3 Lessons Straight Christians Must Learn

If you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) you’ve probably received an email like this one:


I’ve received emails like this one since I’ve come out. I’ve received them from old friends, strangers and in this case from past fellow church members. People who are reaching out to me in hopes for me to “see the light” and come out of this “lifestyle”—for me to deny my identity. 

There was a time when I would have been really hurt by an email like the one from Connie. People don’t realize that we aren’t talking about an abstract theological concept. When you talk about homosexuality—or really same-sex sex—you’re talking about a piece of me. I didn’t choose this anymore than you choose to be straight. This is my road to walk and you can critique from the sidelines on how I should live all you like, it still is my shoes making the journey. 

Above anything, I just wish Connie could know the Jesus I know. The one that delivers us from fear, breaks the bondage of ignorance, the one that loves and affirms all people; regardless of their sexual orientation. 

I’m not hurt by Connie’s email because I know she means well. She has reached out to me time and time again, she truly cares and wants the best for me. However, Connie is confusing her best with God’s best. Connie has done what countless others have done and continue to do; they have made God nothing more than a mere reflection of themselves. 

Faith is a journey, it’s a personal journey. When you stop traveling in your faith, you stop growing and you stop learning. I believe the Divine is knocking on the church’s door and asking, “Will you love my LGBT children as I love them? As I affirm them? Will you choose to know them as I know them?” 

To all the Connies out there, here are three important lessons to learn… 

– First, When you tell me my life would be better as x,y,z; you’re minimizing my relationship with Christ. I have a different interpretation of a couple verses in the Bible. I have reconciled my faith and sexual orientation. There has to be respect for my personal journey with God. 

– Next, ask yourself have you actually done your research on what the bible says or doesn’t say in regards to homosexuality as we understand it today? My friend Eliel Cruz says, “You’ve read six Bible verses, listened to a 45-minute sermon and have deemed yourself well-versed on the multifaceted subject of homosexuality. How quickly you have become an expert on the lives of thousands. An expert on my life.” (Watch Eliel’s moving video with his spoken word, “Where Were You?” HERE) There are many, many interpretations out there from different theological perspectives. A great book is “Bible, Gender, Sexuality” by James Brownson. Wrestle with your beliefs, I have. 

– Lastly, just get to know me. Come into genuine fellowship with me. I’d love to have a mutually respectful dialogue about this subject. It is only through genuine fellowship that we can both truly see each other, learn from each other and grow in our faith together. 

Remember, this is a journey and it’s not over. 

Be love, 

Azariah Southworth

(co-authored by Eliel Cruz)

How Trinity Broadcasting Tried To Erase Me

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Paul & Jan Crouch pictured on the set for TBN’s flagship show, “Praise the Lord!”

Samantha emailed me from the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), “Paul Sr. told him to pull your show from the air immediately.” Everything I dreamt of doing since I was a kid was coming to a forced end. Not by just anyone either. It was from Paul Crouch Sr. himself. Someone I grew up watching on TV and idolizing. Most evenings, after dinner, our family would tune in together and watch TBN’s flagship show, Praise The Lord! Hosted by the founders of TBN, Paul and Jan Crouch.

On this show they would showcase the biggest names within the Charismatic Christian movement – Benny Hinn, Karen Wheaton, Jesse

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Left to Right: Jesse Duplantis, Benny Hinn, John Hagee

Duplantis and John Hagee were some of the biggest crowd pleasers. Benny Hinn and Karen Wheaton were my personal favorites. My sisters and I even played a game we called, “Benny Hinn”. The rules were simple – if you’re Benny Hinn you get to make the other person fall over by waving your hand over their head. We played as if we possessed the same powers we believed God granted to Benny Hinn. When you live in the middle-of-nowhere and you’re a devote Pentecostal family, these are the games you come up with. Everything else is too worldly.

 

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A separate email from another friend I had at TBN read, “They edited you out of the episode you starred on.” I was a guest on one of JCTV’s original productions called, Cruise With A Cause. This was a reality show that was taped onboard of a one-week Christian cruise to the Bahamas. I was the emcee for the cruise and was also onboard filming for my own show that week. This reality show was as dry as the Christian cruise. It was painfully vanilla. Being edited out of it should have come as a relief.

It didn’t hit me how much the news from that email would hurt until I saw the newly edited episode myself. This wasn’t just a horribly vanilla Christian reality show. For me, it was directly connected to the faith community I grew up believing in and loving. A community I desperately sought acceptance from.

