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Gay Christian TV Host Lets It All Out

azariahsouthworth.jpg
Azariah Southworth’s suddenly a very public figure.

The Nashville-based Christian-television host caused a national stir this week when he came out of the closet, telling the world, “I believe by me living my life honestly and authentically now, I am able to be a better person and a better Christian.”

Obviously we couldn’t resist reaching out and having a chat with Southworth, who graciously agreed to talk shop with our editor. Those Christians sure are generous!

Read what the Indiana-born Southworth has to say about becoming an overnight celebrity, why the church should stay out of politics and whether his parents think he’s going to hell – after the jump, of course.

Andrew Belonsky: First of all, Azariah, what have the past few days been like for you? Your coming out is big news. Your face is on Huffington Post; you’re all over the place. What has the reaction been like?

Azariah Southworth: It’s been really amazing. I’ve received several hundred emails from people all around the world just encouraging me and supporting me. It’s been really positive.

AB: Were you surprised that it’s been so positive?

AS: I was surprised that it ended up being so positive, yes, but I was also surprised by the amount of response that I received and all the publicity it’s been getting, which is great because this story needs to be told.

AB: And do you think there’s been so much attention?

AS: I think because it’s something that most people in this country deal with at some point with somebody that they know. It’s very common not only to struggle with your faith, but also to struggle with homosexuality or being gay and your faith. It’s a very prominent issue in our times.

AB: What spurred the decision to come out now?

AS: Well, over the past year, I’ve gone through some experiences and long discussions with friends, especially after watching the documentary For The Bible Tells Me So. I began doing a lot of research myself about what the Bible really says about homosexuality, I finally became comfortable with who I am and with sharing that with others. I’m finally comfortable being honest and open with everyone in my life. That really pushed me to the point – all those experiences and the learning that I did – really pushed me to the point of being really confident and comfortable with who I am. Now I can come to the public and say, “This is me. You might not agree, but this is who I am and I just want to be honest with you.”

AB: I imagine that prior to seeing the movie and your life growing up, you had a different view of homosexuality?

AS: Yeah. Absolutely. I was raised in a very religious home, a Pentecostal home, where it was very condemned. It was not in any way acceptable. You were going to hell if that’s the kind of life you lived. I remember as a child, this man came into our church and he was dressed as a woman. He got – it was testimony night, or something – and he went up and gave his testimony. I remember afterwards, everyone was gathered around him, talking to him, probably trying to convert him. We found out a few days later that later that night he went home and someone was waiting for him, tied him to his bed and killed him.

AB: Oh my god.

AS: So, it was always in my mind that “this is something you do not do, people will kill you, people will hate you and you’re going to hell.” But when I really learned to explore it for myself, that’s not the case.

AB: What have your parents said about this? Did you give them a heads up and tell them about the story?

AS: I tried calling them and I didn’t get a hold of them. They know that I’m gay, however they do not know it’s national headlines right now. I’ve been contacting my friends and family to let them know what’s going on, but I honestly don’t know how my parents will react. I know that they don’t think of being gay is right, but they still love me and accept me. They don’t condemn me, but I don’t know how they’re going to react to having it be a national issue now.

AB: Do you think your parents think you’re going to hell?

AS: Uh – I think if, you know, you asked them that, just a general question, “Do you believe that being gay will send you to hell?” I think they may agree with that, but I can’t speak for them. The main point is that god loves us and does accept us and it’s okay.

AB: You’re a very interesting case because of the tension between Christianity and gay people. Do you expect any backlash? I imagine it must be hard to be gay and Christian and present that to people without getting a bewildered “how can this be?” reaction.

AS: I know there’s going to be backlash; I know there’s going to be consequences. I know there are some hard times ahead. I expect it. I anticipate it. I don’t know if I’m ready for it, but I know it’s coming. I don’t know how the church is going to react, but I want to encourage them to not only start studying what the Bible really says, but also to love me and those who are going through the same thing. Don’t try to change me, don’t try to change others, just love us. That’s all we ask for and let God do the rest.

