Monday, August 13, 2012


The Truth Will Out

"Ever since I outed an up-and-coming evangelical leader named Jonathan Merritt on my blog on July 23, one sentence has been running through my mind: I might have destroyed his life."
If you haven't been following this particularly dramatic Chick-Fil-A-related story, this essay by Azariah Southworth will bring you up to speed. [via]

53 Comments / Post A Comment

chunk lite

I have so many feelings about this! I really wish we could look at "the opposition" as humans. I think we've gotten to the point in this discussion, because it IS so personal and effects people in their real lives, that it allows us to dehumanize the "other side" a lot. I do not think the end justifies the means here -- do we really believe that the homophobic assholes are gonna change their mind b/c they find out someone who they thought was on their "side" is gay?\

I think they are just gonna feel more betrayed and angry - so how is showing the hypocrisy of one man's life, at, we can only presume, a great cost to his emotional well being, helping the discussion? It's a satisfying feeling to show him up and make him look foolish. I'm a queer person who grew up in the south, in a religious community. I even have an ex-girlfriend who is now a very conservative born again christian. I really do get it! It's a very satisfying fall from grace for your ex-lover who then turns into a hate monger... but is it actually adding to the discussion in a useful way? or is it just a revenge fantasy that we're pretending is constructive?


@chunk lite I think it could be helpful because there are SO many anti-gay activists who are closeted. And the more they realize that a ton of their fellow bigots are actually gay, the more likely they are to realize that maybe they aren't going to be Condemned By God if they reveal their true feelings.


@chunk lite I also have complicated feelings about this! Like, I am pretty fundamentally against outing people, especially considering it can have pretty serious repercussions - not just emotional but also in terms of physical endangerment. right?! but at the same time it's people in these communities that are the ones promoting violent anti-gay rhetoric so do they "deserve" to be outed, or will putting them in the cross-hairs of that rhetoric change anything?

(by the way I don't really know anything about this particular person or whether he does in fact "promote violent anti-gay rhetoric" so i apologize for my generalization and general ignorance)

My reaction was basically that I'm not okay with what this dude did (especially the graphic follow up ... not sure why that was necessary). But ... argh. I don't know. I guess I'm also not in an appropriate position to judge, being on the straight side of things.


@paddlepickle People are pretty good at believing what they want to believe but it does seem that the vast majority of the most virulently anti-gay activists are working from a position of self-loathing; one feels it MUST eventually turn the tide if they would just realize this!

dj pomegranate

@chunk lite I also have many feelings! In fact I am having hard time articulating feelings. On the one hand, I see why Azaria would feel like it was a net benefit to out him--to "help" him stop living a lie, to stop the damage that evangelical anti-gay teachings have on so many young people, to encourage transparency. And I get that as a public figure, Merritt should understand his life will be under scrutiny and people generally don't like hypocrisy. On the other hand...when is it anyone's job to out anyone else? You can't know the effect that will have on them, even if you truly believe that you are contributing to the greater good. Merritt is obviously working through a lot of baggage, even before he was outed. And everyone should have the freedom to define their own sexuality. But when your definition of your own sexuality is hurting other people...things get so murky.

On yet another hand, it's not like the evangelical community has been great about supporting the LBGT community. I think something like this was bound to happen to one of their own, sooner or later. When you create a culture war, people get hurt. So while I have personal sympathy for Merritt, I hope the evangelical community as a whole really thinks about instances like this and starts to see the real, personal, terrible effects that their anti-gay crusade has on their own children.


@redheaded&crazie I agree about the graphic follow-up -- it seemed rather gratuitous. My guess is that he got so many threatening, disbelieving emails that he decided he had to "prove" that he and Merritt did in fact have a physical, sexual encounter. He just seems smug.


@iceberg Yeah, although I'm not necessarily encouraged given that in his interview, he claims his homosexual encounters are the result of him being a "broken vessel" and seems to insinuate that the reason he likes guys is because he was sexually abused at a young age. That kind of rhetoric certainly isn't moving the cause forward. But I really do hope that over time, some of these closeted activists will have some pretty basic realizations! It actually sounds kinda like the "outer" had that experience himself.


