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. Cam

    Most religions believe in talking animals, flying people, and a God who commands war and demands slavery...

    November 14, 2010 at 9:18 am |
  2. blob of goo

    I as a Christian I am so glad to see this happen and want to see more of it! The "Christian church" in the past century has fled dogma and doctrine to the point where most anything is acceptable. They read and write books and sing and write music with a lack of fundamental Christian belief. At the same time they come out and try telling everyone who is not of their faith how to live their life. Christianity is exclusive! Judaism is exclusive! Mormonism is exclusive! Muslim is exclusive! The modern "Christian church" is not Christian but universalism with a bias toward the deity of Yahweh or Jesus. I want to see this modern, emergent, universalist church to be exposed as the fraud they are. I do not see this as a gay issue, but rather a disregard by the (modern/emergent) church of Holy Scriptures.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:18 am |
    • BradLW

      So to what ancient period do you wish us to return? That is the ultimate result of your statement. Religion has always been dragged crying and screaming into the current era no matter when that current era was. If it expects to remain viable, religion must evolve just like everything else.

      November 14, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
    • The Savior Himself

      Holy Scriptures ? That seems an oxymoron. something similar to 'wonderful lies'

      November 14, 2010 at 10:36 pm |
  3. Pearl

    Daoud....No I did not concoct that idea..see the reference to "Conversations with spirit"...you need to relax maybe go back to church and rely on thier dogma... Hate them cause their different than us...how many men and women have lost their lives, destroyed families because we can't get along with each other...believe what you want in the end you will see that there is so much more than the Bible or church says.....LOVE is LOVE no matter how you slice it...wouldn't it be much easier if everyone just keep their own noses clean!

    November 14, 2010 at 9:17 am |
  4. Angie

    Lets all agree you have to have some bolls to coming out like this guy did. He probably will pay for it, people are cruel.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:16 am |
  5. Step

    @ Dennis – Jesus denounced those who condemned him for hanging out with sinners. He also condemned people for judging others when they themselves had more than enough sins to worry about.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:14 am |
  6. Jay

    Everyone needs to google on Stephen Bennett Ministries. Powerful testimony of living in sin with another man for 18 years and he repented, turned and gave his life to Jesus Christ. He is now happily married, has beautiful children and is helping others be delivered and set free from the bondage of sin. Praise The Lord and check him out for yourself.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:12 am |
  7. krussell25

    i am SO tired of you self serving christians. You pick and choose which parts of the Old Testament you want to believe as it fits your needs.
    The children of the idiots who used the Bible to descriminate against women used it to descriminate against blacks. The children of the bigots who fought against civil rights are now using the bible to descriminate against gays.
    I pitty you fools who are so insecure that you have to band together and hate another group to feel good about yourselves.

    People, for the love of God, either accept the WHOLE Bible or reject the Bible.
    Grow up and admit that you don't really accept God, and you only use Christianity when it serves you.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:11 am |
  8. ComeOnNow2KX

    "Suicide prompts pastor to come out"; huh "prompts", 2 months later is "prompt". If it took him two months to decide, then his parishioners have known for years, not that it matters. This just strikes me as someone who needs as much attention as he can get.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:10 am |
  9. jhendrix731

    The truth will set you free! On that note: santa claus, the easter bunny, magic, jesus, god, allah, and all those other fairy tale characters are not real. Faith is for the weak minded. Goodness is real, be a good person for yourself and for others, not for fictional characters or a highly flawed, outdated religious manuscript.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:10 am |
    • Wawawhat


      November 14, 2010 at 9:12 am |
    • W

      From where does this internal moral compass evolve? Is everything relative? Does the influence of cultural "norms" in today's society determine what is good or are there any absolutes? Maybe we should just let television lay out our moral code one season at a time.

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

      "From where does this internal moral compass evolve?"

      If you would do just the smallest amount of research on your own, you would quickly discover that "moral" codes have been around a lot longer than even the old testament. Bottom line comes out to, yes it is man within his particular time and society who is the ultimate creator and arbiter of his social mores.

      Oh! I'm sorry(not)! Believers never accept any facts which disagree with their unfounded and unsubstantiated beliefs. Instead, they choose to remain ignorant and misguided. Mores the pity!

      November 14, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
  10. Bob

    I think this guy should run for president.

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

    The church's job is to help people like him turn away from their sin. The church should give him an opportunity to step down and offer as much help as they can, but they should not allow him to retain any position in the church until he has turned away from his sin.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:08 am |
    • DrPete

      Actually the Church's job should be to help people like you turn away from ignorance and judgment.

      November 14, 2010 at 9:20 am |
    • W

      Pete, enlighten me. Are you saying that living a gay lifestyle isn't a sin, that there is no such thing as sin, or that the church should ignore unrepentant sin in it's clergy? Just want to be clear on your point.

      November 14, 2010 at 9:31 am |
    • jhendrix731

      Being gay is NOT a sin. The bible was written by man, not god. Do you believe in the easter bunny or santa claus? Why not grow up and acknowledge that jesus, god, and all those other mythical figures are fake. Faith is for the weak minded, grow up. It's time to start being good people not because we want to impress our imaginary friends but because we like to be good. Amen.

