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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. Courtney

    I am amazed that this article didn't even bother to say which denomination the church is. I would be very interested to know.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:15 am |
    • Lisa

      It is a non-denominational church.

      November 14, 2010 at 8:37 am |
    • Sister Bushfire

      Our Lady of the Sacred Butt Pirates

      November 14, 2010 at 10:46 am |
    • Sacred Butt Pirate

      ARRRSE!

      November 14, 2010 at 11:28 am |
    • danno-san

      The Church of Bupkis

      November 14, 2010 at 11:58 am |
    • larfin

      Untied Church of Crisco

      November 14, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  2. jimmy the freak

    I always told my Gay friends that the big break for equality will come when enough religious leaders accept God's will for Gay people and urge their congregations to be loving and accepting. We just took a giant step forward. The only thing Gay people want is to be treated fairly, and if anyone should treat others fairly, it's the Christian community.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:15 am |
  3. Baffled

    This topic helps reveal how Christians are living in an alternate universe with its own set of arbitrary rules. It feels like a bunch of sic-fi fans arguing whether Klingons could ever be accepted in the Galactic Council. Does anybody see how utterly insane it is to have serious debates with people who live in such a fantasy world?

    November 14, 2010 at 5:12 am |
    • Human

      Sadly what you stated in laymen terms will fly over many humans heads. I totally agree with thoughts. In most churches, it is a brain-washing scam for the; uneducated-have-nothing-else-to-do, need-to-feel-better-about-oneself-by-having-someone(preacher)-tell-me-I-better-than-others-though-I -know-I-am-lame-uneducated-idiot, don't-have-many-friends, need-someone-to-lean-on-because-I-need-to-believe-in-someone-else-to-go-on-even-if-they-don't-exist-in-person.

      If the bible were rewritten today, and the christians were the authors, I think the only change, would be more hate towards humans, and omit things about gluttony, omit the verses about not eating pork, clams, scallops, shrimp, lobster, chicken, turkey, duck.

      The bible is the excuse/reasoning of acceptance in hating others for whom they are. Without it[bible], would we have a reason to hate others and not be honest with ourselves?

      November 14, 2010 at 11:53 am |
    • gato

      ROTFL......Gotta love a little humor injected into a discussion about religion. In all seriousness. I have 2 question? Are any of the Klingon's gay? What denomination is the Galactic Council?

      November 14, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
  4. Dale W

    Justina, you need to get a life because the one your living is making you look like a bigot.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:12 am |
  5. warda

    English is my third language but I still want to say that my question is unless he was practicing his gay tendency between the 2 marriages, was he cheating on this poor wife of his to be himself (gay)? I understand those people in the church who cut ties with him, i would he was lying to them for years asking them to do and don't things he might have been doing him self what a hypocrite!

    November 14, 2010 at 5:11 am |
  6. Kanye Western

    Another example that religion is fake

    November 14, 2010 at 5:11 am |
    • liberateus

      what example?

      November 14, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  7. Dale W

    One must not under estimate God and the people he created. We are all different for a reason and we are all special in his eyes. The bible says, Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand... Will the clay say to the potter, "What are you doing?" Jeremiah 18:6, Isaish 45:9. God has made you as you are in order to use you as he planned. Love yourself and love others and judge the heart. Man looks on the outside but the Lord looks at the heart.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:07 am |
  8. Nicolas

    God Bless you Jim Swiftley.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:06 am |
  9. Eddie

    Justina how dare you to know what God has said. Maybe God told me you need to lose weight.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:05 am |
  10. Chris

    I'm so with Richard here.... Besides reading a bunch of religious dogma garbage here, PLEASE – MANY of YOU- get an education and ensure English is part of your program.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:02 am |
    • Hellscreamgold

      "MANY of YOU-"

      I'd highly suggest that you not insult other people's intelligence and capabilities here until you fix your own problems. You forgot a space there.

      November 14, 2010 at 9:05 am |
  11. whatascam

    how come he still working at that church, he should go to hell because the bible says so! What a sham!

    November 14, 2010 at 5:01 am |
    • Trish B

      Really? Simple statement full of all the wrath that creates so many misunderstandings in this world from gays to differences in religious belief. The bible says so, so that is that? Well, hope you are following EVERYTHING the bible rules as sin..from wearing jewelry, cutting your hair, no woman should speak in public, eating "unclean" meat..(hope you aren't eating shrimp) etc etc. The old & new testament is full of rules and regulations..so I hope you are following them ALL or else you will be burning in what you call "hell" if you aren't!! Get your bible out and read about forgiveness and judging, lest you be not judged. Might just open your eyes to what is truly important instead of dwelling on what everyone else is doing or not doing that you find disgusting. We must get out of this "come to Jesus or be condemned to eternal hell" rantings. This type of message is why there are people today that spread hate- and fear mongering to make people just fearful and swallow.And then they will be lead easily in the way the messenger wants them to go. Ideaology without intelligence is dangerous.

