"I don't identify as 'gay' because I believe there can be a difference between what one experiences and the life that God offers," Merritt said in an interview posted Thursday (July 26) on the blog of Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. "I'm a cracked vessel held together only by God's power. And I'm more sure each day that only Christ can make broken people whole."
Merritt, a Baptist who has authored two books and written articles for a range of publications, made the comments after a blogger claimed he had evidence Merritt was gay, following Merritt's defense of Chick-fil-A against a potential boycott by gay activists enraged by the company president's defense of traditional marriage.
In the Stetzer interview, Merritt said he was sexually abused at a very young age by an older male neighbor and, at age 13, accepted Jesus. He said he has sought to serve God through brokenness. In 2009, Merritt wrote an article encouraging Christians to love the sexually broken, and a blogger, whom Merritt did not identify, contacted him in response.
"We corresponded several times by email and text for a couple of weeks, some of them inappropriate. When I was traveling through a city near him, we met for dinner because we'd corresponded so recently. As we were saying goodbye, we had physical contact that went beyond the bounds of friendship," Merritt told Stetzer. "I was overcome with guilt, knowing I had put myself in an unwise situation. We never saw each other again and we ceased contact after a period of time."
Merritt, son of prominent Southern Baptist pastor James Merritt and a teacher at his father's church, Atlanta's Cross Pointe Church, said the church remains supportive. James Merritt is a former Southern Baptist Convention president.
"I met with our church leaders who have been incredibly supportive. They know I'm committed to living the life God demands for those who follow him," Merritt told Stetzer. "And they know that as I follow Jesus, I'm committed to pursuing His best for me, which includes the Bible's unambiguous standards for sexuality."
Bob Stith, former Southern Baptist national strategist for gender issues, said he appreciates the way Merritt has handled the issue.
"Merritt followed the appropriate steps in his journey to deal with this failure and to properly address the incidents in his past. He has put himself in the hands of his church leadership and that should be enough to satisfy those on either side of this debate," Stith told Baptist Press. "We all should be praying for Jonathan."
Stith added, "I have not always been totally comfortable with some of Jonathan's writings and comments, but Ed Stetzer makes it clear that views on the main issues concerning the church and homosexuality are solid."
Merritt said the childhood experience has been difficult to overcome.
"The experience was followed with a tidal wave of shame and guilt so great that I never told anyone for many years. In the years following this event, I mostly stuffed the experience away and didn't deal with it," he said. "On rare occasion, oppressive thoughts would enter my mind and bring on periods of depression and questioning. I wondered why this had happened to me and what, if anything, it meant.
"I decided to follow Jesus at 13 and quickly realized that this event and the confusion that followed was not my fault," he said. "God had allowed an experience of brokenness into my life even if I didn't fully understand it. Rather than run from God, I decided to walk with him in this. And, I believe that helped shape my worldview that sin can be overcome. It's through that lens that I write. And, it's through that brokenness that I try to live."
The full text of the interview is posted on Stetzer's blog at edstetzer.com/2012/07/jonathan-merritt-shares-his-st.html.
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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