10,000 Steps, 10,000 Thank Yous

Our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, shares that with each step we take we can say, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” This is a way to practice mindfulness and gratitude. This past weekend, I took more than 10,000 steps in the San Diego Pride Parade with Deer Park Monastery and each step was taken with gratitude and love. In this post, I would like to share about that day with you.


For the first time in the Plum Village tradition, the monastics of Deer Park Monastery marched in the San Diego Pride Parade. This historical moment by the monastics sent a message of love, compassion, and acceptance to their LGBTQ brothers and sisters. The path that led us all here was not an easy one though. It came about through an unpleasant moment.

This past April, during the Wake Up! Retreat’s Q&A session, one practitioner asked if there was a place for gay and transgender people within the practice. The answer that was given by one of the monastics was very difficult to hear but it created the space to where we are now. It created an opportunity to “go home” as we say, look deep within, then share and grow as a community.

After the Q&A Session, many of us were hurting from the answer given. Seeing the hurt, Sister Mai Nghiem and Brother Phap Hai organized a LGBTQ breakout group. Many of us participated and gathered together in the Circle Garden at Deer Park to share our pain. It was in the Circle Garden where we had a sacred and holy moment. Under the tall beautiful trees, years of my own pain and anger were erased due to a simple and humbling act by Sister Mai Nghiem.

As I’ve stated in my post, I Love Jesus But I Follow Buddha, whenever I have come out to my past spiritual communities I was always met with rejection. However, when I shared my story in the Circle Garden, Sister Mai Nghiem took on our pain and suffering rather than negating it. Sister Mai Nghiem asked if she could “touch the earth” for us. I was not sure what that meant but I nodded in agreement with everyone else. At that point, Sister Mai Nghiem removed her sandals, stood up from her chair and walked to the center of the circle. Sister Mai knelt down to her knees, placed her face on the ground, and stretched out her arms before her.

This is when the healing began.

This simple, beautiful, and humble act erased the pain and anger from five years of ex-gay exorcisms, rejection by friends, rejection by family, and rejection by my past spiritual communities. It healed years of spiritual and emotional abuse. Lastly, it gave me a path out of a very dark time in my life through the practice of mindfulness.

So, my decision to drive from Las Vegas to San Diego for the Pride Parade had nothing to with anything more than wanting to be with my spiritual community for a historical moment and express my gratitude with each step I took.

Right before we entered the main street to march in the parade Sister Mai Nghiem turned to me and said, “This is a happy moment.” I couldn’t have agreed more. I was exactly where I wanted to be, filled with happiness and gratitude.

Surrounded by people with painted faces, shirtless men, large parade floats and thousands of people, I paused. A happy moment indeed.

It was not only a happy moment but a sacred moment as well. I was standing next to one of my greatest teachers, Sister Mai Nghiem, and surrounded by my community.

For me, it was a moment of victory. It was a healing moment. It was a moment filled with gratitude for her, the other monastics, for our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, our community, and our practice. In that moment, I found peace in these understandings and chose to make that my focus as I walked.

As we stepped out onto the main street to begin our march I observed everyone around me. I heard the laughter. I saw the smiles. I felt the energy of love and kindness.

With each step I said, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

With each step I felt peace.

With each step I felt togetherness.

With each step I felt forgiveness.

With each step I felt whole.

Each step was not only a step of gratitude but it was also a step towards ending the pain and suffering of others. We didn’t just march in the San Diego Pride Parade. We were walking to end the pain and suffering for all beings.

As we marched passed the angry street preachers, understanding and compassion for them grew within me. We were walking to end their pain and suffering too. Their angry shouting and cruel words are the manifestation of their pain. What they really want to say is, “I am hurting and I don’t know how to love you.” Our response simply needs to be said lovingly, “It’s okay. I am here for you.”

There is a way out of our pain and suffering.

We can all begin our journey out of it by walking mindfully.

Be love,
Azariah Southworth


I Love Jesus But I Follow Buddha

This past weekend was the most amazing weekend of my life. No exaggeration.

Let me tell you why…

One year ago, I was feeling dead inside. My spirit was dry as the desert. My brokenness was growing like an intrusive ivy beyond myself and started to overtake those around me. My shortcomings were casting a shadow over the person I was once proud to be.