By:           Andrew Belonksy
On:           Apr 18, 2008
Tagged: , , , , , ,

  • 26 Comments
    • TG
      TG

      For the Bible Tells Me So is available on DVD from Amazon.com. Makes a lovely Mother’s Day gift for the Christian Conservative mother who has everything!

      http://www.MySpace.com/forthebibletellsmesomovie

      Apr 18, 2008 at 1:28 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • CitizenGeek
      CitizenGeek

      Interesting interview!

      Apr 18, 2008 at 1:30 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Leland Frances
      Leland Frances

      Congrats on both a good interview, and more importantly that you did one at all. Though I’m now an extremely happy card carrying athiest, I, too, was reared in a Pentecostal culture in Indiana and know the kind of condemnation and shunning that will soon fall on Southworth.

      One of the main reasons that the LGBT movement is still SO far behind, that we are still second class citizens in most places, is that its so-called leaders have, with rare exception, chosen to ignore religion entirely or talk around it while homohating religionist have targetted us repeatedly and successfully in the majority of cases.

      This strategic insanity is driven primarily by the fact most LGBT activists come from “mainline,” rather namby-pamby denominations and have no understanding of just how dogmatic and driven Pentecostals et al., can be. Even those who were reared Catholic, nominally as dogmatic as the most extreme Protestant denominations, have done such a good job splitting themselves off from their experiences that they enter a strange kind of denial about what is still out there. One need look no farther than the rim jobs the media is giving the rabidly homophobic Pope during his US visit to know what a disconnect there is. Then some movement leaders evolve from no religious upbringing at all or the more liberal strains of Judaism. All in all, we are left with an intellectual and strategic void in fighting our worst enemy.

      Secondarily, except for Metropolitan Community Church, which still has no presence in the vast majority of the US and world, and “accepting” “straight” denominations which are rarer still, there is a huge need for an LGBT-positive outreach to those millions of people, particularly youth, who remain torn between their religious faith and their sexuality.

      Paging LOGO TV and here!: it’s time you had some programming focused on serving people like this. Not to mention the purpose it would serve in supplanting some of the intellectual/cultural crap you’re currently broadcasting.

      Good luck to Southworth!

      Apr 18, 2008 at 2:10 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • kevwyn
      kevwyn

      thank you leland! too bad there are so few opinions here about this story. if he talked about all the guys he’s gone shopping with or who he’s been seen with im sure there would be more reaction fromm all. they will have to post some shots with him standing next to chace crawford to get some attention on this story. way to go azariah wish you all the best

      Apr 18, 2008 at 2:59 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Paul Raposo
      Paul Raposo

      Brillaint interview–and interviewee–Andrew.

      Mr. Southworth is in an interesting and precarious position; he can be a bridge between two groups–gays and Christians and discuss both sides. Many people can and do this, but with Mr. Southworth’s celeb status within Christian media he has a voice that can and should be heard. Hopefully his popularity with Christian kids will cause them to feel comfortable enough to either come out as LGBTQ, or come out as pro-LGBTQ.

      Whatever happens, I hope things work out well. I’d hate to see another person become an ex-gay and I hope that Mr. Southworth’s own personal journey can help others reconcile their sexuality with their faith as he has.

      Good luck, Azariah 8^

      Apr 18, 2008 at 4:32 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • John
      John

      Wow, what an inspiring guy. I’m not religious but people like him give religion a good name!

      Apr 18, 2008 at 4:46 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Caitlin
      Caitlin

      This article really made me happy. I am no longer Christian (raised Catholic) but the closest I have ever come to reconsidering is when I have had thoughtful conversations with persons who remained steadfast to their religion despite its stated hostility towards them. I only wish this article had devoted a bit more time to what Mr. Southworth’s interpretation of the Bible was.

