The recent Chick-fil-A controversy over gay marriage took an unexpected twist when a well-known evangelical writer weighed in and then was “outed” as a closeted gay.

By Bob Allen

Southern Baptist author Jonathan Merritt admitted to a homosexual encounter in a blog interview July 26.

Merritt, a culture writer for major newspapers and magazines and author of two books, told Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research that for a “couple of weeks” in 2009 he corresponded with a gay blogger by e-mail and text messages, some of them “inappropriate.” After meeting for dinner near a city where Merritt was traveling and while saying goodbye, he said, “we had physical contact that went beyond the bounds of friendship.”

Merritt said he planned to publicly discuss his “brokenness” at some point, but an unexpected turn of events forced him to do it now. On July 20, Merritt wrote an article for the Atlantic arguing against a boycott of Chick-fil-A over the company’s support of conservative groups that oppose gay marriage. Gay blogger Azariah Southworth, who was host of a show on Christian television before coming out of the closet in 2008, then alleged in a July 23 blog that Merritt is gay.

Southworth added July 26 that he is “conflicted” about having outed Merritt, the son of former Southern Baptist Convention president James Merritt, but “what is done is done.”

“What we have now is an opportunity, an opportunity to have a discussion with transparency and honesty,” Southworth said. “So let’s do that, okay? Not the typical fear-based rhetoric, misinformation or half-truths. Let’s have real talk.”

Merritt told Stetzer that he does not identify himself as gay “because I believe there can be a difference between what one experiences and the life that God offers.” He said he remains “committed to living the life God demands for those who follow him,” including “the Bible’s unambiguous standards for sexuality.”

Merritt was formerly identified as part-time “creative director” on the staff of his father’s Cross Pointe Church in suburban Atlanta. He told Stetzer he is not on staff there but met with church leaders who were “incredibly supportive.” Merritt told Religion News Service that Stetzer’s blog “has my full comment on the matter.”

Merritt gained attention in Southern Baptist life not long after his graduation from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with his book Green Like God, which called on Christians to embrace creation care at a time when some of the Southern Baptist Convention’s most powerful leaders were questioning the science of climate change.

His second book, A Faith of our Own, says younger Christians are tired of the old culture-war battles between left and right and concerned about broader issues like creation care. In a chapter on homosexuality he writes: “Christians – myself included – have allowed our leaders to spew hatred at a community of people who are no more sinful and no less precious than the most pious. Is it any wonder that many churches have no out-of-the-closet gays attending but enough out-of-the-closet gluttons to fill up a dozen church buses?”

Merritt told Stetzer his struggles began at a young age when an older man in his neighborhood abused him sexually, prompting feelings of shame, guilt and on occasion depression. At age 13, after deciding to follow Christ, Merritt said he realized what happened to him was not his fault and adopted the view “that sin can be overcome.”