A year ago, I was deep in the dark forest of unhappiness which was caused by no one else but myself. However, while watching Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, I was inspired to search for a nearby Buddhist monastery. I was hoping my results would yield a solution to my suffering. My Google search listed Deer Park Monastery in the top results. I clicked the link to learn all about Deer Park and its practice of mindfulness in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. While I was roaming around the website, I learned they were going to have a young adults retreat the following month called, “Wake Up!” I was immediately intrigued and booked my spot for the retreat that same week. That was in April of 2015. I had an incredible time but that weekend was a mere introduction to the practice and healing which I desperately needed.

I chose to return to the same retreat this year. A year later my situation is a little different because I’m no longer in a relationship but I was still trapped in the same dark forest of unhappiness; feeling alone, broken, hurt, useless and lost.

Twenty minutes before I arrived to the retreat last week, I ended an argument with a family member saying I didn’t want to speak or visit for a long time. The conversation brought up a lot of pain and I arrived to the monastery feeling very angry. When I arrived I didn’t want to speak with anyone or really even be there at that point. Shortly after arriving and setting up my tent it was dinner time. I was thankful for the required “Noble Silence” during dinner as I was still fuming from the conversation just a few hours before. That night I went to bed still feeling livid. I couldn’t stop thinking that I will probably not talk to this family member for a very long time.

The next day, after morning meditation, breakfast, and working mediation; I made my way to the monastery’s bookstore. I wanted to buy Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Living Buddha, Living Christ (partly because Oprah said she has it on her nightstand). As I was searching for the book, one of the nuns approached me and pointed to a book on the very top shelf and recommended it for me. When I raised my eyes to read the cover of the book it was titled Anger. Part of me felt caught, embarrassed, offended, but also relieved. Will this book contain a path out of my darkness? I don’t know if it’s a book that she recommends to everyone or if my anger was just that evident. I sheepishly and discreetly purchased the book but secretly couldn’t wait to begin reading it.

I made my way back to my tent and began reading the book right away. Once I started, I wanted to consume the entire book and every line which felt like a healing ointment on a fresh burn. The book was opening my eyes to how my anger is a part of me, it’s my inner child which I need to embrace. My anger is the inner child that I need to invite to sit down and eat with me, climb the mountain with me, invite to watch TV with me. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches in this book that we need to care for this child because it is a part of us. While reading this book I started to feel resolve with the anger I arrived with that weekend and I began to come out of my shell and socialize with others attending the retreat. Over the next few days I started to make connections with others. I made myself vulnerable and I began to feel a sense of purpose and belonging once again. 12321198_10207233633936897_1877970217804756762_n

On Saturday, the last full day of the retreat, there was a Q&A planned. This was our opportunity to ask any question(s) we were dying to ask a monk or nun concerning the practice. It was held in the main meditation hall. More than 100 of us gathered to sit on the floor to ask our questions and hopefully gain answers to our suffering. Some questions inquired about life after death, celibacy, but the question that stood out was about gender roles and is there a place for transgender people in this practice. All the questions were echoes from our caves of pain and suffering. This question, although I didn’t ask it, was one I was wondering about also.

The monk who was tasked with answering the question of gender roles and the place of transgender people within the practice gave an answer which raised some eyebrows, unintentionally evoked the pain which we too often ignore and cover up, yet, at the same time created an opportunity of healing I personally did not expect.

While he gave his answer you could feel the energy of the room shift. Several people got up and walked out feeling rejected again by another spiritual community. It was obvious that his answer did not sit well with the majority of the people in the room. Little did I know, this mishap was going to bring about a healing that me and many of my LGBTQ siblings desperately needed.

Personally, as I sat in the big and open mediation hall listening to his answer, I felt the pain from the messages of my past, “We love you but…”, “You’re welcome here but…”, “You can practice with us but…”. The mediation hall which once felt full of love and joy was suddenly becoming hollow. Having been rejected in the past by my faith community for being gay, I couldn’t help but feel the same despair again. It felt like the spiritual community I was willing to trust again and become vulnerable with was going to keep me locked outside. However, in the midst of all these feelings I invited the children (anger, sadness, despair, and rejection) to sit and breathe with me. Together we breathed and I put the children to bed. I chose to understand that this brother answering the question is not originally from America, English is his fourth language, and comes from a culture that has long ignored confronting LGBTQ issues. Within that context, the answer was a little easier to hear but still not easy. More than likely, it was nothing more than a cultural misunderstanding and poor choice of words. However, the familiar pain it raised was real.

