When an evangelical leader is “outed”
I am not a huge follower of the evangelical blogosphere so it took me several days to learn about the controversy surrounding Jonathan Merritt. Ironically, I wanted to find out some general information on him and so, like most of you, I went to Google. As I typed, the Google site rounded out my search terms, “Jonathan Merritt” with “…gay?”
Before I knew it I was on Ed Stetzer’s blog reading an interview in which Jonathan explains how he had been “outed” by a gay, former-evangelical with whom he had some sort of sexual encounter.
It’s a sad story on so many levels not the least of which is Merritt’s disclosure that he was sexually abused as a child. Many in the GLBT community and their “allies” get fired up whenever someone gets close to implying that being gay is somehow caused by child abuse. I understand that–it can seem dismissive or even insulting. However, it’s Jonathan’s life and he seems to at least be aware that such an early violation has caused some sexual confusion in him.
Merritt maintains that he is not gay. Many, of course, do not believe him competent to make that statement. They are lamenting that he is somehow in denial–as if a grown man cannot be sufficiently self-aware to recognize his own sexual identity (Tony Jones, for example, hints at this). Of course, he may be a gay man. It may also, of course, be the case that he is not gay. It’s imprudent and unfortunate to force someone into these binary options for the purpose of claiming him as a trophy in one cause or another.
It seems that sexuality in a broken world is a little more complicated than either the evangelical right (for lack of a better term) the GLBT-friendly left (again, for lack of a better term) often care to admit.
The reality is that some people are gay for a period of time and it doesn’t seem to “stick”–their sexual identity evolves over time. Others seem to have been born gay and their attraction never shifts away from the same sex.
Could it be that Jonathan really is a straight man who is struggling to make sense of a great evil inflicted on him when he was too young to defend himself? Must he be a repressed, denial-ridden gay man? Is this really the only option?
And then there’s the ethics of “outing.” The young man who outed Merritt did so because of his (Merritt’s) support for Chick-fil-A and against the redefinition of marriage. Really.
I guess on one level I can understand this. The guy had a brief romantic encounter with a young evangelical author. Said author maintains that he is not gay, but acts (at least on one occasion) inconsistently with that affirmation.
Then comes the coupe de grace, vocal support for Chick-fil-A and for maintaining a traditional understanding of marriage. A seemingly righteous indignation burns in the heart of the young man–how dare his one-time lover say one thing and do another? He has dirt on him, and he lets it rip and the news ripples through the evangelical blogosphere.
Is this morally acceptable? It should be noted that the young gay man in question is also a self-professed Christian. Does his hypocrisy mean that Jonathan Merritt got what he deserved?
It may be helpful to imagine another circumstance. Would this be less helpful if the person in question was gay and had chosen to live his life without disclosing his sexual identity to the general public? Would it be acceptable to “out” him or would that be seen seen as somehow immoral or reprehensible. Moreover, what is the second man had a lot to lose by being outed? Imagine he was in politics and being identified as a gay man would hurt his chances of being elected?
It seems to me that in both situations outing is wrong. In both cases it denies the person in question the space to work through his questions around sexual identity and, in addition, forces him to make sexual identity an issue in the present tense when he may not yet be ready to do so. It violates any general sense of civility and, for Christian, evinces as serious offense against a brother in Christ.
I don’t know Jonathan, but I do know that he ought to be afforded the respect and the space to work through these issues and that, in addition, outing him was a mean-spirited and totally inappropriate thing to do.