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July 26, 2012Culture, Interviews

Jonathan Merritt Shares His Story

Jonathan Merritt is a nationally known writer, blogger and news personality. He has written two books, Green Like God and A Faith of Our Own and has written for USAToday, the Huffington Post, and many others. He's done lots of news appearances-- the last I saw him on television was on "The O-Reilly Factor" a few weeks ago.

Recently, after Jonathan, in a piece written for The Atlantic, defended Chick-fil-A against a potential boycott by gay activists, a "gay, former-evangelical" blogger claimed he had evidence Jonathan himself was gay. In the parlance the effort was to "out him." Merritt's defense of Chick-fil-A had already exploded in the LGBT blogosphere, but this enflamed the issue as many sought to discredit Jonathan after he dared to defend Chick-fil-A.

Jonathan's views have been clear--he considers homosexual practice as sin and is not in favor of redefining marriage (about half of America agrees, btw). Such views make you a target today, regardless of your personal situation.

"Outing," in case you do not know, is the practice of revealing that a certain person is gay without his or her consent, is not an unheard of occurrence though it is not always looked on favorably within the LGBT community. My heart grieves to see such low integrity, particularly when done by a person who claims the title "Christian"--and I am deeply disappointed with a few "Christians" in the blogosphere, who, since they disagreed with Jonathan in the past, seized the moment. Sad.

Yes, Jonathan Merritt is a public figure who lives in the intersection of church and culture, and is accustomed to cars coming from both directions--which appears to be the case now. In the past I have used my blog as a way for leaders to address blogosphere issues (see this interview with Rick Warren, for example) I want to do the same today.

So, I asked Jonathan if he would take a few questions and respond to this situation for himself. He has agreed, and I welcome him to the blog today.

Q: A blogger alleges that you have not been transparent, honest or authentic about who you are because of your religious affiliation. Tell us about the situation.

A: My story begins at a very young age when an older male who lived in our neighborhood sexually abused me. The experience was followed with a tidal wave of shame and guilt so great that I never told anyone for many years. In the years following this event, I mostly stuffed the experience away and didn't deal with it. On rare occasion, oppressive thoughts would enter my mind and bring on periods of depression and questioning. I wondered why this had happened to me and what, if anything, it meant.

I decided to follow Jesus at 13 and quickly realized that this event and the confusion that followed was not my fault. God had allowed an experience of brokenness into my life even if I didn't fully understand it. Rather than run from God, I decided to walk with him in this. And, I believe that helped shape my worldview that sin can be overcome. It's through that lens that I write. And, it's through that brokenness that I try to live.

In 2009, I was contacted by the blogger 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.

Q: What happened after this?

A: When I returned home, I saw a Christian counselor to address the events in my life and sort through my childhood and what I believed God wanted for me. I also began to acknowledge to myself that I have sin in my past, sin for which I accept responsibility. Inappropriate texting, inappropriate actions are inappropriate no matter who the other party is. These were my decisions and no one else's.

It's from my brokenness, that I feel I can now be transparent, honest, and authentic about these accusations. Those close to me know I have actually been planning to share the story of my brokenness for some time. Because it is part of my spiritual journey. And because it underscores the power of the Gospel to transform lives.

Although I was unable to choose when I would share some of these painful memories, I am thankful for the opportunity to share it now. I'm thankful that I am able to make better decisions about how to handle a difficult situation. And, I'm thankful that because of grace, I can identify with those who have dealt with similar situations.

Q: How has this experience shaped you?

A: It's bred compassion in me towards others who wrestle with the baggage they carry in life. People like me who passionately pursue God--on His terms and not ours--experience incredible times of struggle along the way. I know what it is like to experience periods of depression, frustration, and confusion. And that's why I live out my calling the way I do, as best as I can, sometimes stumbling along the way.

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.

Q: How has your church leadership responded, and what is their response now?

A: I'm an active member at Cross Pointe, though I'm not on staff there. I met with our church leaders who have been incredibly supportive. They know I'm committed to living the life God demands for those who follow him. And they know that as I follow Jesus, I'm committed to pursuing his best for me, which includes the Bible's unambiguous standards for sexuality.

Q: What kind of response have you received since this blog posted?

A: Mostly emails and texts and calls from Christian friends who are reaffirming their love for me. I've been overwhelmed by this, and reminded again how important Christian community and accountability can be. That's also why I felt that it was important to tell my story. I'm committed to this journey in Christ, and I'm committed to remaining within the Christian community while maintaining valuable friendships with those who are not Christians. Sometimes this means being vulnerable and transparent when it's tough. But that's also when we can lean in and know that the truth is never something to be ashamed of and that in our brokenness we can find strength.

I am thankful that my struggles are not public discussion, but I appreciate Jonathan sharing what he has--and am praying for him in the days ahead.

Feel free to comment below, but the comment rules will be in place as always. Be sure to read them if you have not. If your comments are not posted, I don't argue nor justify my moderation policy.

Please commit to pray for Jonathan as he allows God to heal his brokenness while using him in the midst of it.

That's probably a good prayer for each of us.

Thanks for all the comments-- lots of different views expressed.

We are closing the comments now since it appears that the same comments are just being repeated, etc.

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Jonathan Merritt Shares His Story