About two years after coming out, I was back living in Indiana. It was the Spring of 2010 and I had just moved into my then boyfriend’s apartment in downtown Indianapolis. I finished setting up my TV in the living room, plugged in the antenna then turned on the TV. As I flipped through the over-the-air channels, JCTV flashed on my screen. I’m not sure if I believe in coincidences. Looking back now, this definitely was not one. Not only was that horrible reality show Cruise With A Cause streaming on my TV that very moment, so was my episode. The episode I was edited out of. My immediate thought was, “No way.” Stunned by this happenstance or perhaps Divine appointment, I decided to make myself comfortable. I sat back into the couch and watched to see if they really did edit me out.

On this episode, they were setting up one of JCTV’s staple on-air female personalities on blind dates with some of the other Christian entertainers on the cruise. I was one of her four blind dates for the episode. Sure enough, they edited me completely out of the entire episode. They wanted to erase my existence from their network. That was painful for me to accept. The leaders of the world I grew up believing in and loving intentionally chose to forget I ever existed since I revealed I am gay.

This wasn’t the last time something I loved tried to erase me. It’s something that has been happening to me since I was a kid who liked playing with Barbie dolls and putting on my sister’s dresses. For me, it was fun to play pretend, but, to the adults around me, it was a threat. A threat to their social status. A threat to their hard earned position in heaven. A threat if anyone else found out this child is queer.

I know I’m not alone in this.

There are countless other stories, like mine, about LGBTQ people who have been erased from the memories and archives of their faith communities. The deletion of our queer existence doesn’t occur only after we leave our beloved faith communities. It happens while we’re there. It starts with trying to get us to forget who we are. This is done through ex-gay counseling like I went through. It’s also done through what seems like normal correction. For example, I was physically and verbally disciplined every time my dad caught me playing with my sister’s dolls. Playing with my sister’s dolls became an act of defiance and great courage.

From a young age I was taught through physical, emotional and spiritual abuse to hide the most honest and genuine parts of myself. The unhealthy habits this created in my life are still unfolding and I’m learning to identify them. However, as the unhealthy habits reveal themselves through these stories I’m sharing and the book I’m writing, one question keeps emerging: Can you see me now?

The Night I Betrayed My Best Friend

In honor of National Coming Out Day, I would like to share a part of my coming out story I’ve never shared publicly, “The Night I Betrayed My Best Friend”. I will share this story in greater depth in my memoir.

The Night of the Betrayal

 

It was around 9:30PM on April 15, 2008 when I sent an instant message to my friend Hunter on AOL. I didn’t know it then but the conclusion from this conversation would change the course of my life

Azariahtn: I don’t think I can live like this anymore.

Hunter87: What do you mean?

Azariahtn: I think I’m ready to come out. I’m tired of living a double life. I have nothing to lose. The show hasn’t been renewed for another season. Also, Logan doesn’t talk to me anymore since I told him I “struggle” with my sexuality. Maybe that’s why they haven’t renewed the show?

Hunter87: What are you going to do?

Azariahtn: I think I’m going to come out. I know I’ll lose the show and some friends but I can’t live this lie any longer.

Hunter87: They were never your friends to begin with if they abandon you now. I support you.

Azariahtn: Thank you. 🙂

After my conversation with Hunter, I drafted a press release which I sent out the same night. “Christian TV Host Announces He’s Gay” was the headline for the release. I didn’t think anyone would care enough to publish the story. I was wrong.

When I woke up the next morning, I had one Google alert.

The Google alert was for Out & About Nashville. The largest LGBT publication in Tennessee carried the story on their website. I could feel the anxiety set in. I started to doubt my decision to make this announcement. I dismissed the growing lump in my throat by telling myself, “Not too many people will read this, so, I’m probably fine.”

After seeing the story published, I realized my train to living honestly had arrived. I could board the train or I could miss it by back peddling my way out of this. I began to feel the fear of everything I was jeopardizing. Everything I dreamt of doing since I was young. I was booked to emcee Cruise With A Cause for the second year that Fall. I was guest starring on other TV shows. I was being invited to emcee events for EMI records. I was starting to make a name for myself. Sending out the press release was easy but getting on board with the train of truth – and realizing I would have to leave these things I worked hard for behind – was my challenge.

Within two hours of the story being published, I received phone calls and emails from around the country congratulating me. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) called to help me form talking points for the media. CBS Morning show called and wanted to have me on the next day. A producer for Fox News called to book me on the Alan Colmes show. Larry King’s producers were interested having me on the show. A friend told me even Lance Bass was asking about me.

I was beside myself.

I was excited, overwhelmed, and nervous. Maybe this would open doors for me that I couldn’t have imagined?

Even though people around the country were congratulating me, the news didn’t reach people within my immediate circle… yet.

