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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. bill clemons

    Get a rope.

    November 14, 2010 at 11:10 am |
  2. DRR

    Two thoughts:

    1. I give this guy a lot of respect for coming out of his own volition as opposed to waiting until he is caught in some kind of scandal. As we have seen, it is rare to have that kind of courage.

    2. I feel sorry that this guy says that he felt that being a man of god and being gay where not compatible so he chose to live a lie all of these years. In the process he has involved two women and four children. I find it sad that we just can't be who we are.

    November 14, 2010 at 11:10 am |
  3. Tolerance

    Hey check this out http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/

    November 14, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  4. Eric G.

    Can someone please reference some verifiable, demonstrative evidence that their god hates gays? I am looking for a logical debate, so reference the bible at your own risk.

    November 14, 2010 at 11:04 am |
  5. Doc7655

    Oh ho! My eyes have been opened! Your liberal use of all caps has thoroughly persuaded me that your cause is just, your reasoning sound, and your logic beyond dispute!

    November 14, 2010 at 11:00 am |
  6. Hef

    @JBegg: where do you get these facts from? You are ASSuming. Typical.

    November 14, 2010 at 11:00 am |
  7. EJ94

    I watched the video of him coming out to his congregation and it was very moving. I am not a Christian, but he seems like one that I could respect.

    Those of you that talk about being gay as being a choice may want to watch the video, you might learn something. He clearly explains how it is not a choice.

    Those of you talking about how he lied to his wife might also be interested to know that he told her he was gay before they married, that she was the one who pushed for the divorce, that she encouraged him to come out and was there by his side when he told the congregation.

    I commend him for being honest and for doing something that will probably help, and may even save the life of, many gay Christian teens.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  8. can't believe

    I thought Jesus taught Christians to love one another and not judge. The only ones I see spewing hatred here are these so called Christians. The ones who are more Christian like are the ones who aren't even religious. Time and time again on topics like this, all of these so called followers of Christ do nothing but show how hateful and ignorant they are. Shame on you.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:58 am |
  9. Trudy

    Today people will accept anything and say it is okay. It is a sin what he has done and he needs to repent to God and turn his life around. He is living a lie. This is not acceptable in God's eyes. It is an abomination to him. That is why he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Someone better read what God did back than because of the great sin. Read Genesis 19:1-16, Also Leviticus 20: 16, Read the whole chapter of Lev 20.; 1 Corinthians 6:8-11, 11 Corinthians 5: 17,Galatians 6;7-8. We are in the world but not of it. He says to come out of the world. God didn't make man and man or woman and woman. He made Adam and Eve and told them to multipy on the earth. I would run as fast as I could out of this church. We are to love the person but hate the sin. God is a Holy God and he wants us to live a Holy life. The devil has this man and anyone else who believes this lifestyle is okay living a lie. God have mercy on our world today. The bible says in the last days that evil will be called good and good will be called evil. I don't care what people say about me I believe the word of the Living God and Jesus will judge sin. We will all stand before him someday and I believe we are in the last days. I want my heart right before God. I want to hear the true message of God.. Sin is sin. God says it is an abomination to live this kind of lifestyle. I am praying everyday that God sends revival in our world and convicts people of their sin. I ask God everyday to forgive me if I have done anything wrong. We are still living in our flesh. The bible says that spirit is strong but the flesh is weak. We need to walk in the spirit of God. It is time Real Christians stand up and pray like we have never prayed before. People better read Revelation. We are in the last days. When Jesus comes for his church and takes us outof this world they going to see trouble like they have never seen in their life time. I know that God has changed me and I am not ashamed of that. I praise his Holy name for saving my soul. God may your Holy Spirit move on this earth and in America and send revival and conviction and may man, women, boys and girls fall on their faces before you and repent and turn from their wicked lives.. God have mercy on those who think sin is okay... If we are ashamed of him on this earth he will be ashamed of us when we stand before him. God is a HOLY GOD. He wants us to live a Holy Live to and it is only through his spirit. God move like you have never moved before.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:53 am |
    • Roger

      And where are you getting this nonsense from? A book that condones slavery(Lev. 25:44), beating slaves(Exodus 21:20), incest(Genesis 19:33-36), r@pe victims being required to marry the r@pist(Deuteronomy 22:28-29), treating women and children as property(Genesis 19:8, 1 Timothy 2:11-14, 1 Corinthians 14:33-35), requires battered women to remain married to abusive husbands(Matthew 19:9, 1 Corinthians 7:10-12), condones jihad type warfare where all children are ki11ed save the virgins who are a 'reward'(Numbers 31:15), and makes no mention at all of child molestation, the worst possible crime.

      Ridiculous.

      November 14, 2010 at 11:17 am |
    • Kind Cindy

      Re Roger's comment to Trudy. Nice!

      November 14, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
  10. Ralph Workman

    This is additional proof that the church age is over. Near the end of time God will give up the churches to Satan because they no longer look at the Bible as their authority. God will bring judgement to this world on May 21st, 2011. For more information please go to the internet site familyradio or ebiblefellowship.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:50 am |
  11. Jesus

    Peace2All,

    Thanks. Dad helped me write it. I loved your post also unless you're gay. Kidding.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:49 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Jesus

      Yeah.... You have a pretty cool Dad most of the time. 🙂

      Peace...