After the Q&A, our day continued as planned.

After lunch, one of my new friends asked if I was going to go to the LGBTQ breakout group. “There’s a LGBTQ breakout group?” I asked. One of the nuns had planned this breakout for those who wanted to express their feelings and thoughts concerning the answer the monk gave about LGBTQ people within the practice. Without hesitation I agreed that I would be there.

Dear god. Am I glad I went.

There we were. A good number of us gathered in the circle garden sharing our stories, pain, and concerns. I shared with the group about how I went through five years of ex-gay exorcisms and am still hurting from the blunt force of rejection from my past faith community and leaders. I expressed that I wanted to trust a spiritual community again but was scared and now I wasn’t sure if I could.

As we approached the end of our sharing, the nun who organized the event shared a story with us.

The sister shared about the time she visited a Christian monastery. While she was there, a priest shared with her the story of how a woman came to him and told him about the sexual abuse she experienced by her Catholic priest. Moved by the story, and wanting to help relieve her suffering, this priest she was confessing to knelt down on his knees and kissed her feet. An act of humility and kindness which helped the woman heal from her pain. After sharing this story, the nun asked if we would allow her to touch the earth for us. Not entirely sure of what that meant or how much it would mean, I nodded in agreement with the group.

The sister, with a shaved head, wearing a long brown robe, took her sandals off, stood up from her chair, walked to the center of the circle and knelt to her knees. She slowly put her face on the ground covered in pine needles and mulch, stretched her arms out before her and she stayed there. Then, the healing began.

As she touched the earth for us, like a film, all the past rejection I received and felt from my faith leaders played in my head. All the hateful messages. The exorcisms. The manipulation. The lies. The spiritual abuse. While she remained faced down on the ground before us, the images I was seeing turned from color and faded to black and white. The messages I was hearing in my head started to become mute. The anger I didn’t even realize was there matured to forgiveness and resolve. The pain faded away. The power of the past died.

She touched the earth for us.

For me.

A leader within my new spiritual community chose to humble herself and care for us instead of ignoring and rejecting us. She chose to be the doctor who saw our suffering and offered a cure, unconditional love and kindness.

Others in the circle began to weep and cry.

This was a holy moment.

As I replay it in my head, it remains a holy moment and one I keep revisiting since it happened.

It gives me hope.

It brings me healing.

It has given me a path out of my dark forest of unhappiness.

This was, hands down, the best weekend of my life. I arrived angry, empty, and dry but I left feeling healed and full.

This is the reason I love Jesus but I follow Buddha.







Silent Genocide: LGBT in Iraq

iraqIn 2012, I was able to interview Ali Hili who heads the organization, Iraqi LGBT.

Iraq is believed to be the most dangerous place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be out. In March 2012, it was reported as many as 58 Iraqis who are gay or believed to be gay have been killed since the beginning of this year. Further, an estimated 750 gay Iraqis have been murdered in the past six years. In this episode of Faith Matters, we turn our attention to Iraq.

You can listen to the interview here:

Dear Jerry Falwell Jr. and Christians Who Agree With Him…

In case you’ve missed “Rev.” Jerry Falwell’s repulsive comments, watch this video first before reading…

Like your hero, Donald Trump, I’m going to speak my mind…

Jerry, like your father, you’re the real sodomite and the Bible agrees with me. Ezekiel 16:49 reads, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

I realize calling you and your late father a sodomite isn’t kind or compassionate but frankly, I don’t give a damn. I highly doubt my little blog and uninfluential voice will change your heart but remaining silent when confronted with your unconcerned comments about other humans is not a luxury I’m willing to partake in.

Jerry, when did encouraging your students and your broader audience to shoot Muslims become a part of Christ’s mission? Did I miss something after Matthew 22:39 when Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”???

Your arrogance, indulgence in fear, and unconcerned attitude towards people of another faith has revealed the condition of your heart. Like your father, it is full of pride and fear.

I would say that I will pray for you Jerry but I don’t pray. I will hope for you though. I hope the same for me as I hope for you… that we will continuously let go of our fears, lay down our pride, unlearn our ignorance, recognize our selfishness and embrace love for others and ourselves as the cure to our suffering.

I hope that you will be less of a sodomite and more Christ like because that’s something our world could really use, more love.

