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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. LADY D.

    2 CORINTHIANS 5: 17 THERFORE IF ANY MAN BE IN CHRIST, HE IS A NEW CREATURE; OLD THINGS ARE PASSED AWAY; BEHOLD, ALL THINGS ARE BECOME NEW.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:20 am |
  2. no nonsense

    If God really thought one was born gay, then HIV would have probably not been born. Really now, keep gays in the closet and keep them out of the military!!!!!

    November 14, 2010 at 8:15 am |
    • BradLW

      That is just too ignorant of a statement upon which to even comment.

      For goodness sake, go study some science and history!

      November 14, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  3. robjh1

    Well many in the media will say America is ready for gas/lesbians etc to come out, reality says something different.

    "and we are not saved..."

    November 14, 2010 at 8:14 am |
  4. Whats the problem/

    I don't see the problem with a gay pastor.........The Bible is nothing but a brainwashing tool, written by and used by hucksters to have power over the weak minded......So now a gay man is lying to the public and making a nice living off their hard earned cash.......Stoop id is as stoop id does

    November 14, 2010 at 8:14 am |
  5. F-You

    God does not exist, you freaking retards.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:14 am |
  6. Richard26

    dnt listen pastor in ur own flesh desire, i know u know what is apostle paul said in romans 12, do not conformed in thz word..Pastor listen to what God says, all christians that truly accept Jesus Christ as they Savior and Lord.we have the Holy spirt from God that teach us guide us and make us in the rght path...Pastor it is not end to return to Him..God loves u so much!

    November 14, 2010 at 8:13 am |
  7. skritch

    Seriously, I don't care about this man's, or anyone else's, orientation. Why the heck is this front page news? Get on with something more interesting CNN

    November 14, 2010 at 8:06 am |
  8. The Smart Guy

    Ever notice that the ones spewing the most venom, anger, and hatred are the ones who claim to be the most "faithful" and who "know Jesus Christ as your lord and..." whatever it is you people repeat over and over again?
    I noticed and I think its pretty funny. I will never be so arrogant to claim I understand the word of "god" and I surely will never be so arrogant to claim I know that word from a book of stories that has been passed down and edited and changed for many many years as my reason to hate. Just gonna live my life, worry about my family and friends, and not be such a narcissistic clown to think my opinion on how ANYONE lives their life means anything..unlike many of you.
    You people are little, and rather funny. I feel sorry for you.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:05 am |
    • LivinginVA

      Yup, I find it very sad that the extremists are being allowed to speak for both Christianity and Islam. I was raised Christian by people who think that living Jesus' statement about "doing unto others" is more important than pointing fingers and condemning. They let their religion speak for them in the way they live, not the words they use. It is because of them I don't dismiss Christianity out of hand.

      November 14, 2010 at 8:11 am |
  9. j.t.

    he get's the special room reserved for those who deceived the belivers! Is there something in the water in Georgia this year!

    November 14, 2010 at 8:04 am |
  10. richard

    in thz case, i dnt say that i dnt love gay guys i do love them like Jesus love them,but it doesnt mean that Jesus understand thz tngs! The bible tell us and we can clearly seen, that God creates us in only two gender, Men and women,boy and grl, nothng in the middle, and like what in the leviticus shows that God pour out hz judgement in the sodom, and gomorah,..That the truth that we must face that God doesnt want us to be gay or lesbian, repent and go bck 2 God pastor,. I know that God are always wait 4 us to return to hm..God is a God of a another chance, Godbless ptr.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:02 am |
  11. Reality

    o All "Abrahamics" believe that their god created all of us and of course that includes the g-ay members of the human race. Also, those who have studied ho-mo-se-xuality have determined that there is no choice involved therefore ga-ys are ga-y because god made them that way.