@chunk lite I think it does add to the discussion in a useful way. It points out to people who think they don't know any gay people (or atheists, which is another major concern of mine) that they do, and that they like them. I absolutely respect the rights of private citizens to keep their orientation a secret, but he's not a private citizen. Once you choose to voice your negative opinion on a topic, that makes you fair game. I want to know what Romney paid in taxes. He has harassed other candidates for not sharing their returns in previous elections. I want to know exactly which banks have donated exactly how much to Obama, and how that correlates with a lack of prosecutions in the myriad wall street scandals. I don't think either of those things are revenge fantasies, and I don't think this is either. If you put it out there, and it turns out you're a major flaming hypocrite, you should be called out on it.

chunk lite

@paddlepickle I don't think outing people is the way to get them to reexamine years of religious indoctrinaiton. I mean, it may happen, in the same way that convicts find jesus, but I wouldn't recommend sending people to prison as a way to spread the religious word, either. I think the key to letting christian lgbts know that there is another way of looking at it. In the article, Southwork states " That ended after I watched a documentary titled “For the Bible Tells Me So,” a 2007 documentary that explains how the Bible has been wrongly interpreted to condemn LGBT people and same-sex relationships. That movie was the first gay-affirming message I actually listened to and understood, and it helped me unlearn decades of bad theology and scriptural misinterpretations"
More of those - less public outings that are intended to be shaming.


giving me life. @a

Lustful Cockmonster

While I understand the author's desire to root out hypocrisy, I just don't think it is EVER okay to do that to someone, EVER. Jonathan Merritt is an adult and is coming at his life with eyes wide open. Merritt did not ask Southworth to live a closeted life with him, or to give up what he believed in for his sake or the sake of his standing in the Christian community, in fact, how Merritt decided to continue to live his life is not really any of the author's business. I just can't get behind forcing someone's hand like that. It's way too personal. Poor form Southworth.


@Grumplestiltskin Man, I dunno. We don't have any hesitation as a society to reveal the sex lives of public figures who've, say, cheated on their wives, and Jonathan Merritt's behavior is more immoral than infidelity in my opinion; he is actively campaigning against the rights of gay people, not just hurting those close to him. I don't get why everyone doesn't approve of this, but was super stoked when we found out that that George Rekers hired a rent boy.

chunk lite

@Grumplestiltskin I totally agree. Also, I think this sort of personal attack just muddies the argument. So he is what he preaches against. Ok. what now? The homophobes who statistically MUST know gay people and have made the choice to be homphobic anyway are gonna be so taken with THIS gay guy that they change their mind? A bunch of people who already support lgbt rights can high five each other and say "closet case!" and then it's worth it? To potentially destroy this dude's life? I can't be ok with it.

chunk lite

@paddlepickle I think one of the main differences is: how many hate crimes can you think of that were because someone was a philanderer? Being a conservative, religious mouthpiece and being outed is a DANGEROUS position. You have people that are already working themselves into a hate froth over this that now feel know that you lied to them and feel foolish. I would be shocked if he wasn't getting death threats. coming out is scary enough without all of that.


@Grumplestiltskin (not to derail but your username is what I call my toddlers when they're being cranky!)

Lustful Cockmonster

@paddlepickle I totally get what you are saying 100%. He is a public figure, however, I will differentiate with the rent boy and the possible (probable?) bathroom propositioning scandal by suggesting that these men were out in public and not necessarily hiding their actions from the general world. If you are a congressman and you have a random young stranger traveling with you all the time, people are likely going to ask, so maybe that's not so private anymore, and if you are propositioning a stranger in a public bathroom, that is public and that is a stranger and sorry, you may be giving up your privacy on that one. I have to believe that in some regard, Merritt felt like he knew and trusted Southworth, and that makes this more of a violation to me.

That being said, hypocrites are the worst there is some glee in calling them out,so I totally get it. A significant part of my issues with this might be what @chunk lite said about the danger. Coming out can still be so fraught and emotionally damaging in some scenarios, add to that the very real threat of actual physical violence at the hands of terrible people, and this seems like a step too far.

But I do get it. My first reaction was that it was a terrible thing to do and Southworth overstepped, but as I think I about it more, I do understand the argument that this guy is a public figure and a giant hypocrite and is teaching gay teens (and adults) to hide who they really are and that is terrible. But I don't think it is his job to out Merritt, as much as it is his job to be the other side of that coin for those gay people to see and hear and learn from...

Lustful Cockmonster

@iceberg It is what we call my sister (very much NOT a toddler) too, she is cranky from lack of sleep way more than most people, though it is really a term of endearment at this point...


@iceberg ahhhhh me too I thought I made it up! Also, Crankenstein.