Be love,

Azariah Southworth




Franklin, You’re No Billy Graham

“We have been proud and thought we were better than any other race, any other people. Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to stumble franklin-and-billy-grahaminto hell because of our pride.” These are the words of Billy Graham documented in the 2009 book, Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South, by Steven P. Miller.

If we could juxtapose these wise words by Billy Graham with the recent words and actions of his son Franklin Graham, we would find what I believe to be two opposing messages. Billy spoke these words in 1953 as organizers were setting up ropes to keep blacks separate from whites during one of his large crusades. Billy spoke these words at a time when our nation was on the edge of advancing social justice in regards to racial equality. Billy spoke these words one year before the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Brown v. Board of Education.

Now, here we are 61 years later and Billy’s lineage, Franklin, is in the same situation. Our nation is on the edge of advancing social justice in regards to marriage equality. The United States Supreme Court is expected to rule any week now in favor of marriage equality.

Franklin has taken the reigns from his ailing father and one would assume he too would err on the side of justice and equality like his father. Right? Nope. What we’re learning is that Franklin is no Billy Graham.

Instead, Franklin is insistent on keeping the rope up at his crusade. Franklin is insistent that the LGBTQ community remains separated from his community of believers. Franklin is insistent at keeping the culture war alive. He has demonstrated that he will keep the rope of segregation up most recently by announcing that he will move his ministry’s bank accounts from Wells Fargo (because they’re supportive of LGBTQ rights) to a bank which does not support LGBTQ rights. What does this really accomplish though? The only message the LGBTQ community takes away from this (again) is they are not welcomed, accepted, and loved by evangelical Christians like Franklin Graham. Further, the only message Franklin’s followers are going to walk away with is to remain segregated from the LGBTQ community. This is the last thing we need and certainly the last thing Christ would have wanted for us.

Christ himself tore down the ropes of segregation when he called Zacchaeus, the tax collector, down from the tree. Again, Christ tore down the ropes of segregation when he told those “who are without sin” gathered around Mary Magdalene “to cast the first stone.” Lastly, Christ tore down the ultimate rope of segregation when he said that we are worthy of the Divine’s love and forgiveness.

Franklin Graham’s latest words and actions do not only not align with his father’s legacy but they do not align with the message and life of Christ whom he claims to serve.

Go ahead and move your bank accounts Franklin. It’s a free country. However, consider the message you’re sending to your followers and the LGBTQ community. Consider the ropes of segregation you’re building with your words and actions. Finally, don’t, as your father warned, “…stumble into hell because of [y]our pride.”

Be love,


Three Boundaries You Must Create When Coming Out

Do your parents believe God can still “change” you?

do-not-crossHave many of your conversations with your parents ended the same as mine, “We’re praying for you. God’s doing a work in you. He’s not finished with you yet. I believe God’s going to change you.” Although hearing this causes pain and feels like rejection, it’s important we understand it comes from a place of wanting what is best for us as their children. My response was often argumentative and the conversation was ultimately unproductive. It wasn’t until I set three boundaries that my relationship with my parents improved and our dialogue became productive.

During one of these painful conversations, I took a new approach. I decided to set the following boundaries that I hoped would improve our relationship.

1. Who I am is not up for debate.

My struggle to accept and proclaim the truth of who I am is over. Anyone who desires a relationship with me is not welcome to question this anymore than I am welcome to question any of their identities.

2. You are not allowed to tell me I can change.

No one has permission to tell me I can change. I spent the majority of my life pursuing the fairytale change some preach. The individuals who are preaching change are not the ones who have to undergo the change, therefore, they can not comprehend the impossible request. They have the choice to continue to believe the lie but there is zero space to speak with me about it any longer.

3. I will not leave my spouse behind.

If you’re like me, your parents have invalidated your LGBT identity and same-gender relationship in a variety of ways. One way is by not acknowledging the relationship between you and your significant other. Another way is by refusing to allow your significant other to participate in family gatherings. The final boundary I created was my gay identity is real and to have a healthy relationship with me, this is the reality we all must operate in. The reality is this – as a gay man in a relationship – when Christmas comes around, our families must decide if they want my partner and I present. I am no longer a one-man show, there are two of us. We’re a package deal and we can’t be sold separately.

It’s been one year since I’ve set these boundaries with my parents. Since creating these boundaries, I feel our relationship and communications have greatly improved.

