many misunderstand the Bible on what it says about homosexuality. He was inspired by the controversial 2007 documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So" which argues that the Bible is misused by fundamentalist Christians and that Scripture does not condemn homosexuality.
Another inspiration for his coming out as gay was Ellen DeGeneres, an award-winning and popular talk show host who came out as a lesbian in 1997.
He's not alone as a gay Christian, Southworth says. There are many gay people in the Christian industry, he adds, but it's "hush-hush" and they're scared to come out.
Southworth's shocking announcement came just one and a half years after "The Remix" debuted on television. The show, which takes viewers into the day in the life of popular Christian bands or solo artists, can be viewed in more than 128 million homes worldwide and averages more than 200,000 viewers weekly.
After his coming out, Southworth expects the show to be taken off the air but has yet to hear anything from his employers, he told After Elton.
His fans have also been largely mum so far. Much of the positive response he received over the past several days has come from people in the Church who have not watched his show, he said. He expects his fans will let him know they care but won't support his being gay and Christian.
"I know I will be cut off from many within the Christian community, and if so, then they didn't get the point of the life of Christ," he commented. But he hopes the faith community will not push him out for being openly gay.
"I hope that they (Christians) don't do that, because that is not who Jesus was at all," he told After Elton. "His closest friends were the prostitutes and the tax collectors and the sinners. They were the low-life people of that time. So I hope they don't do that."
Randy Thomas, executive vice president for Exodus International, which helps those dealing with homosexuality, hopes Christians will respond to Southworth with compassion, especially at a time when many view the church as anti-gay and judgmental.
"I hope that the Christian community will reach out to Mr. Southworth with the compassion of Jesus Christ as well as the truth that God deeply loves men and women struggling with this issue and longs to set us free from a life dominated by sin," he told The Christian Post.
He encourages those dealing with the issue of homosexuality to be honest and to discover a deeper understanding of God just as he did when he struggled with same-sex attraction. Then, he feels, they can be freed from sin.
"As I struggled with this issue and eventually embraced this concept, I began to find true freedom – living a life that was not dominated by same-sex attraction and making God-honoring decisions about my sexuality that aligned with His Word," Thomas said. "This complete relational shift has led to radical changes in my life and I can honestly testify to life being so much better today than sixteen years ago when I identified as gay."
Raised a Pentecostal, Southworth currently identifies himself as a follower of Jesus and does not affiliate with any denomination. He attends three different churches in Nashville, Tenn., one of which is led by a gay partnered pastor.