The evangelical writer Jonathan Merritt apparently is a casualty of the Chicken Wars of 2012.
Shortly after writing this article for The Atlantic, Merritt, the son of former Southern Baptist Convention president James Merritt, was “outed” by blogger Azariah Southworth, who recounted a same-sex encounter he had with the younger Merritt in 2009. The clear implication was that Jonathan Merritt, who affirms that homosexuality is a sin, is himself a homosexual.
Merritt later told Ed Stetzer, a vice president of the LifeWay chain of Christian bookstores, that Southworth had contacted him in response to an article Merritt had wrote. They corresponded and later met for dinner when Merritt was traveling near where Southworth lived. “As we were saying goodbye,” Merritt told Stetzer,” 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.” Merritt also told Stetzer that he had been abused as a child by an older male who lived in his neighborhood.
Merritt told Stetzer he responded to the encounter with Southworth by seeing a Christian counselor, repenting for the sin in his life which led to the encounter, and beginning to share his brokenness with others. “I don’t identify as ‘gay’ because I believe there can be a difference between what one experiences and the life that God offers,” he added. “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.”
Exactly! This is the point at which most of us would be allowed to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Most of us, of course, don’t do things that inflame the passions of the gay community as part of our jobs. Merritt’s article in The Atlantic, to Southworth’s mind, deserved to be punished. So he publicly shared the details of their encounter and called Merritt a hypocrite, because he denounces homosexuality while “obviously” being gay himself.
Merritt may or may not experience same-sex attraction. That is not a sin. Scripture makes clear, though, that acting on any sexual attraction outside a marriage covenant clearly is a sin. We’re glad that Jonathan Merritt holds a high view of Scripture. The same cannot be said of homosexual activists, who apparently believe that a single encounter defines Merritt’s life, and that any suggestion he reject their definition of him is sinful.
Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge, for example, writes in Religion Dispatches, “I’d like to give Merritt some really good news – you don’t have to ‘struggle,’ because your sexual orientation is not ‘baggage’ – it’s a blessing. This idea of the Christian life as ‘struggle’ with ‘baggage’ is a ruse to keep the queers in the closet. As long as they can be convinced that living for Jesus means struggling with baggage and feeling ‘periods of depression, frustration, and confusion,’ they can keep the gay and lesbian believer from being what God intends – happy and struggle free (at least around the issue of sexual orientation).”
So the solution to dealing with sin, in the eyes of Rev. Chellew-Hodge, is to deny that it is sin. Call it a blessing instead, and you can live as though you are guilt free, whether you should feel guilt or not.
We’re glad God gave us, and Jonathan Merritt, a conscience. We have not committed the specific sins Merritt confessed to Ed Stetzer, but we have committed sins and our consciences let us know about it, but good. You might have a similar story. Pastor Rod Parsley calls the conscience the “pain detector of the soul,” and without it we’d be headlong into a depraved lifestyle, rather than serving God.
We’re sorry that Jonathan Merritt had to experience an “outing” last month but it’s not uncommon for the consequences of sin to appear long after the act. He seems to realize that, and that’s a good thing.