Around six o’clock that evening, I received a phone call from a producer in Los Angeles. At the end of the call he said something I will never forget, “By the way, did you see yourself on the front page of Perez Hilton?”

That’s when I knew there was no going back.

Emails and text messages started to pour in by the hundreds. One text message read, “Father, I pray for Azariah. Be with him Lord and show him your will. Take away any confusion. Make yourself TRULY known to him Jesus. Amen.”

Then, after not speaking to me for nearly three months, I received a message from my best friend – Logan. His message simply read, “I just feel like you totally betrayed my trust. It’s making me sick.”

After reading his message I felt guilt begin to set in. Had I betrayed his trust? After all, he did ask me to let him know first if I was going to come out.

Logan was my best friend while I hosted my TV show. We became friends after I did some camera work for his show. The only reason I had a TV show was because of Logan and his dad, Jay Sekulow. Logan helped me create my pilot and his dad, Jay, got my show funded by the NRB Network.

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Logan and I at TBN studios in Nashville.

Logan and I hung out almost everyday. That all stopped in January of 2008.

While I was visiting my parents for Christmas that year, Logan messaged me on AOL Instant Messenger…

Lunarpunk: When are you back in town?

Azariahtn: I get back at the end of this week. Why? What’s up?

Lunarpunk: I think we need to talk about something.

I immediately knew what he wanted to talk about. It wasn’t the first time someone wanted to have a scheduled and serious talk with me. My pastor wanted to have this same talk when I was 13-years-old. That talk with my pastor was immediately followed by weekly exorcisms to expel the demons of homosexuality out of me. Once again I believed my sexuality was an affliction that would haunt me for the rest of my life. I wasn’t capable of seeing it as a gift yet. I was used to living life as if my queerness didn’t exist. My true self worth had not yet been realized.

My best friend, Amanda, comforted me that night as I cried and told her about the conversation I knew Logan wanted to have with me.

The Meeting

 

When that week ended, I made the drive from wintry Indiana back to Nashville. I drove straight to Logan’s office. I was nervous but hopeful that maybe this was my chance to come clean and God would finally fix me. The only thing that needed fixed was my ignorance to the depth of my own worth and value as a gay man.

Logan had his own TV show titled, The Logan Show. He was the Christian version of Jay Leno except he wasn’t funny. I don’t say that to be mean. I honestly didn’t think his show was funny. I don’t think my show was good either but I digress. Logan had a large budget for his show. Somehow his dad was able take some of the $14 million he receives annually in donations to his Christian law firm, American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and funnel a fraction of it to Logan for his TV show. Logan’s budget allowed him to have his own TV set at NorthStar Studios and a beautiful, large office suite in the very wealthy town of Franklin.

After eight hours of driving, I parked my small, white Suzuki car in front of his two-story office building. When I opened the door to his building, I could still smell that newness of the building. I made my way up the stairs. A total of twenty steps. Logan’s office was in the very back.

He was already prepared for our meeting. I walked into his office and he was sitting behind his desk. On the wall behind him hung a painting of Alfred Hitchcock – one of Logan’s favorite filmmakers.

After a few minutes of small talk, Logan stated that an anonymous source told him I was seen going to some of the gay bars in Nashville. He then asked the question I was dreading but knew was coming, “Azariah, it’s okay if you are but I need to know. Are you gay?”

Isn’t that how it’s usually prefaced, “It’s okay if you are.” The truth is, it wasn’t okay and I was about to get exiled from his world.

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Logan and I stopped at Disney World while on tour with the Christian music festival, Shoutfest.

My mind quickly raced for an answer. An answer that would allow me to keep my friend and my TV show. This is the reality we queer people often face – lie and deny who you are to keep your seemingly good world intact or tell the truth and lose everything. At the time, I didn’t value myself enough to tell the truth and live it out, so, I told him as much of the truth I could bear to tell, “It’s something I struggle with, yes.” I replied.

That’s when he gave me the ultimatum.

The young 20-something-year-old Logan continued, “If you choose to get help, you can keep the show. If not, you will need to go behind the scenes or we will have to find someone else to do the show. Since my name and my dad’s name are attached to your show, I need you to tell me first if you choose to come out.”

He didn’t want to be the first to know for my best interest or safety – it was for his. What Logan didn’t understand that night in his office – or the night I came out and he text messaged me his disappointment – is that this was never about him or his dad. My decision to come out had everything to do with redeeming the boy who was forced to forget how to express himself freely. Redeeming the little boy who loved to play with Barbie dolls, makeup and prance around in his sister’s dresses. There was no strategy to betray anyone. I just couldn’t betray myself – that little boy – anymore.

