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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. issacsgma

    ROMANS 8 says it is an abomination to God.!!!!!he does not change his word ,people do to make it fit their sin!!!!

    November 25, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  2. thegadfly

    Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily - life is but a dream.

    Wise words, those.

    November 24, 2010 at 9:03 am |
  3. angelic

    if you're a priest then you dedicate your life to god and shouldn't enjoy life's luxuries, if you love someone then don't become a priest. marriage is holy where a man and a woman are involved, not two men or two women and it is clearly said so in the bible. this man isn't worthy to be called a bishop, he is a hypocrite, claims to follow God's laws, but instead breaks one of the most important laws. besides if everyone was gay, humanity would extinct, right?

    November 23, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  4. James Olson

    I am truly grateful for the members of Swilley's congregation who have chosen to support their minister. They're ahead of their time.

    Fifty years from now, using Christianity to persecute gays will be viewed in much the same way that we now view using Christianity to support slavery and racial segregation.

    November 21, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
  5. Michael Todd

    If one takes the word of God as one's ultimate authority then this man is a false prophet (proclaimer). If one takes a materialistic or subjectivist position then truth cannot be known. Do Christians sin? You bet. But we ask for forgiveness. This fellow has made a god in his own image and is unrepentant.
    Folks, I'm no better than you. We are all sinners (an archaic word to some). Most people have a stereotypical notion of what Christianity is. Read the Bible. Listen to sound teachers like R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, James White, Paul Washer, etc. Deep down you know you suppress the truth. Our God forgives those who trust in His Son Jesus Christ. There is no other way to Heaven.
    Peace.
    Michael Todd
    TX

    November 21, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  6. Kel

    I do believe that gay rights are important, mainly because of situations like this, where a man will pretend to be something he is not and lie, saying he is in love with a women. If gay men could have more faith that they could come out and live normally from childhood, we wouldn't have situations in which women are bombarded with a truth such as this after twenty years.

    Imagine that. You believe that your marriage is struggling, but able to be saved, and then your husband comes out.

    Lets all support gay rights. Not just for the effect it will have on gay men, but for what it could do to all the people who are affected every day they stay in the closet...

    November 20, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  7. JJ

    Do you get the feeling that God is building a new church where EVERYONE is accepted for who and what they are?

    November 17, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
  8. tom

    there is no verse in the bible what is of any private interpretation. search the sriptures and then you can maybe come to a understanding of it.Many do not kjnow what they are saying when mentioning bible verses.That will be reserved for the final judgment. tom

    November 17, 2010 at 11:18 am |
  9. PastorJJ

    It would be so nice if the religionists would fess up to the fact that they really only pretend to believe in God and their holy books. Faked belief is the small entry price they pay to belong to a supportive social club. The American way of life and its uprootedness, laissez-faire individualism, and mobility has generated the need for these social foci. In Europe, where society is structured differently, Christianity has gone the way of the dodo – into extinction. Thank God for small mercies!

    November 17, 2010 at 4:41 am |
  10. Brandon Wydeman

    "Jesus says that we should be born again Christians". The sinful life that we use to live is no more, what I'm saying is where is his repentance and how is he still a minister at a particular church if he is still practising this life style. Jesus says
    in Matt 6 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Romans chp. 1 says 18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

    19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

    20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

    21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

    22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

    23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

    24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

    25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

    26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

    27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

    29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

    30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

    31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

    32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. These are harsh words from the Most High but Jesus is pleading for souls to come and drink from his cup and be changed. Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters Rev 14:7.

    November 17, 2010 at 4:21 am |
  11. Sarah

    I think that this is not only a brave, but commendable thing that this pastor has done. In a born-again Christian church one could easily be ostracised for being gay and making it known that they are gay. For the leader of a church to openly announce that he is gay is a big step for the Christian community. While I am not of any specific faith, I know of quite a few closed minded Christians, and to them I will present this article. The pastor here admits that being gay is,indeed, not a choice, that it is just who you are. I am incredibly proud of this man and if I were a member of his congregation I would gladly proclaim him as my pastor.

