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; youâ€™re all over the place. What has the reaction been like?
Azariah Southworth: Itâ€™s been really amazing. Iâ€™ve received several hundred emails from people all around the world just encouraging me and supporting me. Itâ€™s been really positive.
AB: Were you surprised that itâ€™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 itâ€™s been getting, which is great because this story needs to be told.
AB: And do you think thereâ€™s been so much attention?
AS: I think because itâ€™s something that most people in this country deal with at some point with somebody that they know. Itâ€™s very common not only to struggle with your faith, but also to struggle with homosexuality or being gay and your faith. Itâ€™s a very prominent issue in our times.
AB: What spurred the decision to come out now?
AS: Well, over the past year, Iâ€™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. Iâ€™m finally comfortable being honest and open with everyone in my life. That really pushed me to the point â€“ all those experiences and the learning that I did â€“ 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, â€œThis is me. You might not agree, but this is who I am and I just want to be honest with you.â€
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 thatâ€™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 â€“ it was testimony night, or something â€“ 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 â€œthis is something you do not do, people will kill you, people will hate you and youâ€™re going to hell.â€ But when I really learned to explore it for myself, thatâ€™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 didnâ€™t get a hold of them. They know that Iâ€™m gay, however they do not know itâ€™s national headlines right now. Iâ€™ve been contacting my friends and family to let them know whatâ€™s going on, but I honestly donâ€™t know how my parents will react. I know that they donâ€™t think of being gay is right, but they still love me and accept me. They donâ€™t condemn me, but I donâ€™t know how theyâ€™re going to react to having it be a national issue now.
AB: Do you think your parents think youâ€™re going to hell?
AS: Uh â€“ I think if, you know, you asked them that, just a general question, â€œDo you believe that being gay will send you to hell?â€ I think they may agree with that, but I canâ€™t speak for them. The main point is that god loves us and does accept us and itâ€™s okay.
AB: Youâ€™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 â€œhow can this be?â€ reaction.
AS: I know thereâ€™s going to be backlash; I know thereâ€™s going to be consequences. I know there are some hard times ahead. I expect it. I anticipate it. I donâ€™t know if Iâ€™m ready for it, but I know itâ€™s coming. I donâ€™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. Donâ€™t try to change me, donâ€™t try to change others, just love us. Thatâ€™s all we ask for and let God do the rest.