The truth train has come a few times in my life. That night in his office was one of those times. Although I missed it that night I did jump on it the next chance I had. I’m forever glad I did because owning my truth has been the greatest gift I’ve ever given myself.

What’s your truth? What will it cost you?

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

 

 

 

How I Forgave My Ex-Gay Counselor

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 getting 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 was ready to end my life.

Ex-Gay-Therapy-Switch-285x300I 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.

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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.”

That was all I needed to hear. After years of seeking freedom with this woman and now from this woman I FINALLY felt the grip of anxiety, fear, resentment and anger to loosen. I wondered if this was God’s way of answering my prayer. “You’re the student and I’m the teacher,” she argued. In that moment, I knew what she was doing. I was no longer the gullible 13-year-old boy. I learned to love myself enough to recognize the manipulation and spiritual abuse she was seeking to continue. Her game was over.

I will always remember that moment in 2010. I will always remember receiving the gift of liberation by choosing to forgive her.

For the thousands of other LGBT people who have gone through ex-gay therapy; the pain we experienced was excruciating. It’s unforgettable. I want to encourage you to – 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 choose to do – just lay down the sword, unclench your fists, soften your beautiful face and stand confidently in your truth. I promise you that forgiveness, as difficult as it is, will be the key that sets you free.

Be love,

Azariah Southworth

Life’s Most Important Lesson

In a TV interview, Sherri Shepherd from The View revealed that she believes LGBT people are going to hell. Her interview reminded me of the most important lesson I’ve learned in life so far.

As humans everything we do is a response out of two things… fear and love. Every choice we make derives from these two emotions.

The thing which hinders us from fulfilling our New Year resolution to be healthy is fear. The decision to not forgive a friend or family member comes from a place of fear. When we don’t fulfill our career goals or even create goals it’s because we are allowing fear to control us. However, operating in love will inform you to forgive the friend or family member. Love for yourself will compel you to keep your resolution. Love will motivate you to achieve your goals.

My journey of letting go of fear started when I stopped fearing hell.

For me, growing up in a very religious home, the fear of hell was deeply instilled in me. I remember the countless sermons that ended with, “If you left here tonight, died in a car accident, where would you spend eternity?” If I wasn’t sure, I would be one of the first to raise my hand to be saved. Jesus was my way out of hell. However, love didn’t lead me to Jesus, it was fear. However, the Jesus that fear led me to was a counterfeit Jesus.

While I was on the 2008 Equality Ride, I was confronted with the same question from hundreds of students and community members opposed to our message of LGBT inclusion. Everyday I was asked, “Aren’t you afraid of going to hell?”


After I was asked this question at an Assemblies of God school in Texas I came to a conclusion. I decided that I would not let fear control my life or inform my decisions anymore. After choosing to not let fear inform my decisions, when I was asked again, “Aren’t you afraid of going to hell?” My answer became a solid and resounding, “No.” My reason being is this, if I choose to accept Christ as my savior because I don’t want to go to hell but heaven instead then I have only accepted Christ out of fear because I want to save myself.

So, no, I am not afraid of going to hell. That question exposes the selfishness and fear which has come to be the very foundation for so many who call themselves a Christian. A relationship based on fear and selfishness will never last. I believe this to be the main contributor to so many ignorant, angry, and religious Christians. They have not yet fallen in love with Jesus. They have not allowed love to be the foundation of their relationship with him. At the end of the day, Jesus is not their loving Savior, rather, he is their ticket out of eternal torture.

I do not choose to be in a relationship with Jesus because I don’t want to go to hell. I choose to be in a relationship with Christ because his compelling message of love and forgiveness has saved me and healed my many wounds. I choose to follow Christ not because of my fear of hell but because his radical and endless grace sets me free.

This is why I pursue Christ. This is why I walk with Christ. Heaven is not my goal and hell is not my fear. To know and love Christ and share that with others in this life is my purpose and goal.

So, here is life’s most important lesson (according to me)… Begin to recognize when fear informs your decisions. When you start becoming aware of when and how fear informs your decisions, ask yourself, “What would love do?” When you have your answer, do what love would do instead.

Don’t allow fear to control you.

Forgive when you think you can’t.

Exercise when you think you’re exhausted.

Pursue your goals like it’s a race for your life.

Don’t let fear win. 

Be love,
Azariah Southworth

I would like to note, I do not believe a literal hell exist. That can be a post for another time though.

3 Lessons Straight Christians Must Learn

If you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) you’ve probably received an email like this one. Image

I’ve received emails like this one since I’ve come out. I’ve received them from old friends, strangers and in this case from past fellow church members. People who are reaching out to me in hopes for me to “see the light” and come out of this “lifestyle”—for me to deny my identity.

