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. Jesus

    Shut up and get on with your lives already. Help feed the homeless, house the poor, love your children and guide them to serve others in this world not as a Christian or a Jew, Catholic or a Muslim or a Buddhist, because this is the compassion we hold in our hearts. I love you all equally- no questions no judgement. Love who you want to love. Times have changed. If I hear one more person use my name as an excuse to judge others and hate another because you think that's what I'm thinking, you have no idea what it means to be a compassionate, authentic human being. Last thing, the way some of you treat each you can be sure I'm not coming back..

    November 14, 2010 at 10:24 am |
    • Peace2All


      You Said--

      "Shut up and get on with your lives already. Help feed the homeless, house the poor, love your children and guide them to serve others in this world not as a Christian or a Jew, Catholic or a Muslim or a Buddhist, because this is the compassion we hold in our hearts. I love you all equally- no questions no judgement. Love who you want to love. Times have changed. If I hear one more person use my name as an excuse to judge others and hate another because you think that's what I'm thinking, you have no idea what it means to be a compassionate, authentic human being. Last thing, the way some of you treat each you can be sure I'm not coming back.."

      ME--Very Well said... This seems to me, in my opinion, like something the real Jesus would say. Excellent...! 🙂


      November 14, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  2. scdallas

    People who hate gays and are unwilling to accept them are just plain mean. It'll be interesting to see how Jesus reacts to all those judgmental fools when they show up at the pearly gates. Their reserved seat may be hotter then expected.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  3. Lone Rider

    So if that isnt the most pathetic excuse to "come out" I have ever heard. Is this another calling of "GOD"

    November 14, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  4. Canada

    Are you people all (mostly all of you) crazy? I know absolutely NOTHING about religion, but from as far as I can see from previous comments, it is OK to think about sin, as long as you do not actually engage in it. So technically speaking, this man shouldn't be held accountable for "lying" while being a preacher, as he did not engage in it. He was doing exactly as you say the Bible said. He was not engaging in his sin, simply hiding it because that is what you crazy bible lovers do. The fact that he had the courage to come out of the closet and have to face you crazies is commendable. Sure, it might make sense that now that he is out of the closet he stops being a preacher, but how can you call him deceitful and a liar when he was simply doing what most of you say is what the Bible says?

    November 14, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  5. HeisGod

    @ Q – Yes, dear, get all the rest that you can because in h*ll, you will not be yawning. Wake up and repent before it's too late for you.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:17 am |
    • Sarah Plain and Tall

      "yes, dear" ?
      Sounds like someone's still tripping over the shoes at teh back of teh closet.

      November 14, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  6. Cnapost

    If you wish to know if this is right, read the Bible. We are commanded to live as Christ. Not over looknig wrong or accepting it and still love the person. If you reject any part of the Bible then you reject it all.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:14 am |
    • LivinginVA

      So you are opposed to eating seafood and pork? You are opposed to stores being open on Sunday? You are opposed to divorce? You are as opposed to all those things as vehemently as you are to this? If not, you are rejecting the entire Bible.

      November 14, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  7. Bob

    Courage is hot!

    November 14, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  8. JennyTX

    Further evidence that religions are nothing more than myths, traditions, and stories. Please don't judge US for not believing YOUR myths.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  9. big daddy

    this is gross

    November 14, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  10. Cyphonix

    Immorality affects us all across the board. As a Knogstic born again gay male. I understand the meaning of Truth. My Father, the Father of Moses, David and Jesus told me: "you are everything and you can be anything".

    November 14, 2010 at 10:11 am |
  11. Kevin Eric Smith

    "That is because man manipulates it. The church is being exposed for its sin and failures. This is another example of that." – some other poster, apparenly being literal.

