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November 13th, 2010
10:47 PM ET

Pastor says student's suicide was tipping point for his coming out

The founder and pastor of a Georgia megachurch said Saturday that the September suicide of a Rutgers University student was the tipping point for his decision to come out of the closet to his congregation.

"For some reason, his situation was kind of the tipping point with me," said Jim Swilley, who calls himself a bishop. "There comes a point in your life where you say - how much time do we have left in our lives? Are we going to be authentic or not?"

Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped off a bridge after a secretly-taped sexual encounter between him and another man was posted on the internet.

Swilley, 52, said that he has known he is gay since childhood, but that he never thought he would live openly. He came out recently after more than 20 years of marriage to his former wife, who continues to work at their church.

"At a certain point, you are who you are," said Swilley, who has four children from two marriages.

He ministers at the Church in the Now, an inter-donominational Christian church in Conyers, Georgia, about 25 miles east of Atlanta.

"What I told my church is that I was given two things in my life that I didn't ask for... one is the call of God in my life and the other is my orientation. I didn't ever think that those two things could be compatible," Swilley said.

On the whole, he said his congregation has been supportive of his coming out, though some people have cut ties with him over the decision.

Homosexuality is a hotly contested issue by many faith traditions.

Earlier this month, Gene Robinson - the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church - said that death threats and the continued controversy around his selection contributed to his decision to announce his retirement.

Speaking specifically about evangelicals, Swilley said gay people are sometimes seen as trying to build a movement, or "recruiting" - views he took serious issue with.

"My position is not about gaying up the church," he said. "It's about people being who they are."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Georgia • Homosexuality • United States

soundoff (977 Responses)
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    April 20, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  2. Lorraine

    I can't believe how Satan is using others who claim to be Christians to lead people astray. Woa to those who call good evil and evil good.

    November 27, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  3. runako

    fire bun!!! d batty boi

    March 15, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  4. runako

    shame on him, trying to make things look good by manipulating info

    March 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  5. Thesis writing services

    American people love to see true and real face of the world by news. The positivity in economic development of the world, pointing fingers and encouragement for the good deeds

    December 15, 2010 at 4:56 am |
  6. Jasmine Powell

    The preacher is right everyone should be who they are...but then again the Bible does state that it is an abomination to God...But get this...before God can judge you Jesus has to judge you...the BIble says NO MAN COME TO THE FATHER BUT BY ME...we have no room to judge others or talk about them because no sin is big or small they are all the same...the only big sin is not being saved and believing in God...if we are saved and if we believe we have nothing to worry about...but again we have no room to say who is right and who is wrong because it's not our place all that we can do is pray and prayer can change things...

    November 30, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  7. Dave

    Jim, God Bless you for having the courage to step up to the plate and come out the way you did. I will say a prayer for you and your family. The Bible teaches us about tolerance and acceptance, I just wish more people would feel the same way about being honest about themselves.

    November 28, 2010 at 6:11 pm |
  8. What Da....

    In the begininning.........God made Adam and EVE, not STEVE! No one has to judge anyone. But God makes clear through his word what his principles are. Men lying with men for UNNATURAL reasons will NOT inherite the Kingdom. Point blank! It's not US judging people. It's what his word says.

    November 26, 2010 at 9:16 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.