      Apr 18, 2008 at 7:36 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • hells kitchen guy
      hells kitchen guy

      Welcome, Azariah! now get to the gym – it comes with the package. oh, and get a copy of Christianity, homosexuality and social tolerance by Bosworth if you really want to know what the Bible say about fags.

      Apr 18, 2008 at 10:39 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Javen
      Javen

      As a gay man preparing for ordained ministry as a Master of Divinity student at Yale Divinity School, it is frustrating to see that the interviewer maintains such an uninformed and stereotypical view of Christianity. It is only shocking that an influential Christian has come out if you identify Christianity with right-wing fundamentalism, and to insist that gay Christians need to explain how they can reconcile their faith with their sexuality is to do just that. Get with the program, and quit trying to force me as a Christian into some conservative, anti-gay box.

      As for the notion that religion should not influence politics, I strongly disagree. Again, despite the distorted perception of Christianity presented here, not all Christians are pushing a conservative political agenda. Most of us in the Christian left feel a divine call to work for social justice, and yes, I will insist on linking my concern for justice with my personal religious beliefs.

      Apr 18, 2008 at 11:55 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Charley
      Charley

      He’s young, hopefully he will get over his childhood Tenneesee indoctrination and grow out of religion. It’s not a democracy when societies proclaim a king, even an imaginary one as in god or jesus.

      Apr 19, 2008 at 5:02 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • avennbrown
      avennbrown

      Good on you Azariah. Its a brave step to take. When I did it as a Pentecostal preacher 16 years ago I was not as empowered as you are. It took me 22 years to work out what it seems you’ve discovered in your mid-20’s.

      Our morality is a choice. Our sexual orientation however isn’t.

      Anthony Venn-Brown
      Author of ‘A Life of Unlearning – A Journey to Find the Truth’
      Co-convenor of Freedom 2 b[e]
      Voted one of the 25 Most Influential Gay & Lesbian Australians

      ‘A Life of Unlearning – A Journey to Find the Truth’ available in all Australian major bookstores, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. Original audio version http://www.audible.com and also on Itunes
      Download Chapter 1 ‘The Confession’ FREE http://www.anthonyvennbrown.com/book.html
      Blog http://alifeofunlearning.blogspot.com/

      Apr 19, 2008 at 8:29 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mark
      Mark

      Wow, what an inspiration !. I’ve been in a similar situation…raised in an evangelical family, got married, had kids, became a lay pastor etc. Last year I met a really special guy and realised I’d been living a lie. I came out to my wife a few months ago and she’s been really good. Last week I told my dad which was better than I though.
      I think what this guy has done is really brave..and if other Christians know their bible, they’ll know to leave the judgement up to our creator.

      Apr 19, 2008 at 8:44 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • AnotherRick
      AnotherRick

      Leland has hit the nail squarely on the head here.

      Queers need to get over an assumption that we all support the implicit anti-Christian and atheistic agenda of some. We don’t. Dumping on peoples’ faith is simply intolerance, and makes us just as stupid as ALL religious fundamentalists who invariably mis-use their scripture to oppress us.

      If we however wish to become a force to be reckoned with, we need to gain a comprehensive and contextual understanding of the Bible, and especially the New Testament life of Christ. It takes knowledge – not atheistic rhetoric – to silence homo-hating Christians, and to do it on their own terms. Ditto the Koran. And let’s not cut the Dalai Lama too much slack: he needs to condemn outright the new heterosexism creeping into Buddhism.

      And there’s nothing more pathetic than apologist gay versions of homo-hating churches: they are like bastard children licking the asses of fathers who refuse to recognize them. They lack defiant activism, and are singularly unattractive to prospective members who might wisely look for total clarity, consistency and acceptance from their religion of choice.

      Apr 20, 2008 at 3:01 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Charley
      Charley

      AnotherRick
      I disagree. A belief in the supernaturalness of the bible or koran can never be considered as real knowledge.
      It is better to educate in reasonable thought based on science, rather than “We are all gods children and he loves us, even us cocksuckers”.
      Why continue teaching homophobes about a god who isn’t there, whether you are a graduate of Yale, Harvard or a gay preacher from Tenneesee ?