    November 17, 2010 at 3:37 am |
  12. Red

    This is absolutely disgusting! It's just sad that he doesn't know that scripture, that he loves so much, well enough to know what it says! Just because God loves does not mean that he loves the sin Mr. Swilley.

    November 16, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  13. Miranda

    Being gay or lesbian is NOT a choice. If it was then I would rather be straight because life would be easier, but i'm not. I am proud of who I am though and it took me a while to come to terms with that due to the fact that I grew up in a very strict christian home. I was told my whole life that being gay was wrong which made it harder for me growing up. I didn't come out to my parents until I was 27, even then it was over the phone. My thoughts to all the straight people that go out of there way to hate so much is this....if you dont want to have any gay people in this world, then stop having gay kids.

    November 16, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  14. L. Rogers

    They are not gay. They have empty souls looking for someone like themselves to affirm them. There is a God vacuum in all of us that can only be filled by Him. Only Jesus can fill your empty soul and affirm who you are because He made you. Get a glimpse of Him and you will never want to sin against Him again. He has the power for you to change. Be willing to let it go and trust Him to help you.

    November 16, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  15. ChristinChip

    Let God be true and every man a liar. There was no king in Israel, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Sodom's destruction is left as an example of those that would afterward live ungodly. Be ye holy as I am holy. If any man be in Christ he is a new creature. Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind. Men with men doing that which was unseemly and receiving IN THEMSELVES that recompence of their error which was meet.. How can ye escape the damnation of hell? Repent!

    November 16, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  16. The only true God

    When Jehovah Witnesses knock on your doors the next time, please people, accept the Bible Study.

    November 16, 2010 at 9:05 am |
  17. Brandy bucktook

    Seriously my comment was pulled. Apparently if you make a good point and it's devistating to the opponent. It will be pulled.

    November 16, 2010 at 3:32 am |
  18. doggiepooop

    Pastor Swilley,
    This is what Romans 1:18-32 says,
    " 18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

    19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

    20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

    21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

    22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

    23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

    24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

    25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

    26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

    27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

    29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

    30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

    31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

    32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."

    November 16, 2010 at 1:56 am |
  19. MITCH

    I want all these bible-people to help and pray for BLACK MEN in the MIDWEST who are 60% (SIXTY PERCENT) UNEMPLOYED and have been since 2002! This is a real sin and the reason for tons of pain, anger, and death in the BLACK COMMUNITY. THANK YOU.

    November 15, 2010 at 7:43 pm |
  20. Sockness Monster

    Question – who decided that we are all born with sin ?

    When i came out of my mothers womb, i believe the first thing i did was breathe and maybe cry
    how is that sin ?

    Or did some religious scholar come up with that
    so from the minute we are born, we owe some kind of redemption.

    Jesus did not die on the cross for my sins
    he died because he was condemned for heresy.
    He also did NOT die on the cross.
    He passed out, was taken down and treated with expensive herbs and oils.

    You have been successfully brainwashed.

    November 15, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
    • doggiepooop

      Actually, Adam and Eve were pure before God in the Garden of Eden. After they ate of the unforbidden fruit, that is what got them kicked out of Eden. It was then that God cursed the ground for Adam and increased the pain of childbearing for Eve. That is when mankind was cursed as sin in the presence of God. Before that, Adam and Eve walked in the cool of the Garden without any thought or problems because they were in right standing with God or righteous. After the fall, or sin, they were now unrighteous because of their disobedience.

      Jesus came so that his sacrifice could redeem us from that unrighteousness. He rose again as a sign to us that we also will be resurrected on the day of His Return. God's wrath is still coming. He never did away with the law, but Christ fulfilled the necessities of the Law in order that we could walk in mercy. If you put your trust in Christ, then you will be saved from the Coming Wrath. If not, the Law has accused you as guilty. It's just that simple.

      November 16, 2010 at 2:04 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.