      November 14, 2010 at 9:33 am |
    • W

      @jhendrix731 Well, in your mind, is there any sin?

      November 14, 2010 at 9:41 am |
    • BradLW

      Spoken just like a good little xtian automaton!

      I really, really don't understand you professed xtians. Out of one side of your mouths you say that all one has to do is accept jesus as personal savior and believe in him and all past, present, and future sins have already been forgiven and then you want to remove a minister who is truthful with his congregation because he believes basically the same things you do! That is not at all consistent to say nothing about it not being congruent!

      BTW. you might want to do some research on the number of xtian ministers who no longer believe but stay in their positions(without disclosure) either because their lively hood depends on it or because they sincerely believe they can still be of benefit(and usually are) to their congregations.

      November 14, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
    • W

      @ BradLW Sins are forgiven when the person repents (confesses sin and turns away from it) and asks forgiveness for those sins.

      November 14, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
    • BradLW

      Whoops; cnn's system is doing strange things this a.m.



      I suggest you go back to the bible verses that I provided to justina in this thread.

      Please explain to all of us how one can "accept" jesus as his/her personal savior without asking for forgiveness of sins.

      Repentance is an integral part of "acceptance" not something separate from it. The real thing that made jesus angry about people not "repenting" as he wanted them to was that they were figuratively and literally rejecting him; i.e. they were not accepting him as their personal savior and, as with almost every religious zealot, that injured his ego.

      November 15, 2010 at 6:39 am |
  12. Buckfinster Q Crabtree

    Since God doesn't exist or exist in the simpleton idiotic form He does in the bible, I'm sure this pastor will be just fine. In oblivion with the rest of us.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:07 am |
    • BradLW


      I suggest you go back to the bible verses that I provided to justina in this thread.

      Please explain to all of us how one can "accept" jesus as his/her personal savior without asking for forgiveness of sins.

      Repentance is an integral part of "acceptance" not something separate from it. The real thing that made jesus angry about people not "repenting" as he wanted them to was that they were figuratively and literally rejecting him; i.e. they were not accepting him as their personal savior and, as with almost every religious zealot, that injured his ego.

      November 15, 2010 at 6:28 am |
  13. Julibear

    The Bible ALSO says to treat one another as you would like to be treated. Whether or not you believe every word of the Bible (i.e., men should not lie with me, its ok to kill your daughter if she is not a virgin on her wedding night, dont eat shellfish, its ok to keep slaves), the Old Testament in particular gets many moral questions WRONG. The one and only thing to take a way from the Bible in order to lead a good life is: LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU. The rest is vanity.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:07 am |
    • LivinginVA


      November 14, 2010 at 9:12 am |
  14. JAG

    Why is the Communist News Network constantly lying about the Bible? Oh, right, the obvious. I think you already know what I and everyone else are about to say. That's the point isn't it. One of cultural marxism's many goals for destroying a Country. Well here's one of my goals, to watch your network's ratings drop until it's sold for $1. Wave at Newsweak for me.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:05 am |
    • BradLW

      Ahhhhhh; you must be a fan of the First Official Xenophobic network; poor you.

      November 14, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
  15. Bill W

    I will say a prayer for this man. Jesus please protect this man and all gays from your followers.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:04 am |
    • BradLW

      Good one!

      Just think, if prayer actually worked we probably wouldn't be having these types of issues!

      November 14, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  16. Spontaneous

    Nothing may be wrong with this but he hs been living a lie, lying to everyone by not being honest. And we all kow he will be going to hell.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:03 am |
    • BradLW

      By ". . . all . . ." I have to presume that you mean "all" of those who believe the way you do. How typically religiously arrogant to use a word like "all" in the context you have!

      November 14, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  17. AC 190

    This pastor has done his congregation a great service, he has shown them, that through his own failure to realize who he is, he has caused himself and others pain. He is leading through example. The best of religion teaches to honor oneself though connections to others, healthy living and reflection. I am sure this was a weighty decision but now that it is done, he is free.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:02 am |
  18. Chadhulhu

    So what if he is gay? You Bible Thumpers are insane, you know that? The bible tells folks to be loving and caring of one another, but when someone is gay, you guys just got to town on the person. That is what makes me sick with religion, you guys are a bunch of flip floppers, oh we love everyone, except the gays. It is pathetic that people put so much belief in a book written by man, not god, man. We are truly Monsters.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:01 am |
  19. Mike Dallas

    @Don Elliot

    Your "bible" was written by and edited by man, starting about 70 years AFTER the death of Christ. God did not write the Bible nor are the words in it "God's word", it is simply the telling of parables massaged by the simple minds of men to convey what THEY interpreted to be the meaning of God's words, an arrogance beyond belief, pardon the pun.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:00 am |
  20. Wondering

    Sammy, so "Jesus WAS NOT gay." So why did he spend so much time living with twelve men (sorry, eleven men and a woman".

    November 14, 2010 at 8:58 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.