I share this knowing many of you have and are experiencing the same struggle. I hope this helps you and your parents in your journey to learning to love each other in a deeper and more significant way than before.

Be love,

Azariah Southworth

A Lesson In Forgiveness

It’s no secret I blew the whistle on faith and culture writer, Jonathan Merritt, back in 2012. Since then I have been conflicted and bombarded with questions if what I did was right or out_gay_conservative_rectwrong. I’ve already responded to those questions in my article on Salon as well as in a Huffington Post interview. If you want to do your due diligence in research, you can read that post here and watch the interview here.

Tomorrow, April 1, Jonathan will release his new book, Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined. From what I’ve gathered,  this book is about experiencing the grace of God, healing, and finding freedom in living an honest and authentic life.

Since the announcement of Jonathan’s new book and the excerpt of his book being published in Christianity Today, I’ve received many emails asking me how/if I will respond. To be honest, I didn’t even want to write this post. I want to leave this situation in my past. Alas, here I am… writing about it. This post isn’t about Jonathan or me though, it’s about forgiveness. Learning to forgive myself.

The guilt and shame I felt for outing Jonathan kept me from writing for a long time. The shame made me feel like I lost my message. The guilt convinced me that I lost everyone’s respect.

Everyday, I have to choose to forgive myself for the wrongs I’ve committed. Outing Jonathan without speaking to him first is one of those wrongs. I see this moment as an opportunity in a lesson about forgiveness. When there is an opportunity to stand in your truth and demonstrate a lesson of forgiveness – it’s worthwhile. That’s why I’m writing about this situation when there is nothing more I would like than to leave it in the past.

Don’t allow your guilt and shame to prevent you from becoming your best. Choose to forgive yourself, that’s where you find freedom. Freedom will never be found in guilt and shame.

Start with this daily mantra…

I am not my failures or mistakes.

I have done wrong.

I will make mistakes.

I am worthy of love.

I am worthy of acceptance.

I am worthy.

You are worthy. We are worthy. We are all messed up but we are worthy.

Forgive yourself.

Jonathan, I’ve forgiven myself. Can you forgive me?

Be love,

Azariah Southworth




American Family Association: Let the Children Die

Yesterday, World Vision – an organization that gives aid to hungry children and their families in third world countries – announced they would recognize the same-sex marriages of their employees.

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 7.05.52 AMWorld Vision is a Christian based company whose primary donors are Evangelical Christians. As you can imagine, unfortunately, their announcement to recognize same-sex marriages made waves – tsunami size waves.

The son of Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, released a statement stating, “It’s obvious World Vision doesn’t believe in the Bible,” Franklin continued to say, “I am sickened over it.” (His statement online has been updated to use more subtle language)

For Evangelical Christians like Franklin Graham and Tony Perkins, this is like their best friend of 30 years coming out as gay. They feel betrayed, shocked, and “sickened.” What they fail to realize is this is not about them.

When I woke up this morning, I scrolled through my emails on my phone while laying in bed, like I do every morning. When I saw an email with the subject line “World Vision Compromises, Abandons Teachings of Bible” from the American Family Association (AFA), I opened it and became “sickened” myself.

In their email to more than one million supporters – the AFA instructed “Christians who support World vision” that they “should stop as should all artists and authors who raise money for them.”

The American Family Association exists to, “inform, equip, and activate individuals to strengthen the moral foundations of American culture, and give aid to the church here and abroad in its task of fulfilling the Great Commission.”

I was aghast at the instructions AFA was giving to their supporters – stop feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and being a friend to those in need. Was this not how Jesus said we would be judged? (Matthew 25:31-36) Allow me to be bold enough to say, right now, I am that crazy prophetic voice in the desert and here is what the Divine is saying to the leaders of AFA, Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins and the like, “You’re dead inside.”

Your worship is empty. Your prayers are selfish. Your heart is void of God.

This has bWorldVisionChild1een the prophetic message to the AFA, Tony Perkins, and the like for years but THIS, this is an inexcusable manifestation of their empty worship, selfish prayers, and hearts void of God.

The AFA and their supporters are asking people to make a political statement by abandoning children like Frodilite (to the left) and allow him to go uneducated, without vaccination, and without proper nutrition. Is this how the AFA goes about “fulfilling the Great Commission” as their mission statement proclaims?

When you would rather make a political statement than continue to help a poor and starving child – you have not only lost touch with reality but your heart has grown cold.

