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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. Allan

    He did the right thing. His congregation is blessed to have him.

    November 14, 2010 at 6:14 am |
  2. David

    "gaying up the church" lol. Anyway, kudos to Swilley for being faithful to God and himself.

    November 14, 2010 at 6:08 am |
  3. Bubba

    Who would 'choose' to be gay? I can't imagine choosing to be marginalized and discriminated against. Does this mean that the people who say stuff like this 'chose' to be straight, and are therefore part gay themselves?

    November 14, 2010 at 6:01 am |
  4. Chopswell

    Well that certainly explains the prolapsed hemorrhoid then.

    November 14, 2010 at 6:00 am |
  5. jake

    Just remember that the church of Jesus Christ is not a building, a pastor, a denomination, or a drink of wine from a brass cup. The church is everyone that follows the teaching of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. These people live all over, in Iran, the jungles of Borneo, and above and on the streets of our cities. They do not necessarily belong to a Mega church and possibly do not even enter a church building every Sunday. Christians are people that make a choice to live a life choice that follows the teaching of Jesus Christ. Not all are called to this life choice. The things of God will seem foolishness to those that do not know God. Christians are not called to hate any sinner, but to love and pray for all. So when these things happen in crazy Megachruch buildings or even in the most sanctified confines of the Vatican they are to be expected. As the darkness seeks the light to both destroy and be in it. But the darkness does not understand the Light. That light is Christ and in Him no darkness is found. You need only ask Him into your life and then you must willfully turn from the sins of this world. A church building will not save his congregates anymore than it will save him, me or you.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:59 am |
  6. Elaine

    DO YOU PEOPLE READ THE BIBLE? WHY DO YOU THINK GOD DESTROYED SODOM AND GOMMORAH? THE BIBLE CLEARLY SAYS THAT IF A MAN LIES WITH ANOTHER MAN AS HE DOES A WOMAN HE HAS COMMITTED AN ABOMINATION AND HIS BLOOD WILL BE ON HIS HANDS AND THE SAME FOR WOMEN. WHY SHOULD I ACCEPT IT WHEN GOD DOESN'T. JUST READ LEVITCUS ,IT IS A SIN PERIOD. GOD HAS ALREADY JUDGED AND CONDEMED THOSE WHO LIE WITH THE SAME GENDER. NO MATTER HOW YOU PUT IT, GOD DIDN'T MAKE YOU THAT WAY AND HE DOES NOT ACCEPT IT .I REMIND YOU AGAIN READ THE STORY OF WHY GOD DESTROYED SODOM AND GOMMORAH AND WHY NOTHING HAS EVER BEEN ABLE TO GROW THERE EVER.SO I AM NOT PASSING JUDGEMENT ON YOU, GOD HAS ALREADY DONE THAT.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:49 am |
    • Trenks

      Have you ever eaten a fig, pig, or shrimp? That is a sin too. Ever had lustful thoughts, ever? Sin. Don't worry about this gay dude going to your hell, worry about yourself because nobody is without sin. So you're probably both going– unless you get strung up on a cross next to the son of god. Then you might get lucky.

      November 14, 2010 at 6:34 am |
    • Vikki

      Elaine, there is no need to yell as you did in your post (putting the entire post in capital letters!) You clearly want to take a stand on what it says in Lev. 18:22 about a man lying with another man as he does with a awoman. That's cool; but if you want to adhere to that particular scripture, then tell me....have you sold any of your children into slavery yet? Have you worn any clothes made from two different types of weave? Have you eaten any shellfish of any kind lately? If you have then I applaud you, because you are also an abomination because you have eaten of shellfish, worn an item of clothing made of two different types of weave, and just out of curiousity, how many of your children have you sold into slavery up to this date? If you haven't done any of these things as of yet, SHAME ON YOU! YOU TOO ARE AN ABOMINATION OF THE LORD! You cannot pick and choose your scripture to promote your hateful agenda Elaine, and if you want to have others live by and adhere to a certain text of scripture, then you too need to be held accountable and have to adhere to certain texts of scripture as well. If you cannot do that or it isn't possible or logical for you to do so in this day and age, then don't expect gay or lesbian people to adhere to certain texts either. You cannot ask one person to live by the Bible as it is written and you clearly do not practice what you preach. Also, unless you are God Himself, how do you know whether or not He created gays and lesbians? Quit trying to promote your hateful agenda based on facts that are clearly distorted in your mind. God made us all, Black, White, Straight, Gay, Left-Handed, Right-Handed, it is all the same in God's eyes. You have no knowledge of what God does or doesn't do unless you have a direct phone line to Him in Heaven which I clearly doubt. Think about that before you post your hateful agenda and spew your garbage anymore. Unless you live by every verse in the Bible dilligently without altering their wording or meanings, you cannot pick and choose your scripture to promote hate. God would be the first one to say..."Shame on you Elaine! Your place is not to pass judgement on others, your place is to practice becoming Christ-like....and Christ does not spew hateful words or phrases!" Think about it!

