A gay blogger who "outed" a young evangelical last month apologized for the pain he caused. At the same time, however, he did not express regret for his action.
"I do not want to hurt him. I do not want to destroy anyone or their career," said Azariah Southworth. "But like I said, there has to be transparency and honesty from our leaders."
In a July 23 blog post, Southworth called on Jonathan Merritt to "come out."
He wrote: "Jonathan Merritt is a good man with great intentions. Jonathan pushes for a society which seeks to understand the 'other' ... I agree with his approach and I know he is being genuine in this approach. I feel though what has led Jonathan to this thoughtful and effective approach is his hope for a future where people like me and him, gay people, are no longer excluded but included in every aspect of society."
Merritt is a faith and culture writer and part of the Southern Baptist Convention. His father, James Merritt, is a former SBC president. The younger Merritt is considered part of a new breed of evangelicals who care about the environment, poverty and orphan care while being theologically conservative.
In response to Southworth's controversial blog post, Merritt decided to share his story for the first time and opened up about his past same-sex encounter.
He told Ed Stetzer, vice president of Research and Ministry Development at LifeWay, that he had "physical contact that went beyond the bounds of friendship" with Southworth one night in 2009. He also disclosed that he was sexually abused at a very young age by an older male.
Southworth, who identifies as an agnostic, faced backlash for "outing" Merritt. Both those in the LGBT community and the Christian community found the move to be insensitive.
He stated this week in a Skype interview with Hank Chen, a homosexual, that he feels "very conflicted" about what he did.
"Part of me says 'what the hell have you done?' And the other part of me says 'no, it's time that we have an honest discussion,'" the former Christian stated.
"The reason why I did this is he (Merritt) has taken a public stance on a very sensitive issue that affects me as a human being, as an American citizen and affects hundreds of thousands of other ... LGBT families. When you are taking an anti-gay stance and you're courting the LGBT community, meanwhile sleeping with Jerry Falwell and there's a kid in Omaha, Nebraska, that is having a gun in his mouth because of these messages he's hearing and you're protecting these people, something needs to be said when you're being dishonest in a certain discussion," Southworth added.
Southworth's blog post on Merritt came out days after the Southern Baptist had written commentary in The Atlantic, defending Chick-fil-A as it faced backlash from the LGBT community over a pro-traditional family statement made by Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy.
The agnostic blogger said he wishes the best for Merritt and does not expect there to be reconciliation between them.
Merritt says he does not identify as "gay" and affirms that homosexual behavior is sin. He considers his past meeting with Southworth to be part of his spiritual journey and said "it underscores the power of the Gospel to transform lives."
"I believe there can be a difference between what one experiences and the life that God offers," he said to Stetzer. "I'm a cracked vessel held together only by God's power. And I'm more sure each day that only Christ can make broken people whole."