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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)
  1. The Soup

    Here’s a verse that I wish was in the bible;
    “And the Lord, God, so loved man that he sent spell check and grammar check, so that all who believe in Him could put together a cohesive sentence”

    November 14, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  2. Q

    Christians are so boring...fock. O, sin this, and o sin that, and drop a quote here and I hate you and... god damit, shut the fock up, stop your whinning.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:04 am |
    • Q(also)

      apparently there are two "Q"s posting here...

      November 15, 2010 at 1:50 am |
  3. Verner

    I love the cafe, what does it cost? Do they charge an entrance fee for worship? Will he start cultivating the male members of his flock for his personal use? Once more, a person in a position of leadership leading the weak and taking their money. This is not religion, it is a business. Tax them accordingly!

    November 14, 2010 at 10:04 am |
  4. zolo

    It seems like all of God's shepherds are gay. I think that this God should stop hiding and come and let us see him.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  5. Chris

    Gotta love the comment by Sammy "Jesus WAS NOT GAY." Um, Jesus was also not a woman, or black or Mexican, etc... I guess none of those people count, either.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:00 am |
    • Turtle2430

      Jesus can be anything he want to be...any color he wants to be.

      November 14, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  6. Ann

    Time to sit in the congregation?

    November 14, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  7. faboge

    You come out the day you "find out" youre gay not live for 20 years as a liar!

    November 14, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  8. Evan

    It seems to me that people often quotte the bible about sin... it is highly likely that everyone that has posted a comment here has committed sin, the problem is that most people choose the "level" of sin that they attach to being gay as opposed to the sins they commit themselves. As for the Pastors decision to marry early on, society expects men to marry, many men want to be like everyone else, so they do. It is not an easy decision to make.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:58 am |
    • Turtle2430

      Evan you are 100% correct. And even the bible says God sees a Liar the same way he sees a murder......society place level of sin on everything when there is no difference at all. Nice post.

      November 14, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  9. Turtle2430

    Typical Christians..."Oh your Gay so your going to hell." Correct me if I'm wrong you hypocrites but doesn't the bible say Thou shall not judge? I think this is judging....You have NO idea what God's dissension is going to be when ANY sinner or non-sinner gets to heaven...It's all up to God....NOT YOU. THIS IS JUDGING!!!

    November 14, 2010 at 9:57 am |
  10. Ariana

    It is sad to hear such hate coming from so many people. Do you not have any sympathy for the young boys who have taken their own lives because of people like you who taunt them? I am proud of this pastor for staying true to himself and feel horrible he had to hide it for all of these years.

    On the other hand, I would like someone who is a Christian to answer this for me (I am agnostic)-being gay is NOT a choice (if it was, so many people who are "good christians" wouldn't be choosing that path.). So why is something beyond a person's control considered a sin, like something that is a choice (like being a murderer or an adulterer). Shouldn't you all be promoting tolerance? What makes someone being gay an exception to that rule?

    November 14, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  11. Jesse

    I think this is a great act of love and courage. As Christians, we are supposed to walk in the light and in love– a part of that is being honest with ourselves and with the people around us about who we are and who we are not. It sounds like this pastor realized that he needed to be honest and sincere.

    And there's no telling how this could influence his congregation– my prayer is that it builds the body of Christ, not tear us down. We get enough that. I wonder if there were others in his congregation also conflicted as he was, but unable to share it or refusing to admit what they're going through. My hope and prayer is that he [as well as the members of his congregation] is able to reconcile these two realities without compromising their individual relationships with the Lord and their shared relationships with each other.

    May God's grace abound in these places of weakness and anxiety. And may God's love abound in areas of confusion, impatience, fear, and hate. In Jesus' name, I pray.. Amen.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  12. Fricsaid

    So this man has been living a lie for year's? A testament to the quality of his faith. A real man of God would not care what other's thought and would have came out of the closet long before now. I don't care how society would brand him, it shouldn't matter. Especially to a man of the cloth. I'm not saying he's a bad man, I just question the quality of his faith. Oh well, that's between him and the guy upstairs. I'll worry about my quality of faith, not his.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  13. GirlOutWest

    preacher, heal thyself. 2 wives, 4 kids, now you're gay? and people think you are their spiritual leader?

    November 14, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  14. Peace2All

    I believe it to be a good thing that this Pastor has c-ome out, and has declared his authenticity. Maybe, that will encourage more gay's to c-ome out and own who they really are without shame, guilt, or people of so-called 'faith' telling them they are horrible people who are going to burn in hell forever... or... that they are p-e-dophiles, just because they are gay. If this can also c-ontribute to less suicides, because of fundamentalist zealot Christian clergy, parents, teachers, etc.. that is fantastic. So, I don't see any down-side to this.

    Especially for the Christians, for your 'faith' to truly survive, you will need to change your att-itudes about gays.

    It is already happening with an ever-increasing number of Americans being more accepting, and you are also seeing a greater number of Christian denominations starting to be more accepting and tolerant–treating gays as equals, even having gay and lesbian clergy.

    This *is* absolutely a good-thing.

    Peace...

    November 14, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  15. Cordele

    What part of the qualifications of being a "Bishop" are we missing here? Are we now making up our own revelation?

    [1] This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
    [2] A bishop then must be blameless, THE HUSBAND OF ONE WIFE, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
    [3] Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
    [4] One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
    [5] (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
    [6] Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
    [7] Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

    – Timothy 1:1-7

    November 14, 2010 at 9:51 am |
  16. Peace2All

    Peace2All

    I believe it to be a good thing that this Pastor has c-ome out, and has declared his authenticity. Maybe, that will encourage more gay's to c-ome out and own who they really are without shame, guilt, or people of so-called 'faith' telling them they are horrible people who are going to burn in hell forever... or... that they are p-e-dophiles, just because they are gay. If this can also c-ontribute to less suicides, because of fundamentalist zealot Christian clergy, parents, teachers, etc.. that is fantastic. So, I don't see any down-side to this.

    Especially for the Christians, for your 'faith' to truly survive, you will need to change your att-itudes about gays.

    It is already happening with an ever-increasing number of Americans being more accepting, and you are also seeing a greater number of Christian denominations starting to be more accepting and tolerant–treating gays as equals, even having gay and lesbian clergy.

    This *is* absolutely a good-thing.

    Peace...

    November 14, 2010 at 9:51 am |
  17. blake

    Glad the deception has stopped, but authentic ... give me a break. Time to acknowledge that you have not been following Christ in your long-term decision to embrace a gay lifestyle.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:50 am |
  18. Android

    He looks like lucifer

    November 14, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  19. CarPoolTim

    I guess I'm just trying to figure out the end-game here. Three options in my opinion:

    1. The stigma of being LGTBQ is washed away over time and people are accepted on their own terms.

    2. Religious leaders eventually succeed at using the writings of the bible to convince all current and future LGBTQ people to stop any nonheteronormative behavior.

    3. We continue to argue about it on the internet for all of eternity.

    Seriously, where do we go from here ad how do we get there?

    November 14, 2010 at 9:48 am |
  20. Patrick

    Good for this guy. Must have been tough trying to live a lie so he could accept himself and others could accept him too. It was the right thing to do considering how young gay men and women are treated in this world. Now all he has to do is give up the other lie he has been living by.......Religion. That way he can truly move forward in his life.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:47 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.