Can You See Me Now? 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?

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)