These are the words of the Divine to the AFA…

You’re dead inside. Your worship is empty. Your prayers are selfish. Your heart is void of God.

I don’t know about you but I am making my way to World Vision’s website right now and I am choosing to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and be a friend to those in need. I choose to fulfill the Great Commission.

I hope the AFA, Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins and all their friends will find their way back to love.

Be love,

Azariah Southworth



Forgiving My Ex-Gay Counselor

Three years ago I decided it was time to let go of the anger and bitterness I held towards the pastor that counseled me through five years of ex-gay therapy.

At age thirteen my parents suspected I was gay. Maybe it was playing with barbies when I was really young, kissing other boys when I was five-years-old, or gettinForgiveg excited to wear make-up for the church Christmas play that gave it away. I’m not sure what gave it away but there were a slew of stereotypical behaviors and evidence that screamed, “This child is faaaabulous!”

Whatever tipped them off, my parents scheduled a time for me to meet and talk with the pastor. They told me, “Pastor Rosene wants to speak with you after church Sunday night.” I wasn’t told why she wanted to meet with me. They made it seem like the pastor initiated the request. I thought maybe she had a prophetic word for me or she just wanted to check in and see how I was doing. I was excited to have a private moment with the Pastor. I looked up to her. I admired her.

After church that Sunday evening in October, Pastor Rosene and I made our way to the back of the church where her office was located. I remember it was October because 98 degrees was performing just fifty miles away. I remember sitting in her office, glancing at the clock and thinking, “They’re probably taking the stage at this very moment.” I was excited to be only fifty miles from my teenage crush, Nick Lachey.

Rosene asked some general questions then she shared a story with me that she saw on the news. The story was about someone who was molested as a young boy by an older man. When he grew up, he ended up molesting other young boys as well. As she shared the story, I thought that this was the life of all homosexuals, I didn’t know any better. However, I knew I was a homosexual. I’ve known that ever since I was five-years-old when my friend Elijah and I made out with each other every Sunday after church. Rosene finished the story and said, “Azariah, I feel fire behind my eyes.” This was typical spiritual lingo in our church. In this moment, it was her abstract and confusing way to say, “I know you’re gay.” I was becoming nervous, I started to feel shaky and scared. I felt a tremendous amount of guilt. I thought, if all homosexuals molest little boys like her story argued, I didn’t want anything to do with it. I thought I could change and she could help. Tears flooded my eyes and like the ugly crier I am, I confessed for the first time in my life, “I-I-I’m g-g-g-gay.” At this point, the only way I could breathe was with big gasps of air.

That night in October was the first of many nights we attempted to rid myself of homosexuality through pentecostal style exorcisms and unlicensed counseling. The pain and torment this counseling caused was tremendous. I was being asked to deny who I am and be something artificial. There were many times I wanted to kill myself. I remember one night in my room, I wrote a goodbye letter to my family, I pushed the dresser against the door and had a knife in my hand. I gently pressed the blade against the skin of my forearm to get an idea of what the pain would feel like. I wanted to know what to expect. There were two serious moments – while I was receiving ex-gay therapy – when I had everything set up and I Ex-Gay-Therapy-Switch-285x300was ready to end my life.

I wanted the same-sex attraction to end but God wasn’t answering my tear filled prayers and the ex-gay counseling wasn’t making the feelings go away. I thought the only way out was to end my life. Looking back, had I been empowered to live my life authentically and honestly, this torment would have never happened.

After coming out in 2008, I had a lot of bitterness and resentment towards Rosene. I would often talk poorly of her and the church. I was very critical and cynical of Christians. I had a growing animosity towards Christians and only wished ill feelings towards them. However, in the fall of 2010 I was ready to move on and let it go. I realized harboring that animosity was doing nothing more than hurting me, causing me to live in the past, and hindering me from being whole.

After not speaking for years, I called Rosene. She sounded happy to hear from me. I told her I wanted to come in and speak with her. We scheduled a time to meet for the following week.

I hadn’t been to the church in years. I walked in the side door, made my way through the kitchen and found Rosene walking up the hallway. She no longer had the big puffy hair, instead, she had it pulled back in a pony tail. Other than that, everything about the church and her was the same as before. We went into the nursery room and sat down. After catching up for a little while, I told her why I came. “I’m here because I want to tell you that I forgive you. You don’t know this, but those years that you counseled me to become ex-gay caused me a lot of unintentional pain and torment.” I explained how it caused me pain and that I was suicidal during that time. She was quiet and listened. When I finished speaking she began to share. “Azariah, I have been doing this for many years. I know the spiritual world. This is like the student trying to teach the teacher. You’re the student and I’m the teacher.”