Cat named Virtute

@chunk lite On the flip side, how many hate crimes are committed because hypocrites like this are able to reap the social capital of appearing heterosexual on the backs of less-privileged, out queers?

chunk lite

@Cat named Virtute I would love to respond to this, or understand it more, but I'm not sure I understand what you mean. I know tone can be hard to convey in print, but I really do want to understand your question better. Is your question how many hate crimes happen because conservative gay men stay closeted and reap the social benefits of that? are you implying that their remaining closeted causes more hate crimes for less privileged, out queers? that there is a causal relation?

Cat named Virtute

@chunk lite My bad for being glibbish at the expense of clarity. Okay, so like this: It's not that hate crimes are committed because conservative gays stay in the closet directly, but more like, conservative gays stay in closet, reap social benefits of appearing straight (now, normally I'm SUPER dicey about equating the closet with privilege, HOWEVER I hope what I'm about to say addresses the differentiation), become part of the social machinery that makes life harder for out gays and gays who lack the social capital of being able to be a leader in a political movement (there are studies, for example, about how we almost never see working-class/poor people in political positions of power within government contexts, for example). So Merritt wants to enjoy the privileges (a gay relationship, gay sex, without risking his career and social standing) that he or at least the movement that he benefits from would deny other queer folks. Making the connection to hate crimes is indirect, but hate crimes are the result of a political and social climate that views queers as less human and less deserving of safety and respect, and I firmly believe that the right-wing assault on gay civil rights allows those bigoted beliefs to flourish.

chunk lite

@Cat named Virtute ah I see. Apologies if I was being dense. I agree with a lot of what you are saying here! Yes, in many ways appearing to be straight is a place of immense privilege! Very true! He is getting to have his cake and eat it, too, which is very problematic!

I just don't see how the statements you are making (which I largely agree with), justify the outing of this young man, who has historically written AGAINST the "clobber scriptures" regarding homosexuality in evangelical churches (I linked to the article downpage, but it's here if you want to read it http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/03/chick-fil-a-controversy-shines-light-on-companys-charitable-giving/ ).
I am not sure that this makes him much "worse" than any other closeted, conservative, religious, person. I presume you are not claiming that it is our right and duty to out people early and often to normalize lgbt lifestyles. Being queer is not a choice, but being out *is* and it's a very personal one, and I don't believe that anyone has the right to force someone's hand in this.

Cat named Virtute

@chunk lite The wrongness of outing vs the wrongness of being part of a movement that makes life shitty for queers is a debate I'm struggling with, and maybe what I think is that it's not that I feel that it's justifiable, but nor do I feel that Merritt's position is justifiable, and if my same-sex partner were part of a machine that made things shittier for outed people like us, I would probably want to out them. We like to think that we the electing public don't stand for hypocrisy in our officials, and if someone wants to engage in the behaviour that they would condemn in others, than they should be able to account for it. Maybe this is shitty of me, but I think that while I'm not okay with outing closeted people who are not a) public figures who b) are part of the homophobic right wing but c) engage in clandestine queer relationships anyways, I am okay with outing people who hit all three, and only all three, of the points.

I hear what you are saying. I really do. Maybe you are just nobler of spirit and less vengeful in the face of extreme hypocrisy (I'm saying this with sincerity, I'm not trying to be a smartass).

I also did not see the article you posted before. I will have a look, and it may well soften my stance. Admittedly, I did come out with my fight face on today.


I like the approach of gayhomophobe.com a bit better. People have to be in power actively working against gay rights to be featured, and the guy who runs it doesn't do any of the outing himself. It's more of an easy place to go to look up hypocrisy.


@schrodingers_cat 103 days, really?


@frigwiggin I'm always surprised when one person is up there for more than a month


Another thing that I think adds a layer onto this...if you're a closeted gay man with a leadership position in your community, having a drunken hookup on a business trip with a college sophomore you met on the internet is probably not the safest choice, publicity-wise.

I have no idea if Southworth is a partularly mature sophomore, but...I would not have had the contextual wherewithal to effectively think through the decision of outing someone at the age of 19.

I'm worried that my line of thinking walks perilously close to victim-blaming, but it did jump right into my mind. I'm also not sure how I feel about Southworth's decision...I think I fall somewhere near @paddlepickle and @schrodingers_cat on this one - private citizens are off-limits, but public figures who are actively working against gay rights? That, I have less sympathy.