      Apr 20, 2008 at 7:17 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • AnotherRick
      AnotherRick

      Charley you’re laying out a few incorrect assumptions:

      1. Any faith or belief which facilitates healing of the mind and happiness can most certainly be considered “real knowledge”, and whether or not it’s based on historical fact or pure allegory is not the point of the exercise. The function of faith is to create happiness and peace of mind, and its value isn’t determined by the origins of its teachings – supernatural or otherwise. A “leap of faith” takes one from a philosophical theology to a religious belief based on the revelation of a cosmic force to the individual. It’s incorrect to assume that faith has – or should have – anything to do with insufficient reason somehow becoming certitude.

      2. Science has a history of getting it completely wrong, in every area of science except maybe mathematics. And many advanced mathematicians believe in the existence of a higher power – based on their inability to scientifically explain the perfection of mathematics. “Reasonable thought” is not critical thinking either, and it’s no more reasonable to educate faith or philosophy using science as it is to mow the lawn with a lipstick.

      3. If you attempt to educate somebody who believes God created him or her by first telling them that God doesn’t exist, you have failed as an educator and a communicator because you have essentially told them they do not exist. You have contemptously belittled them and they are quite justified in ignoring you, and see little reason to not continue hating you. It’s quite reasonable to attempt to educate our oppressors in a language they understand, but it’s absolutely unreasonable to expect any positive outcomes by attacking their fundamental right to believe.

      Effective education depends on the educator to actually know what they are talking about. If the topic is faith and religion versus faggotry – and it ALWAYS is – then queers need to address the topic as it stands, and do so with some knowledge of faith and religion rather than atheistic rhetoric.

      The gutsy Azariah Southworth is more than worthy of our support, and his leap of faith (in coming out in such a hostile environment) is exemplary queerdom and should be universally applauded.

      Apr 20, 2008 at 10:22 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Z
      Z

      CONGRATS GAY CHRISTIAN!

      Apr 20, 2008 at 10:34 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • AJ
      AJ

      “Dumping on peoples’ faith is simply intolerance.”

      Not at all. Not all beliefs are equally worthy of merit. If you believe (as a matter of faith) that Blacks bear the mark of Cain or that Jews are the offspring of Satan, then your faith is worthy of ridicule at least and condemnation at best.

      “It takes knowledge – not atheistic rhetoric – to silence homo-hating Christians, and to do it on their own terms.”

      Knowledge alone is insufficient. One can construct a sound theological argument to justify virtually any oppressive political and social system. If all it took were a contextual understanding of the Bible, the argument would have been won long ago. Your contextual understanding of the Bible may not agree with someone else’s contextual understanding of the Bible, and that someone else will always be able to assert that your particular arguments are theologically or scripturally flawed, according to their contextual understanding.

      “A ‘leap of faith’ takes one from a philosophical theology to a religious belief based on the revelation of a cosmic force to the individual.”

      The revelation of a cosmic force? This is an assertion for which no proof can exist. It is simply an exercise in religious rhetoric.

      “Science has a history of getting it completely wrong, in every area of science except maybe mathematics.”

      This is manifestly false. Assertions without substance do not constitute evidence.

      “It’s no more reasonable to educate faith or philosophy using science as it is to mow the lawn with a lipstick.”

      This is an inappropriate and fallacious analogy.

      “If you attempt to educate somebody who believes God created him or her by first telling them that God doesn’t exist, you have failed as an educator and a communicator because you have essentially told them they do not exist.”

      One does not lead to the other. To tell someone that God does not exist is not to tell him or her that he or she does not exist. Take a course in basic logic.

      “You have contemptuously belittled them and they are quite justified in ignoring you, and see little reason to not continue hating you.”

      There is no justification whatsoever for someone to hate another person simply because that person does not believe in God or refuses to adopt any pretense of such belief.