Boom! There it was! I was set free! Eleven years after the counseling started, I FINALLY felt set free. God had finally answered my prayer. “You’re the student and I’m the teacher,” she argued. In that moment, I realized what she was doing. She was negating my life experience and attempting to position herself in a place of power and influence over me once again. However, I wised up too much and her game was over.

I remember that moment from three years ago very well. I remember the feeling of being set free by choosing to forgive her. That moment is still very real for me to this day.

For the thousands who have gone through ex-gay therapy, the pain we experienced was excruciating. It’s unforgettable. I want to encourage you, when you’re ready, choose to forgive. Whether you meet face-to-face with the person/s who did it to you, you write them a letter, or you go into the wilderness to scream out the pain. Whatever you do, let it out. I promise you that forgiveness, as difficult as it is, WILL be the key that sets you free.

If Pastor Rosene reads this…

The Divine is trying to teach you that your capacity to love and accept the Samaritans of today’s society is bigger than you’re allowing it to be. Pause. Reflect. Choose to grow.

Be love,

Azariah Southworth

[Samaritans were despised by the Jews in the Bible. They were considered unclean and the lowest of society in that time by the Jews.]

Fred Phelps, You’re Loved

The media is reporting that Fred Phelps is near death. As Fred prepares to leave this earth, let us not speak words of hate, but rather let us consider the power of love. “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.” 1 John 4:18

In May 2010, Ray Boltz and I were in Long Beach, California as part of our national tour, Living True, and so was the Phelps family of Westboro Baptist Church.Fred Phelps, You're Loved

The Westboro Baptist Church  primarily consists of the Phelps family. They’re famous for protesting American soldiers funerals and gay events, such as the one Ray and I were attending. Their signs such as, “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers” have infuriated people all over the world. Their hateful message has even led to a lawsuit which ended up before the Supreme Court.

I heard the Phelps family would be in Long Beach the same weekend as Ray and I, but I didn’t expect them to be outside my hotel.

When I woke up that Saturday morning, I heard shouting outside my hotel room. I went over to the window and pulled back the curtain. There they were, ten stories below me, with their infamous signs in tow.

I immediately became excited. I had wanted to meet the Phelps family for years. There were so many things I’d thought about saying to them. However, since my transition from a faith based in fear to a faith based in love, I no longer had the desire to provoke them. I wanted to show them love instead.

Instead of responding to them out of fear, I could only think, “How can I show them love?” What would that look like? 

I found a corner store nearby and bought five bottles of water. I figured it was warm that day and they might be thirsty.

Estranged son of Fred Phelps, Nate Phelps, has recently started speaking out about his experience of growing up in the Phelps family. In an interview with The Standard, Nate revealed his father, Fred, would physically beat his mother and siblings for hours.

Because of that interview, when I saw them outside my hotel window that Saturday morning, I no longer saw people who hate me because I’m gay; I saw victims of Fred Phelps. I saw people who have never experienced love and are controlled by the fear of going to hell.

As I approached them, I grew nervous, but I went up to each one and asked, “Are you thirsty?” All of them declined as I thought they would. “Well, if you get thirsty, here is some water. It’s warm out, you need to stay hydrated.” Before I walked away, I looked at each of them in the eyes and told them, “I want you to know you’re loved.” Only one of them responded, her name is Mara Phelps.

With her soft spoken voice she told me that we must obey all the laws of God or face his judgment. I asked Mara, “When was the moment you experienced the love of God?”

Mara looked down then up again at me and said, “I don’t even know if God loves me.” 

It was then I reassured her that God does love her. I continued to share with her the moment I experienced the love of God which has changed my life. Mara listened, I thanked her for listening and one last time, I looked at her in the eyes and said, “Mara, you’re loved.”

If it wasn’t for God’s love transforming me, I would have only joined the 50+ counter protesters and argued with the victims of Fred Phelps. However, I chose to retire my angry thoughts and instead show love.

That Saturday morning I made a new friend. Her name is Mara Phelps and God loves her.

Be love,
Azariah Southworth