@Ophelia also, I think, Merritt's age is really relevant. I haven't been able to find out how old he is from a quick google search at work. If Merritt is early 20s, I'd say, then I would have more sympathy. Twenty-five or more, though, and I think closet cases who advocate against homosexuality are fair game for being outed.

But, the follow-up was gratuitous, especially since (I think?) it came after Merritt had an opportunity to deny the encounter and did not.


@themegnapkin Good points, totally. I also thought the follow-up was gratuitous.



I was feeling much the same way. Southworth's account of their hookup, which Merritt does not dispute, reads as a stream of errors in judgement for someone trying to stay closeted. Not to mention the hypocrisy -- being gay is wrong, except when no one knows about it?!?


@themegnapkin Well, it appears from Wikipedia that Southworth is 26, but I can't tell for sure for Merritt. I would guess he's older than that, just because his bio says he's got 2 MDiv degrees from separate institutions.


@themegnapkin AHA: "Jonathan Merritt was headed for medical school upon graduating from Liberty University in 2004[.]"

I believe that puts him at about 30.


This particular outing sits very poorly with me. Although Jonathan Merritt is wrong to attribute his sexuality to having been abused (what a horrifying idea) and wrong to preach against gay rights etc., this outing seems self-important and self-righteous. Especially when the blogger who outed Merritt noted several times that he might have ruined his life. Why do that? Why place this man in danger? Why not contact Merritt first, and warn him, at least, giving him the choice to come out himself.


@geek_tragedy Well that is exactly what the Southworth says he wishes he would've done differently.



Ahhh! That's good but yiiikes! Merritt has already been outed. I am actually kind of concerned about his well-being, and I'm not a huge fan of homophobic Christian preachers in general. I have known gay evangelicals (and ex-evangelical queer people), all of whom faced either violence/abuse or the threat of violence/abuse when they (voluntarily) came out.


"Jonathan Merritt is a good man with great intentions. Jonathan pushes for a society which seeks to understand the “other.” He encourages conversation and relationship building over arguments and division. 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... He rides the fence because of the strong anti-gay stance his religious community continues to take."

So Southworth admires Merritt's stance on the issues but outs him based on the company he keeps? Ugh, no.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

Can we please talk about the juxtaposition of the profile pictures at the top of the article? Southworth gazing longingly, painfully at the super-smiley Merritt? I can't handle the faux-earnestness of it all.

chunk lite

Uh, legit question - I think we are all looking at this with the assumption that this "upcoming evangelist" is railing against homosexuality, but the article in defense of Chick-fil-a? Actually doesn't come off particularly strongly against lgbt peeps - it's more a statement about boycott culture? Can anyone find anymore evidence of him being a giant, public homophobe? b/c all I can find are articles about him a) being outed b)limply supporting chik-fil-a without any hateful rhetoric http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/07/in-defense-of-eating-at-chick-fil-a/260139/

chunk lite

@chunk lite also this article is especially damning to those who think that Merritt is a hate monger - he seemed to be promoting change and more positive attitudes towards homosexuality in the evangelical world. http://peterlumpkins.typepad.com/peter_lumpkins/evangelical-shift-on-gays-why-clobber-scriptures-are-losing-ground.html
The more I read about this, the more sickened I am that he got outed like this.


@chunk lite Wait, you want us to make judgments based on facts??

But yeah, reading through these links I do think there's more to this story than we'd all assumed.


@chunk lite
Would outing Merritt be okay if he had been more of a hate monger? If Merritt had been a hate monger and outing him had put him at personal risk, would the outing have been okay? Sincerely curious about your thinking; I'm not sure what I think.


@chunk lite I found his Chick-Fil-A article especially evil because it's insidiously misrepresenting what Chik-FIl-A does. He says we're just boycotting 'a company who doesn't believe what we believe', and that they donate a 'pittance' of their money to anti-gay causes. That's been the Christian Right rhetoric since this started- 'you can't boycott because they don't agree with you!', when it's not that they don't AGREE with us, it's that they're spending massive amounts of money on things we find abhorrent.

So, I think he's a douchebag. But those other articles make me think he might not be a completely hateful bigot. . .but still a douchebag.


