From the beginning, let me acknowledge that the very thought expressed in the title may send chills of horror up and down Merritt's spine (if, indeed, he has any idea who I am). I've no doubt that we agree about many things, but when he's in USA Today, I generally disagree with Jonathan Merritt.
This has been a full week for Merritt. First, The Atlantic posted his column entitled "In Defense of Eating at Chick-fil-A." Second, gay former-evangelical blogger Azariah Southworth outed Merritt as someone with whom he had a same-sex sexual encounter in the past. Third, today in an interview with Ed Stetzer Merritt has basically acknowledged that Southworth is not making anything up.
What would I do if I were Jonathan Merritt's pastor? Tracy and I would go see him, I would give him a hug, I would pray with him and for him, and I would ask if I could do anything to make this week easier for him. That's it.
If I were Azariah Southworth's pastor, I'd ask the congregation to kick his rear end right out of the church (not that he'd still be there, since he has declared himself to be an agnostic).
Don't miss this about how Merritt has responded:
Jonathan Merritt has not rejected God's definition of marriage or God's definition of sin. Consider two people. One of them is Jonathan Merritt—a man who has fallen to homosexual temptation in the past and who, probably, will be tempted in this way at some point in the future. He is someone, however, who agrees with God's plan for human sexuality and who acknowledges homosexual activity as sinful. He's repentant and contrite now and is not continuing in or living in his sin. Now, consider another hypothetical person who is entirely straight, is married to a person of the opposite sex, and has been sexually faithful to that one person for life. This second person has lived according to God's plan for sexuality without fail for a lifetime. But, the second person denies that homosexuality is sinful.
The first person, Jonathan Merritt, is welcome as a member in good standing of our church. The second person is subject to church discipline and withdrawal of fellowship.
Perfection is not the standard of church membership. Contrition in sin, submission to Christ, and covenantal agreement with God's revealed truth are important standards of membership in a New Testament church. Jonathan Merritt has, in this case, I believe, demonstrated those qualities.
I also appreciate that Jonathan Merritt rejects the label "gay." I don't walk around and say, "Hi. I'm Bart. I'm an angry blogger." I've fallen to that temptation before. I'll struggle with that temptation in the future. But my identity is not found in my sin, but in my Savior. I'm Bart, and I'm a Christian.
I retain, I'm sure, profound disagreements with Merritt that will doubtless remain evident in the future. Nevertheless, I must say that this revelation changes things. It's easier to understand now why Merritt strays ideologically in the directions that he does. I know I'll feel more compassionate and less frustrated with his leftward-leaning pronouncements in the future, knowing what he's been through and understanding a bit better what has brought him to where he is today.
Like most pastors, I'm ministering to people like Jonathan every day. Homosexuality isn't the temptation for all of them. The guy I went to see in jail today is tempted by other temptations. The guy I shared lunch with faces yet another set of temptations. But we're all sinners. The path to freedom comes in drawing near to God, acknowledging sin as sin, taking responsibility for it, never ending the fight, seeking accountability in fellow believers, and taking up the cross daily. It looks like Jonathan Merritt has been trying to do just that. If I were his pastor, I hope I'd come alongside him and try to help.