There was a time when I would have been really hurt by an email like the one from Connie. People don’t realize that we aren’t talking about an abstract theological concept. When you talk about homosexuality—or really same-sex sex—you’re talking about a piece of me. I didn’t choose this anymore than you choose to be straight. This is my road to walk and you can critique from the sidelines on how I should live all you like, it still is my shoes making the journey.

Above anything, I just wish Connie could know the Jesus I know. The one that delivers us from fear, breaks the bondage of ignorance, the one that loves and affirms all people; regardless of their sexual orientation.

I’m not hurt by Connie’s email because I know she means well. She has reached out to me time and time again, she truly cares and wants the best for me. However, Connie is confusing her best with God’s best. Connie has done what countless others have done and continue to do; they have made God nothing more than a mere reflection of themselves.

Faith is a journey, it’s a personal journey. When you stop traveling in your faith, you stop growing and you stop learning. I believe the Divine is knocking on the church’s door and asking, “Will you love my LGBT children as I love them? As I affirm them? Will you choose to know them as I know them?”

To all the Connies out there, here are three important lessons to learn…

– First, When you tell me my life would be better as x,y,z; you’re minimizing my relationship with Christ. I have a different interpretation of a couple verses in the Bible. I have reconciled my faith and sexual orientation. There has to be respect for my personal journey with God.

– Next, ask yourself have you actually done your research on what the bible says or doesn’t say in regards to homosexuality as we understand it today? My friend Eliel Cruz says, “You’ve read six Bible verses, listened to a 45-minute sermon and have deemed yourself well-versed on the multifaceted subject of homosexuality. How quickly you have become an expert on the lives of thousands. An expert on my life.” (Watch Eliel’s moving video with his spoken word, “Where Were You?” HERE) There are many, many interpretations out there from different theological perspectives. A great book is “Bible, Gender, Sexuality” by James Brownson. Wrestle with your beliefs, I have.

– Lastly, just get to know me. Come into genuine fellowship with me. I’d love to have a mutually respectful dialogue about this subject. It is only through genuine fellowship that we can both truly see each other, learn from each other and grow in our faith together.

Remember, this is a journey and it’s not over.

Be love,
Azariah Southworth
(co-authored by Eliel Cruz)

Her Name Was Stephanie

Driving to church was a dreadfully boring experience. There was nothing but corn fields and dirt roads the whole way. Occasionally, my sister Amanda would try to entertain us by singing, then, my other sister Sarah, would try rapping the song, “Jesus Freak.” I would join in on occasion but I spent most of the time staring out the window wishing the drive was over. Driving to Sunday evening service the night that Stephanie came was no different.

Every Sunday evening the church service was dedicated to congregants sharing testimonies of what God has or is doing for them. My dad was always the first to testify. He is a man of routine. Just like he would go through every room in the house praying the same prayer for each of his kids every weekend, he also gave the same testimony every Sunday. After my dad would speak then Carla would share. After Carla shared, a lady named Stephanie walked on the stage, she adjusted the microphone and began to speak.

Stephanie was not a part of the typical Sunday lineup. This was different, in more ways than one.

Stephanie had long brown hair and wore a floral print dress with tennis shoes. I don’t remember the words she spoke but I remember she reeked of sadness, fear, and desperation like heavy cheap perfume. There was an odd tension in the room when she took the stage, as if she didn’t belong up there.

When the church service ended, members of the congregation gathered around her in the back. At a young age I knew what this meant; they wanted to convert her. But, why? I didn’t understand.

As we drove the dirt roads home that night in our grey Chevrolet station wagon, Amanda didn’t sing and Sarah didn’t rap. Instead, we talked about Stephanie.

That night as I closed my eyes to sleep, Stephanie closed her bedroom door for the last time. A few days later my mom told us what happened.

Stephanie had just been released from jail. After Stephanie visited our church as a last attempt to find love and acceptance, she went home. It was there that someone tied Stephanie to her bed and murdered her.

The conversation we had about Stephanie on our way home from church that evening was how her birth name was Stephen. The tension in the church sanctuary that testimony night stemmed from the fact that Stephanie was a transgender woman. The reason why members wanted to convert her after the service is because they thought she wasn’t right with God.

It was us, the church, who wasn’t right with God.

On that testimony night, Stephanie spent her last evening in a place she hoped would show her love and acceptance. Instead, our testimony was one of rejection and hate for who she was.

On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, consider who the Stephanie’s in your life might be. Love them. Accept them. Make sure they know it.

Be love,
Azariah Southworth