      November 14, 2010 at 8:14 am |
  12. John Lane

    If he was a practicing gay, it's good that he admitted it – now he should also resign his position. he also needs to repent and return to being a husband to his wife, if she will still have him. You can't be a shepherd caring for the souls of others when you don't have your own house in order. Being a practicing gay was unfaithfulness towards his wife. "Coming out" put the nails in the coffin of his marriage.

    November 14, 2010 at 4:58 am |
    • Peter green

      You sir are a judgemental bigoted hypocrite. He s gay obviously he doesn't want to have a wife the same way you wouldn't want to have a husband. How can you be unfaithful by being honest about who you truly are? Let no man cast a stone who has not himself sinned. And by the way discrimination is also a sin Einstein.

      November 14, 2010 at 5:44 am |
    • YBP

      A practicing gay? I would assume that he is a full-fledged card-carrying gay. And my guess is so are you, John. Because no straight guy that I have ever met would care either way.

      November 14, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  13. real

    you all say judge. we all judge and we always will. for once, lets find the courage within to judge ourselves. judging yourself creates boundaries and goals, regardless of who you do or do not call god. judging others is merely an opinion. be constructive and be real. the words of others hurt only when you give them power over your emotions. look deeper. perhaps my children will someday learn that as i show it in my life. wrong or right, good or bad, i am me. try it.

    November 14, 2010 at 4:56 am |
  14. nycbull

    bunch of religious coo coo's on here tonight

    November 14, 2010 at 4:51 am |
    • morgan painter

      Tonight the coo-coos seem to come in all colors, mindsets, and persuasions.
      I do not believe the religious wackos have a monopoly on that.

      November 15, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  15. LBrown

    Pastor Swilley-I applaud your courage. Without a doubt you will save lives spiritually, mentally, and physically by your decision to come out and stand up for what is right. You will lend your strength to help those being crushed by the ignorance and evil spread by people who may call themselves "Christian" but are truly doing the work of the devil harming fellow human beings just because those human beings are gay. Keep loving and thinking. You are not alone.

    November 14, 2010 at 4:48 am |
    • akinsc

      Well said – and thank you. A comment actually on topic to the article. It could not have been easy for the Pastor to come forward but if his courage possibly saves another's life, how could it be wrong. How many of us would be in courageous enough to do the same – or ever even have an opportunity to significantly affect another's life by our actions.

      November 14, 2010 at 9:14 am |
  16. susan

    When told to recite the Torah standing on one foot, the rabbi said:"love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. The rest is commentary."

    November 14, 2010 at 4:43 am |
  17. TIm

    Justina, god loves you, and he wants you to judge not lest ye be judged... amen!

    November 14, 2010 at 4:42 am |
  18. TIm

    Hey Justina, is 'loving' someone else a lifestyle?? wow, how about you give up your 'lifestyle' and be single forever? yeaah right, i figured..

    November 14, 2010 at 4:41 am |
  19. darethlee

    My conservative evangelical son asked his sister (my atheist daughter) what her definition of "tolerance" was. She is gay. She is very liberal. When she tried to talk to him, all he could do was refer to the Bible and say that the "word of God" is the answer to everything. It is very frustrating to have children who can't seem to be able to get over semantics and just talk to each other about how they feel, instead of turning to a source that one of them does not think is definitive. I am at an age where I am like Rodney: "Why can't we all just get along?" With the number of people in the world growing expontentially, it seems like we need to be able to agree to disagree and get on with our lives in a respectful manner. Otherwise, this planet is doomed.

    November 14, 2010 at 4:39 am |
    • Hellscreamgold

      "instead of turning to a source that one of them does not think is definitive"

      And what is your daughter's "definitive" source? Herself? Other gay people? Other athiests?

      Remember, there's 2 people here, and you are faulting your son for using what he believes in, and taking the side of your daughter.

      Yes, I agree, that your son shouldn't preach to your daughter, but instead love her, and try and act the Christian life all of the time, and just be. He should unconditionally love his sister, regardless of her beliefs, as he should all people, and let God work people's hearts.

      I wonder what your daughter says to your son, since your post was totally in her defense and against your son. As I'm sure, by the sound of it, that your daughter needs some lessons in love and accepting others, regardless of their beliefs.

      November 14, 2010 at 9:03 am |
  20. nycbull

    bunch of religious freaks on here tonight

    November 14, 2010 at 4:28 am |
    • NYCBear

      And the other side – pagans and heathens – are well represented too.

      November 14, 2010 at 10:38 am |
    • outofcontextthumpers

      these heathens seem to be pretty compassionate

      November 14, 2010 at 10:42 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.