      “It’s quite reasonable to attempt to educate our oppressors in a language they understand, but it’s absolutely unreasonable to expect any positive outcomes by attacking their fundamental right to believe.”

      Who attacked whose fundamental right to believe? One may believe whatever one wishes to believe. The critiques are directed toward the content of belief, not the right to believe.

      I commend Azariah Southworth for his courage even though I do not subscribe to his belief system.

      Apr 20, 2008 at 12:36 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • avennbrown
      avennbrown

      obviously there is great change happening around the globe in the Christian world’s understanding of homosexuality….but more importantly their attitude toward GLBT people.

      On Saturday the 1st of March 2008, at the 30th Anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, 35 Christian Ministers from the 100 Revs group joined the parade to say sorry to the GLBT community. See the video here http://alifeofunlearning.blogspot.com/

      Apr 20, 2008 at 7:05 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jaroslaw
      Jaroslaw

      I will certainly second one point made by AJ above although I think I agree with several – knowledge is NOT sufficient to talk to fundamentalist Christians. They read the Bible, pray about it and get “understanding.” Talking about the fact people were Catholic or Orthodox for centuries before the printing press was invented (and before THEIR particular brand of religion was even thought of) means nothing. The fact that for the bulk of humanity 99.9% of us couldn’t read means nothing. The fact that people with 3 PhD’s in ancient languages who have spent their entire lives discussing what the Bible means or doesn’t means nothing to them. I don’t expect to change their minds overnight or even change them at all. I can’t even get them to consider there is another point of view other than what they learn at their church. I even tried this – if no one changed their mind ever to new ideas, new concepts, women would still be property in this country and Africans would still be slaves. Like I said, that nor anything else can get through.

      God help us all.

      Apr 20, 2008 at 9:39 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • AnotherRick
      AnotherRick

      AJ you’re putting forth bits and pieces of the standard rationalist’s arguments against faith by insisting that it is unprovable, illogical and requires evidence based on your perceptions (of sufficient evidence), and whether or not it supports or refutes truth. Many would reasonably argue that the existence of faith is substantial proof in itself, and that logic and science cannot disprove it. Others would argue that reason and faith co-exist nicely. Since truth is a process of discovery it’s quite an illogical assumption to state that something is “an exercise in religious rhetoric for which no proof can exist”.

      Science IS imperfect, and the sciences are littered with examples of “substantial evidence” being later proven wrong. Faith is a philosophical assertion and as such includes equally valid evidence like eye-witness accounts and personal experiences of transformation.

      But I’m not arguing for or against faith because that argument walks hand-in-hand with intolerance, warfare and boring television. Since neither side is in possession of absolute truth – or even what consitutes truth – shifting the issue from homo-hating to apparent undermining of general faith really is an act of belligerence if perceived to be so. Didactic off-topic arguments settle nothing, and aren’t usually much more than somebody saying “I’d rather be right than be happy and I have a different agenda anyhow”.

      Of course it’s correct to say that knowledge alone is insufficient, inasmuch as knowledge only becomes education when it is communicated and understood. Perception however is not logical, and it’s simply intellectual vanity to imagine disputes will ever be resolved logically or with logic as a pre-condition. There has always been a surfeit of intellectualism around religious matters – to the point of actually obsuring and trivializing faith and morality issues. More of the same won’t help.

      Homo-hatred is a morality issue of the times and as such needs to be addressed by direct action, visibility, infiltration, appropriate shaming and legal prohibition, rather than dismissive intellectualism and apparent lack of background knowledge. Like all morals it is merely a changeable perception – albeit currently one with deadly consequences. Queers DO need to know and believe that they indeed are God’s children if they choose to be so, and that they can back up that belief with scripture. It’s foolish to discount the potential and empowerment of queers of faith, and quite reasonable to encourage queers to take back God and all religions as entitlements. It’s certainly proving to be a losing strategy by standing outside the fundamentalist action and yeah…mowing the lawn with a lipstick.

