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. Fuyuko

    Did he know he was gay when he got married or did this revelation occur after marriage? I am sorry for the wife, but I guess in the end it is better he is out and she know the truth than that he be on the down low.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  2. downinfront

    @HeisGod Not only can the Holy Spirit inspire people to write the Bible. The Holy Spirit can enable people to know God.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:45 am |
    • HeisGod

      @ downinfront – Thank you, very well said. The Holy Spirit enables others to know God as they allow Him to. He will not force anyone to know God without their consent. It is a free will that God has given each and everyone of us. 8 – )

      November 14, 2010 at 9:58 am |
    • Little Timmy

      @HeisGod – you have blaphemed against the Holy Spirit. You will not like what happens to you after death. Sorry.

      November 14, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
    • Little Timmy

      @HeisGod – I said a scary thing to you that was just me making judgments. Sorry. Jesus loves you. I take back my words.

      November 15, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  3. Tim Hammond

    Just more proof we are living in the last days. The church of Laodocia is in full force. There is no point to having or going to a church that doesn't teach the Word of God. Being gay isn't being authentic. That is being prideful and saying I'm going to do what I want without regard to what is right or wrong. But I'm sure in this world it will be lauded as a spiritual advancement.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:43 am |
  4. Joe

    Bravo, sir. Bravo.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:41 am |
  5. ana

    amen god loves you

    November 14, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  6. Miranda

    I feel sorry for the women that this pastor had children with. Imagine being married to a man who then decides he's gay. What does THAT do for one's self-esteem? I wonder if the women feel they wasted a good portion of their life living a lie with this guy?

    November 14, 2010 at 9:40 am |
    • Fuyuko

      I guess it depends on the relationship, but in the end, perhaps it is better the wives know the truth so they can be free to remarry. I can't speak for them, but this is how I would feel.

      November 14, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  7. HeisGod

    @ Rob12232 – So, you tell us, what other way can we know God if it isn't through the Bible who was inspired by the Holy Spirit? You see, you may say you believe in God and any can make such claim, but believing is different from knowing who God really is. The Word of God says that even demons believe and tremble at His Word. So you tell us, what other way can we know God?

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

      Heisnotgod; neither is it or she.

      It is up to those of you who profess that your god, goddesses, or gods exist. Search this blog for "stephen j gould" for more on this issue; or you can search on "intercessory prayer".

      November 14, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  8. fourjz

    If you want to be saved from all sin obey Acts2:38. "Repent,and be baptized everyone of you,in the name of Jesus Christ,for the remission of sins,and you shall received the gift of the Holy Ghost."

    November 14, 2010 at 9:36 am |
  9. jes

    Oh wow. Wut us our faiths coming to? I have juss recently read an article of atheist preachers? Wut sense does that make? And now a gay preacher who has been LYING his whole life bout who he truly is? I have nutten wrong with gays at all for its not our place to judge it is God's and His alone to judge. But seriously? Wut happened to all of the honest God fearing preachers/pastors/ministers?

    November 14, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  10. Christian Haters

    What I read here is a lot of hypocritical people who have committed several infractions of the Bible and Gods 'will' themselves. Not one Christian in here has pointed out their own skeltons, deceptions, lies, and misguided values. Lots of stone throwing though. What does God say about that? Such immorale, self righteous followers of God. It will be you folks that stand before God to attain for YORU sin, not mine, I will do that so shut up and mind your own business.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  11. ana

    i new this before

    November 14, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  12. James

    Good for him!!

    November 14, 2010 at 9:34 am |
  13. ana

    wow i never saw this before

    November 14, 2010 at 9:34 am |
  14. Blubird1

    The Bible, as all religious books, is all a matter of interpreting the interpretor (priest, lama, minister – holy person). The Bible was written by men (human beings) decades/hundreds/thousandf of years after any of the (if any) "events/quotes" took place. So I personally have issues holy persons, Republicans and TP who use quotes from Bible to incite hatred within thier flock and to the masses, who don't ideologically fit into their pigeon of "perfection". If GOD really hates gays and thinks everyone should too - then I want no part of this orangized belief/religion.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:28 am |
  15. Adrian

    Where do people get the idea that God is unconditional love from?

    I have asked many gay Christians this but no one has ever answered – how can you say you believe in the Bible then say it is okay to be gay, when God clearly destroyed a group of people for this sin in the very book you are proclaiming to believe in?

    I am serious too. Do you just ignore the Old Testament?

    November 14, 2010 at 9:27 am |
    • Pastor Blackmon

      Very Good question

      November 14, 2010 at 9:34 am |
    • Marcus in Greensboro, NC

      God did not kill those people because they were gay. It had nothing to do with that. It have everything to do with them disobeying God, and treating their king as if he was God. You know praising false idols. I am gay and believe in the Bible. God also said it's not your place to judge someone's sin, and that he is the final say in whatever happens to you for committing a sin. Repentance is a way to ask for forgiveness of sin you committed, so I don't see where it's any person's place on Earth to tell me that I can't be gay. I was born this way and God does not make mistakes.

      November 14, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
    • BradLW


      How do you deal with the "abomination" language and the demand for stoning in Leviticus? Or is it that you are simply a new testament xtian?

      November 14, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
  16. stanchman

    kudos to the man.. unfortuantely there are many others hiding their truths due the to pressures of their biased envirnonments..

    November 14, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  17. Rob Degnan

    Here it it plain and simple. If you do not believe in God and his word OK. Do you non believers ignore all that is going on around you? Do you know this is all spelled out in the bible? BAD TIMES coming. Even worse than what is going down right now as you accuse us born again believers of being hate filled. We are trying to warn you. We do not want you to suffer. We want you to have the Blessed Hope that we have in Jesus. Please understand that we do not hate anyone. Please remember that we tried to warn you....we really tried.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:22 am |
    • Patric

      If you were trying to warn us of something that had any basis other than a well written fairy tale, passed down through the ages through an oral tradition until a king decided that he needed to rewrite it to fit his needs in ruling a kingdom of sheep (that's King James, by the way), we'd listen. As it is, unless you have training in ancient Sanskrit and Hebrew and have access to the original texts, you don't know Jack. Or John. Or Jesus.

      No one knows what the true word of God is, because it's been distorted by Rulers, Bishops, Popes and self serving idiots for far too long. So keep hating people and following false Gods and when it's all over, send us a postcard from a truly subtropical region...

      November 14, 2010 at 9:34 am |
  18. Justin

    For those who are struggling with these questions or need support, check out the nonprofit Gay Christian Network, an organization of many thousands of gay and gay-friendly Christians who are committed to their faith and who offer lots of resources and support. You can find them by Googling "Gay Christian Network" or visiting the GayChristianNetwork channel on YouTube.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:21 am |
  19. SuzinFL

    I feel like I need a bath after reading most of these comments. As a straight woman who used to be very active in Christian churches and who has now realized more truth and love than I ever experienced while living as a bible-believing Christian, I tell you this; you self-righteous, fiction-believing, mean and hateful "Christians" are truly going to get your just reward. It's just not going to be what you think it is. You are going to come back in another life, born into a gay body, just so that you can finally learn the lesson of love which is to not only love and accept others for who they are, but also to love and accept yourself. You are so blinded by legalism that you have missed the most important parts of spiritual progression. Question the contradictions and the people you let lead you. Have a mind of your own. You know that there is something about where you are right now that does not feel true. I pray that you find your true self, and in doing so, truly learn to love.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:21 am |
  20. DrPete

    Amazing how loving and tolerant mainstream Christians are... as long as you're straight.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:20 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.