      November 14, 2010 at 7:02 am |
    • Joe

      I so agree with what is being said. Today people pick and choose from the scriptures to promote hateful agenda. Do you know that the only commandment to Christians was to go out into the world and preach the Good news about salvation? No where does it state to Go out and preach your personal interpretations of God's holy words and choose what you think fits your personal biases to attract others to God. God Loves everyone. we are all his children! Get that fact correctly. It is NOT your job or anyone else's to decide whom God should choose to save or not. Last time I checked we are all sinners. That includes you. Be mindful of judging others and determining that theur sins are greater than thy own as you may find yourself before the Almighty God on judgement day trying to explain why the people who your life should have set an example for and should have brought them into the fold, went the other way. You may be asked to follow them straight to hell for your thoughtless and selfish condemnation of them. Do not judge and live your life according to the truth so that you may be a beacon of light that many will seek to follow. Right now, after your statements, how many lives are being discouraged from seeking out the Lord? How many lives and souls will be lost because they read hatred in your words?

      November 14, 2010 at 7:30 am |
    • Geoffrey Sperl

      Do you support slavery? Because the Bible does. And your name is "Elaine"? Shouldn't you settle down like a good Christian woman and let the menfolk handle this?

      Look: You can cherrypick whatever you like in any holy book you want. The point is: Until you start thinking for yourself and not abdicating your free will to a political tool designed to make it easier for Christians to survive Roman rule, then you are going to be led by your naive nose.

      November 14, 2010 at 8:25 am |
    • matt

      Elaine, ever heard of love thy neighbour? God didnot say love thy neighbour if he is straight and/or confirms to your world views. Looks like you are in violation of atleast one commandment. See you in hell.
      Man has taken religion and used it to break everything that god meant them to do. Jesus was trying to undo the dogmatic and ritualistic interpretation of the bible and unfortunately, we have gone right back to doing the same in his name. He must be squirming in his seat up above.

      November 14, 2010 at 8:58 am |
    • Julibear

      Elaine, the bible also says its ok to keep slaves. That is one clear case where the bible gets morality WRONG. If it gets it so wrong on this major count, how can you trust it to rule the rest of your moral life? Gays are people too, they are good, bad, ugly, beautiful, and yes, can have a spiritual calling. Get outside of your narrow judgments–in your own religion is it not true, ONLY GOD WILL JUDGE. So get off your high horse and go feed the poor.

      November 14, 2010 at 9:12 am |
    • Mike Dallas

      Maybe if you knew the context of the scripture you quote, you would understand better. The fable was written by the early church which was trying to define "christianity" as anything non-Romans.

      Romans bad, "christians" good, Romans slept with whomever they wished men and women with no judgement as which may be right or wrong.

      Your early church lieaders and bible editors did tha.

      Besides, if the second book of the Book of Fables written to inform us what Jesus would do and since we were doing it incorrectly as detailed in the Old Testament, why is any scripture in the Old Testament relevant, after the New Testament?

      November 14, 2010 at 9:48 am |
  7. JudeM

    Two failed marriages, founder and pastor of a megachurch, gay. Compatible? Only in the USA.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:47 am |
  8. abrar aziz

    what a hipocrate he is , preaching christian laws but not following them himself

    November 14, 2010 at 5:45 am |
  9. Steven

    This is so enlightning. I have goose bumps.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:39 am |
  10. jake

    I was born this way so I should be this way because God made me this way. Nope, not a Christian argument, this is a worldly excuse. We are all born to sin. Yes, soon after birth it becomes evident and we all have sinned and continue to do so. Yes. Even Christians, and lions, and bears, aha! But the difference is repentance and the turning away. Many types of sin are difficult to turn away from and s-e-x-u-a-l sin is specifically identified in the Bible as being one of the hardest. But you are to turn away from it none the less. He was married to two women and had four children, but he was born into it? If you do not want to turn away from sin then you do not wish to live a Christian life, so don’t. It’s your choice. But his actions hurt many others in the congregation that were deceived. The same is happening with the problems in the Catholic Church with the h-o-m-o-s-e-xual ped-op-hiles and the priests’ lust for one another. This s-e-xual sin you call a natural God-given trait have hurt many. He should walk away and find a nice church in San Francisco.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:39 am |
    • Jubril

      I could not have written it better

      November 14, 2010 at 5:48 am |
    • Julibear

      hey dont put any sin on bears. Thats a human construct.. Leave the poor bears and lions out of our vanities.