      Since Azariah Southworth’s courage is undoubtedly a part of his belief system he needs to be just commended and supported unconditionally for what and who he is – rather than having others undermine his integrity by creating a schism between his activism and his belief system.

      Apr 21, 2008 at 12:48 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Charley
      Charley

      I also commend Azariah Southworth for going against the words of homophobe Apostle Paul who wrote 2/3rds of the New Testament. First step on becoming a free thinker (atheist) away from religious dogma.

      Apr 21, 2008 at 3:45 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Charley
      Charley

      We queers are anyone else for that matter, is no more “gods children” than dinosaurs were. Get real. It’s about natural selection and evolution.

      Apr 21, 2008 at 3:53 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jaroslaw
      Jaroslaw

      Javen – working for social justice is fine. I think the interview, while perhaps narrow in your view; was referring to fundamentalist churches and the Republican party being joined at the hip.

      Apr 21, 2008 at 12:29 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • AJ
      AJ

      “Many would reasonably argue that the existence of faith is substantial proof in itself, and that logic and science cannot disprove it.”

      The existence of faith no more constitutes substantial proof of the content of faith than the existence of a dream constitutes substantial proof of the content of a dream. Unless the content of your faith can be falsified by observation, it is illogical to argue that “science cannot disprove it.” One can no more “prove” the existence of God than one can “prove” the existence of a flying teapot.

      “Science IS imperfect, and the sciences are littered with examples of “substantial evidence” being later proven wrong. Faith is a philosophical assertion and as such includes equally valid evidence like eye-witness accounts and personal experiences of transformation.”

      Responsible scientists have never claimed that science is “perfect,” but you have claimed that “science has a history of getting it completely wrong,” a claim for which you offer no evidence other than repeated assertions. Personal experiences of transformation may or may not be the result of faith, and eye-witness accounts are always subject to selection bias. You simply offer a series of assertions for the existence of a God who is incapable of speaking on his own behalf.

      “Shifting the issue from homo-hating to apparent undermining of general faith really is an act of belligerence if perceived to be so. Didactic off-topic arguments settle nothing, and aren’t usually much more than somebody saying “I’d rather be right than be happy and I have a different agenda anyhow”.

      Your perception that something is an act of belligerence does not make it so. Rational responses to religious arguments is hardly off-topic (especially given that you were the one who took it upon yourself to challenge the skepticism of another poster).

      I live in Canada, hardly a hotbed of fundamentalism. Homosexuality was decriminalized here over forty years ago, the first *religious* same-sex marriage occurred over thirty years ago, and the first *legal* same-sex marriage took place over five years ago. The countries that have been the most progressive on queer issues have been ones that are either only nominally religious or almost completely secularized. There is a distinct relationship between a nation’s religiosity on the one hand and its acceptance of GLBT rights on the other. More religion = less rights. Your ad hominem remarks aside, this is hardly an off-topic argument. On the contrary, it is vital.

      ” … rather than having others undermine his integrity by creating a schism between his activism and his belief system.”

      This again is simply another empty assertion. To suggest that affirming another person’s activism while not accepting his belief system somehow undermines that person’s integrity smacks of religious fundamentalism. It is disingenuous and illogical.

      Apr 21, 2008 at 1:51 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • mrmansonx
      mrmansonx

      My only comment on this matter is saying his head looks huge in that pic.

      Apr 21, 2008 at 10:41 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Rick Brentlinger
      Rick Brentlinger

      Azariah is one of millions of gay Christians who seek to follow God and live authentic Christian lives. The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

      Inexorably, the professing church is being forced to confront the fact that gay Christians hold positions of leadership (blessed by God) throughout the body of Christ.

      If you (the professing church) do not have the Christian grace to welcome your saved gay brothers and born again lesbian sisters into the family of God, your Christianity is not authentic.

      Rick Brentlinger
      http://www.gaychristian101.com

      Apr 29, 2008 at 11:58 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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