@josiahg Yes. I personally hate hate mongers, especially right-wing hypocritical religious ones, so the vigilante justice aspect really resonates with me. Then again, I dislike most phonies. Yes, let's find out if he really does spout such rhetoric. If that's the case, I'm not very sympathetic.

chunk lite

@josiahg I'm actually not ok with outing anyone. I can't think of a circumstance where I think it's ok to force someone into a lifestyle change that is deeply personal and has profound effects on your personal relationships, and potentially endangers your safety. But I feel like I keep on seeing a lot of people thinking that the outing in this case is justified because there is a presumption that he is publicly condemning homosexuality. That outing him is his come uppance for his hateful and hypocritical rhetoric, but I can't see any evidence to support this presumption.


@chunk lite if he'd been actively campaigning against gay rights I would not have a problem outing him as a huge hypocrite. But that doesn't seem to be what he did. He's just another closeted conservative


@chunk lite In an interview the slate article links to, he repeatedly refers to homosexuality as "sexual brokenness," calls his "gay" thoughts "oppressive thoughts," and mentions the "...Bible's unambiguous standards for sexuality."

So Jerry Falwell he is not, and it's far from hate speech, but it's not a "gay people are a-ok" standpoint, either.

chunk lite

@HeyThatsMyBike Right -- in no way am I saying "this guy is really an advocate!" but he's also not campaigning against gay rights. I mean, he's obviously homophobic.

Faintly Macabre

@chunk lite His "crime" is definitely ambiguous. He doesn't seem much more homophobic than your average homophobic Evangelical Christian. (No, not all of them are homophobic, but most are to some extent.) On his twitter, some Baptist asshole even accused him of doing "takedowns" of Evangelical hatemongerers in his mainstream writing. It also gets a bit foggier if you see what he's said about homosexuality as signs of self-hatred and repression of his sexual identity instead of what he thinks about others.

Outing him might be a good thing in that it gets him and some of those around him to see the light about homosexuality, but if he's still in denial, it could also just screw him up worse. Either way, it'll probably put him in a weird place with his church (they probably won't cast him out, since he's so far blaming it on pedophiles and brokenness), unless they use him as an example of a tortured repentant sinner whose delicate relationship with Christ was perverted and mocked by secular society. Basically, this is probably bad for him in the long run, probably not enlightening to many of his fellows, and possibly bad for anti-homophobia activists.


This is never right to do to someone.

I just...I cannot see any way to justify outing another person's sexual proclivities.

(With OBVIOUS exceptions like pedophilia and violent tendencies, le DUH--but even then, it should be on an individual basis, not on an "Hey, let's tell THE ENTIRE INTERNET" level. It's the scope of this that makes me believe that Azariah is completely out of line.)


hoo boy. Yeah, I would say that I usually take a pretty hard line against outing anyone ever, with exceptions for public figures who actively work against queer rights/queer humanity. I can't tell if Merritt fits that definition. I thought his article in The Atlantic was pretty insidiously nasty, too; he's basically saying, it's not fair to "discriminate" against businesses because of their politics, but -- the Civil Rights Movement? hello? That's how we effect social change!

Also, it isn't helping me pick a side that this Southworth guy just comes off like suuuuuuuuch a juicebox -- I want to not be taking his tone into consideration, but it's proving very, very difficult.



It looks like The Hairpin Commentariate cannot reach a majority decision in judgement of this tricky moral quandary at this time. Society awaits!

Tower of Babble

Like everyone else, I have seriously mixed feelings about this. To sort them out, I made a list, because LISTS MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER.

Reasons this might be okay:
- Merritt is a public figure and should expect scrutiny of his love-life if he speaks publicly about other people's love-lives.
- Merritt was actively and hypocritically supporting a cultural and political agenda to restrict gay rights, and outing him might help undermine support for that agenda.

Reasons this might not be okay:
- Outing someone is pretty much never okay, because someone else's sexual preference is never yours to reveal.
- Two words: disproportionate consequences. Merritt doesn't sound like a frothing-at-the-mouth type; his personal contribution to the anti-gay agenda was a proverbial drop in the homophobic bucket. But outing him hurt his relationships with his community, probably his friends and family, and destroyed his personal privacy, as well as increasing his personal risk of physical attack from violent homophobes.

My personal verdict: this was not okay. But damn it's complicated.

fondue with cheddar

@Tower of Babble I have very mixed feelings too, and this is a good list.

His last quote really bothers me: "I gave him the opportunity to live life at his best." No, you didn't. He always had that opportunity, he just didn't take it. Coming out is a very personal decision, and everyone has the right to be in control of it. Maybe he was planning on coming out someday and Merritt robbed him of that. Maybe Merritt would never have come out. Is that what's best for him? Probably not. But either way, it's his decision.

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