      November 14, 2010 at 9:09 am |
  11. Steven

    I'm so glad this is being brought to the forefront. What were we talking about?

    November 14, 2010 at 5:35 am |
  12. Steven

    I am listening but all I can hear is Bla Bla Bla.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:31 am |
  13. paige

    i'm confused on how he's gay & a pastor?! he myst not read, what he preaches on sundays. He's not going to heavan, Idc how many sermons he preaches. No sin will enter the kingdom of god... and being gay is a sin. God made Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve!

    November 14, 2010 at 5:29 am |
  14. Baffled

    Intresting how this happens right after a conservative "landslide" in the midterms. I wonder if we are really headed to the right as a nation or just trapping right-wingers in a stagnant and impotent government while the real change happens in the culture.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:24 am |
  15. Steven

    And so, why is this news?

    November 14, 2010 at 5:23 am |
  16. respect

    God do not make mistakes he new if we was man or woman when he created us.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:22 am |
    • akinsc

      To steal a line from the television show; Bones – "God does not make mistakes." "Hmm, I don't know. Putting testicles on the outside didn't seem like such a good idea."

      November 14, 2010 at 9:19 am |
  17. Brenda

    God said "Judge not lest ye be judged." He did not say "Judge not except for the things you think I am against." Judge not means just that.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:21 am |
  18. jake

    His amazingly well trimmed beard and carefully sculpted coiffure should have been a dead give away.  One sin is no greater than another, so his sin is no greater than adultery, murder, etc. But just like these other sins, his is clearly sin as it is clearly defined as such in multiple scripture in the Bible. Although we all fall short, the difference is willful continuance, that is, a Christian should repent and turn away from their sins. If he does not turn away then he is willfully leading a life of sin and is living a lie. He should not have hidden his sin from the congregation. That was very selfish and deceitful, characteristic of the darkness that is actively battling for his soul.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:19 am |
    • Re

      I agree with Jake.

      November 14, 2010 at 5:28 am |
    • Kelly Garrett

      @Jake,

      I see you like the stereotypes created by the christians. What does a well trimmed beard and well coifed hairstyle have to do with being Gay? I am 6 foot tall and 280 pounds of a hairy brute...my nickname used to be Bluto. Many of my Gay friends do not come even close to your stereotypical, and wrong, ideas or us. Which is good, in a way. We are amongst you, your mechanics, your construction workers...all walks of life, and all types of personalities, body styles and mannerisms. We are the ones you don't see when you look around to see who is near when you tell you f@g jokes...we laugh right along with you to your face, while we curse you under our breaths. You people do not even notice the majority of us amongst you, because the majority of us do not fit your stereotypes. There are at least 9 million of us amongst our 320 million fellow Americans, and that number may be as high as 15 million...but, you can not see us.

      November 14, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  19. Keep Your Prejudice to Yourself

    To wonderment: If you are born gay, how is it wrong to act on it? Should this pastor just spend his entire life in misery, never finding true love because he was born with a "sinful nature"? Try thinking outside your narrow little Bible box and start considering the morality of your argument. Sorry to break it to you sweetheart, but beyond the context of the Bible, your argument makes no sense. In more frank terms, you, sir, are a callous, close-minded bigot, and quite possibly simply an idiot.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:18 am |
    • Pulling your head out of your A55

      And what about the thousands of men who may have been born with a quick / bad temper? Should they just act upon their "birth right"; or do they practice self-control? Just because a person is born a certain way does not IMMEDIATELY predispose them to a certain way of acting / thinking.
      Were you born with your love of fried food, chocolate, soap operas, Oprah and potato chips?

      November 14, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • KDW31

      Someone with a temper is going to be more likely to engage in activities that hurt others. Hurting others is wrong. Being g-ay does not hurt others. Eating certain foods is associated with the type of environment/culture you were raised in a making a conscious choice. People don't choose to be g-ay. Try again if you can.

      November 14, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  20. Rangerboy

    Who Cares ?

    November 14, 2010 at 5:18 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.