    To wit:

    o The Royal College of Psy-chiatrists stated in 2007:

    “ Despite almost a century of psy-choanalytic and psy-chological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heteros-exual or hom-ose-xual orientation. It would appear that s-exual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of ge-netic factors and the early ut-erine environment. Se-xual orientation is therefore not a choice.[60] "

    "Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab state in the abstract of their 2010 study, "The fe-tal brain develops during the intraut-erine period in the male direction through a direct action of tes-tosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hor-mone surge. In this way, our gender identi-ty (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and s-exual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender ident–ity or s-exual orientation."[8

    Of course, those gays who belong to Abrahamic religions abide by the rules of no adu-ltery or for-nication allowed.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:01 am |
  12. Dan

    This "pastor" is not a Christian. By definition, a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ. If you want to follow Jesus, you must turn away from your past sins (whatever they are) and place your faith and trust for salvation in Christ alone. He's the only way. (Jn 14:6) Yes, God is a loving God, but He is also a God who demands obedience. If you willfully sin, you are God's enemy and the bible says that you can only expect judgement and raging fire from God. (Heb 10:26-27)

    Do not be deceived, If you want to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven – you must follow Jesus Christ. All those who do not will end up in a fiery furnace known as hell. Turn away from your past way of life and follow Jesus. Do it now – while you still can. It's too late after you die.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:59 am |
    • Reality

      Hmmm, "I am the Truth" i.e. John 14:6. This single attestion passage was, according to many NT exegetes, not said by the historical Jesus but was wishful thinking and an embellishment by John to make Jesus more like the ancient and local gods of first century Palestine. http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php?t-itle=Crossan_Inventory

      November 14, 2010 at 8:07 am |
    • Dan

      @Reality: Your father (Satan) never changes his tactics. From the very beginning, the devil cast doubt on God's Word in the garden of Eden. You and Mr. Swilley are on the same wide path.

      "Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” " (Gen 3:1)

      November 14, 2010 at 8:54 am |
    • Mike, not me

      You always say "many NT exegetes," but yet only ever quote one?

      November 14, 2010 at 9:39 am |
    • Reality

      For Dan:

      The Book of Genesis was simply tall tales ge-nerated by the Jewish scribes who wrote said book. The New Torah for Modern Minds corrects the situation.

      To wit:

      "New Torah For Modern Minds

      origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

      Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

      For Mike:
      A path to a list of docu-ments used by NT exegetes (see below) can be found at
      faithfutures.org.

      Some NT exegetes:

      R. Bultmann
      E. Kasemann
      Earl Doherty
      Timothy Freke and Peter Ga-ndy
      Alvar Ellegård
      G. A. Wells
      Gregory Riley
      Robert Eisenman
      John Dominic Crossan
      Robert Fu-nk
      Burton Mack
      Stephen J. Patterson
      Marcus Borg
      Stevan Davies
      Geza Vermes
      Richard Horsley
      Hyam Maccoby
      Gerd Theissen
      Bart Ehrman
      Paula Fredriksen
      Gerd Lüdemann
      John P. Meier
      E. P. Sanders
      Robert H. Stein
      Karen Armstrong
      Albert Schweitzer (The Quest for the Historical Jesus)
      Mahlon Smith
      Karen Pagels
      N.T. Wright
      Luke Johnson
      And members of the Jesus Seminar not noted above

      Recommended sites for added perusal: faithfutures.org/index.php/Works_Cited and earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

      November 14, 2010 at 10:58 am |
    • Dan

      @Reality:

      As I said before, Satan (the father of all lies) is your father. Your end will be what your deeds deserve.

      November 14, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
    • BradLW

      Dan:

      "Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. . . ."

      Do you really not see anything wrong with that quote?

      Since when is a snake not a wild animal? And since (according to the xtian bible) god created all of the animals, how could the "serpent" be ". . . more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made."? Are you saying that god didn't create the serpent?

      November 14, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
    • Mike, not me

      N.T. Wright? Really, can a source be provided?