      November 15, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  12. Tolerance

    People should not hate others or be intolerant to them for any reason, including being gay. There is enough sadness around the world that we can not control. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone could think of themselves and others as equals. People who spend much of their time and energy on intolerance to others, could use that energy to do what is truly good to make our world a better place to be. Peace to all!

    November 14, 2010 at 10:48 am |
  13. whatwasthat?

    Sin is Sin no matter who does it.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:47 am |
    • Sevres Blue

      Are you saying that judging other, condemning others, being sinful, is a sin no matter what? I agree. We shouldn't judge this man or his family.

      November 14, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  14. Chandler

    Gay, straight, who cares? Let people live openly as long as its peaceful. If this Bishop felt comfortable coming out years ago, he would never have been pressured by society to marry a woman in the first place. Americans are so hypocritical. Free speech, no gay marriage, pro-life with right to bear arms, hunt and execute. No abortions, lets let the children grow into criminals so we could shootem with our handguns we have the right to carry. Get religion out of politics and legislation. I don't want someone's God telling me what to do. When and if God wants to run for office, than I may listen. What a sad joke.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:47 am |
  15. BertieB

    Being a Christian is being accepting of others! We love people and let God be the judge!
    BUT.."we should be who we are" is not Christian. We have to change and struggle to follow Gods rules. Does the adulterer get a pass because it is his instinct? Does the murderer get a pass because he has a compulsion to kill? Child molesters are driven by an inner lust...what about them? I love my gay friends, I would probably even love a murderer if I knew one. I definately love an adulterer. So does God...but the day will come whether we like it or not that God will judge us all for what we have done, good or bad, right or wrong in HIS eyes. The cool thing is, when you have sinned against God, you can go to him, confess and it will be in his eyes like you have never done it.
    If you are not a Christian and you choose not to be...it is no big deal. But if you are using the name of Christ , you/we all better understand what that means. If you read his entire word, then you know...you know!!!

    November 14, 2010 at 10:45 am |
    • Sevres Blue

      Bertie, you sure seem confused. So glad you love, love, love your gay friends, even, possibly, murderous ones – but let's face it – THE ARE SINNERS! ????? Why don't you just let God judge each of us. By the way, being gay is NOT on par with child molestation, murder or adultery. Little children who know they are gay also know that when they pick up Barbie they're going to get chastened by their parents and made fun of by their friends. like you. So try not to be the judge, that's God's job, and I don't think he/she needs your help.

      November 14, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  16. CWPAT

    the sad thing is a young man lost his life as a result of someones foolish actoin of exposeing him for the world to view. It would be my guess, a gay activist. Now we are exposing a family most likely filled with shame and hurt. none of this glorifies the God I serve. Let us all repent and pray for GOD TO HEAL AND VINDICATE.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  17. cranium

    Another pastor that never read or taught Romans 1 to his Apostate congregation I am certain.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:44 am |
    • YBP

      It was St Paul who was the apostate. Don't you know your biblical history?

      November 14, 2010 at 11:04 am |
  18. salga23

    Hey CAROLINAGIRL, calling sumdude an idiot is exactly what's wrong with this country. Insulting someone cause they don't agree with you. Don't ask for change until you 1st change yourself.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  19. Pete

    A true Christian follows the laws and writings of the Bible. I don't make the rules nor does anyone on the this planet, only God himself. No one should ever hate anyone nor judge as there is only one. Now the question, should this be excepted should we say its ok? We all know that the Bible condemns this as a sin many times in the Bible. We also know that no man in this world is sinless but a Man with Christ in his hart is a new man that runs from sin and doesn't try to justify it. I believe you are what you are not what you feel or think you are. I believe in stead of trying to condemn the man we should pray for his salvation.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:43 am |
  20. bobby

    He is going to burn in hell for this, pastor or not!

    November 14, 2010 at 10:43 am |
    • LivinginVA

      So you presume to speak for God?

      November 14, 2010 at 10:57 am |
    • Hope

      ....to explain it little better, Bobby, he will be sent there not because of his sin, but because he justified his sin, and in his own imagination made up a God that suits him, by rejecting His word, and the Spirit of truth , which is inseparable from His Word. This is the mark of the great falling away Paul spoke in 2 Thess. 2. They will still cling to the name of Jesus, but reject the Spirit of TRUTH! We are seeing it with our own eyes. We are very close to the 2nd part of Paul's prophecy, when the Man of sin will be revealed, an the scenario is developing before our eyes. Paul said that these two things will happen before Lord comes, and we, God's people should look for them. No early exit, the way preachers teach... not according to my Bible!

      November 14, 2010 at 11:02 am |
    • Hope

      His Word speaks for Him, and those of us who speak His Word do so with confidence, because that's what we are supposed to do, His Word tells us to do it... Do you have a problem with that? My post was not mean spirited, so what is it in my post that offends you?

      November 14, 2010 at 11:55 am |
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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.