Here’s the story: Jonathan Merritt, son of former Southern Baptist Convention president James Merritt, has become something of a prominent figure among younger evangelicals, primarily because of his engagement with cultural issues such as climate change and homosexuality.
One week ago a self-identified gay
evangelical agnostic blogger by the name of Azariah Southworth publicly identified Jonathan Merritt as gay, claiming that, if the need arose, he could verify his claim with evidence. Just yesterday Southworth posted a video explaining why he decided to “out” Jonathan Merritt.
Two or three days after Southworth’s first post, Merritt responded in an interview posted on Ed Stetzer’s blog. In this interview, Merritt disclosed two things: first, that he had been sexually abused by an older man when he was a child, and second, that he did engage in sinful behavior of a homosexual nature with Azariah Southworth. He described the sin as follows:
In 2009, I was contacted by the blogger [Southworth] in response to an article I wrote about just that–that Christians must love people who experience sexual brokenness. We corresponded several times by email and text for a couple of weeks, some of them inappropriate. When I was traveling through a city near him, we met for dinner because we’d corresponded so recently. As we were saying goodbye, we had physical contact that went beyond the bounds of friendship. I was overcome with guilt, knowing I had put myself in an unwise situation. We never saw each other again and we ceased contact after a period of time.
Jonathan subsequently sought out a Christian counselor, and everything else that he said in the interview with Stetzer indicates that he has taken steps of repentance and that he is working to ensure that he remains open and accountable from now on.
Jonathan Merritt has now found himself in a public battle over his own identity. Azariah Southworth and others want him to identify himself publicly as a gay man, but Merritt disagrees:
I don’t identify as “gay” because I believe there can be a difference between what one experiences and the life that God offers. 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.
Of all the cultural and personal battles fought over homosexuality, this is the root question. So long as we make “sexual orientation” (a uniquely modern category) into the substance of one’s identity, we can be assured that our culture will continue to drift into ever-increasing sexual confusion, pulling large numbers of sexually broken church members with it into the open embrace of sin. But if we recognize, with Scripture, that our identity in Christ has nothing to do with “sexual orientation” but everything to do with the cross, the empty tomb, and the justified God-man who now reigns over the cosmos, in whose righteousness we share by faith, then there will always be hope for sexually broken people in the church, whether that brokenness takes the form of heterosexual or homosexual sin (or both).
Azariah Southworth thinks he “outed” Jonathan Merritt and forever stamped his identity according to a certain kind of sexual attraction. But Jonathan Merritt is right: he is not “gay”. He is a broken, humbled, repentant, justified sinner who is seated with Christ in the heavenly places. The ultimate “outing” will take place when Christ returns to call Jonathan’s body from the grave, making it plain before creation who Jonathan has been all this time: a son of God, adopted into the family of Abraham, and thus an heir of the world to come. Mr. Southworth, you have not “outed” anybody, for Jonathan Merritt’s identity has not been determined by any sinful act he has committed. It has been determined by the justifying verdict of God the Father, spoken through the resurrection of the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Your paltry attempt to rob him of that identity by defining him according to a sinful behavior is sheer nonsense before the divine power that has made him an heir of the kingdom. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. Who is to condemn?” (Romans 8:33-34)
I neither anticipate nor desire that one day I will occupy a position in the national spotlight, but if that ever were to happen, it would only be a matter of time before some reporter with an axe to grind would pose this question to me: “What would you do if your son ever came to you and told you that he was gay?” This question has been worn down to the point of cliche by now, but answering it remains a standard rite of passage for every prominent figure who takes on the homosexual agenda in our society.
What would I say? I would probably say something like this: “You are not gay. Your sexual brokenness no more determines who you are than my sexual brokenness determines who I am. Your identity is in Christ. You may struggle with feelings and urges that cause you to wonder who you are, but your feelings and urges do not determine reality. God determines reality.”
The greatest victory (and the most vicious lie) of the left in our current culture war is the link between homosexual behavior and personal identity. This link is what enables progressives to frame this debate as a justice issue and paint their opponents as twenty-first century Jim Crow’s. The church must not sit by and let it happen to the sexually broken people in our pews. Let us take up the weapon that God has given us, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and fight this pernicious lie:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)