      November 15, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  13. Chadz

    in thz case, i dnt say that i dnt love gay guys i do love them like Jesus love them,but it doesnt mean that Jesus understand thz tngs! The bible tell us and we can clearly seen, that God creates us in only two gender, Men and women,boy and grl, nothng in the middle, and like what in the leviticus shows that God pour out hz judgement in the sodom, and gomorah,..That the truth that we must face that God doesnt want us to be gay or lesbian, repent and go bck 2 God pastor,. I know that God are always wait 4 us to return to hm..God is a God of a another chance, Godbless

    November 14, 2010 at 7:58 am |
  14. The Bug House

    @margaret
    Nut-Jobs like you are part of the reason I've procreated and raised as many atheist children as I possibly could. I give it 30 years before the church is completely dismantled in the US.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:54 am |
  15. James

    It amazes me how all you nut-jobs can still be serious about believing everything in a book that was conceived by a bunch of 2000 year old mud hut dwelling hippies. Jesus wandered around with a bunch of other men and to my knowledge was never married, perhaps he was gay. Here's a idea......How about using the gray lump between your ears and start thinking rationally and for yourselves.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:54 am |
    • DACOOLE

      Josh McDowell, a contemporary writer and popular speaker on university campuses does just that. And he is no intellectual wimp either. He intelligently investigated the Christian faith, arguing with his friends at his universtiy that it was as exactly what you say it is. With the exception, however, he seriously investigated its claims, and his views are quite contrary to yours. He ended up writing two volumes, Evidence That Demands a Verdidct, I and II. You would have quite a difficult time debating his claims.

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

    People are still hung up on that Bible crap. They have to follow the preachings of another because they are too weak to lead themselves.

    The Koran preaches hate...The Bible preaches hate more

    November 14, 2010 at 7:50 am |
    • akinsc

      Correct – its much easier to push the onus of ones actions off to a recognized religion. God forbid (pun intended) we should actually be accountable for our actions.

      November 14, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  17. dsilviano

    @LivinginVA......The OT law was for the Jewish people. Many of the laws do not pertain now, because for one reason there is no temple and many of the laws pertained only to the priests serving in the temple. Many pertain only to men and some only to women. Some pertain to the issue of slavery...which is not something that is done now. In the NT 9 of the 10 commandments were repeated by Jesus, all except the Sabbath. Those nine we follow, plus the NEW one He gave Himself John 13:34 "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." Now, before you say we must love everyone....I agree, but love does not mean accepting sin and looking over it. Love means to rebuke when necessary so that the one you love will not suffer forever because of their sins. Love is not a warm, mushy, teenager feeling.....love is making hard choices and saying things sometimes that people we love don't want to hear. That's love...pulling the one you love out of the fire.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:48 am |
    • LivinginVA

      “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest part or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” (Matthew 5:17)

      I say again, you have decided which parts of the Bible you want to listen to. I don't have any reason to consider your opinion on which parts to follow any better than my own.

      November 14, 2010 at 7:56 am |
    • akinsc

      I'm not Jewish, nor Christian but I'm pretty sure those faithful Orthodox Jews may have issue with you just tossing aside one of their commandments. It's my understanding many continue to follow there original beliefs. So you're saying we are just concerned with the parts of the Bible that pertain to the here and now? Who decided that ? Some person – much like the human man that revised/interpreted/decided what was important to include in the written text regardless of his personal bias, environmental influences and the societal influence for the time it was written?

      November 14, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  18. Brian C.

    I'm proud of him. What he did takes more courage than any of you bashing him can even understand. And some of you are either baiting or simply have some twisted logic. ‎'God and Country are an unbeatable team; they break all records for oppression and bloodshed.' – Luis Buñuel

    November 14, 2010 at 7:44 am |
  19. thereverend

    Ok. I have talked with and know a lot of gay men. I am not a gay man, However... this is clearly wrong. It is a SIN in the bible. It clearly states that man shal not lay with man. That this is sodomy and a sin. Yet it seems to be accepted openly why?, Why is this accepted openly and other things that are ok in the bible not accepted? This reverend should be ashamed of himself supporting it. Dont get me wrong this loss was a sad thing. The man only needed to repent his sins and ask god for forgiveness and he would have been just fine. I think the guy that leeked the tape should be found, arrested and placed in prison for life. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the man who took his life.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:43 am |
  20. ZIMMERLI01

    MAYBE HE SHOULD HAD JUMPED FROM THE BRIDGE TOO BECAUSE IN FRONT OF GOD, HE MIGHT BE DEAD ANYWAYS!!!

    November 14, 2010 at 7:43 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.