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.