    Without this time getting into USA obsessions with orgasms or venial v. mortal or we all sin, the article says this guy is from a megachurch.. ...not the Church. I hope you were not forced into a public school slavery compound like my family was... ...but do you at least think sometimes.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:10 am |
  12. DGWill

    Another situation that proves this earthly world belongs to the enemy. He will do ANYTHING to prevent God's will from being done in people's lives. I hate how he deceives so many. We are all sinners in need of a Savior, and anyone living in this sinful world, who thinks this is all there is to life, is living in denial to the Truth. Scripture is being fulfilled day by day. Even non-believers should be able to see that. Many are beginning to see. God's Holy Spirit will knock on the door of everyone's heart at one time or another. When your heart is opened to Him and you believe by FAITH, you will be changed from the inside-out. It is all about a heart change, and until that heart change takes place, you cannot see.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:10 am |
  13. Hope

    No one can tell me that our media supports the laws of the free speech! My posts do not contain offencive words, nor messages, but they will not let me post! I tried to split the words, but each time they put a sign that my post is waiting moderation! Yet they never moderate it.....!Yeah, talking about censorship, and underhanded practices!

    It's just a waste of time even to try to involve in those conversations! I What's the use even to try to involve in them? I guess that's how they want it!

    November 14, 2010 at 10:10 am |
    • LivinginVA

      I have been having the same problem. However, unless the government is doing the censorship, the free speech argument doesn't wash. Any publication is allowed to decide what they will and won't publish.

      November 14, 2010 at 10:49 am |
    • CNN moderation filter tips by a fellow sufferer

      bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to post that wonderful argument:
      Many, if not most are buried within other words, but I am not shooting for the perfect list, so use your imagination.
      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
      s-ex....Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      c-um.........as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, etc.
      sp-ic........as in disp-icable
      ho-mo...whether ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, etc.
      t-it.........const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, (an unexpected one)
      pr-ick....perhaps cupr-ic would also fall under the ban.
      va-g....as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      ar-se....yet "ass" is not filtered!
      nip-ple...those baby bottles are obscene aren't they?
      cu-nt...as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK, famous for having problems with filters...!
      co-on...as in rac-oon, coc-oon
      ra-pe...as in gr-ape, etc.
      jacka-ss...but ass is fine lol
      p-is.....as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, etc.
      ft-w....as in soft-ware...!!!!!omg!
      j-ap...as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc...this is one I had forgotten,as I only encountered it elsewhere...

      There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this is complete.
      okay words that you might have thought were bad...lol
      The CNN / WordPress filter also filters your EMAIL address and name as well.

      I have found the best way to re-submit is to hit the back button, delete the cookies, look for and fix the problem and then hit "post". There are also "technical" ways past the filter to make words that are spelled correctly, like "html ent-ities" (google it without the dash), but the filter is the problem, not a solution. Filters should not be needed in a free opinion blog.

      November 14, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  14. mist

    Well he got the attention he wanted didn't he but as he calls himself a christian he needs to lead by example instead he hid behind the bible for years how selfish he was for being married twice and having kids if he knew he was gay he shouldn't be banned from church but he shouldn't still be a preacher he is a hypocrite how can he preach gods word but live another life I don't hate gays to each there own but being gay isn't lead a christian life so he should step down n he souldnt have made it a public coming out party cause you just made bible skeptics more skeptic. Its hard enough as a christan did he have to make it that much harder he really needs prayer and a big enough back bone to step down n admite he was wrong for living a lie this long

    November 14, 2010 at 10:09 am |
  15. Jon King

    Maybe this will spur some others in the closet like Rush, Ashcroft, Bush Sr., Beck, and Rove to also come out. They are all so effeminate it is hilarious.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:09 am |
  16. Verner

    Lol, he has anointed himself a Bishop! He thinks of himself as God! See the common theme here? That is why the whole thing requires faith.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  17. blake

    You can't follow Christ (and certainly can't lead others to follow Christ) if you consistently live out your life in a way that is inconsistent with what Christ taught as expressed in the Bible. Authenticity for you is far more than disclosure. It is acknowledgment that they way you have been living is inconsistent with the teachings of Christ, followed by genuine repentance.

    "If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in darkness we lie and do not live by the truth." (I John 1:6).

    November 14, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  18. HeisGod

    Mike Dallas
    God will get his chance to tell me my list of sins on Judgement Day.

    I suggest you only worry about your list of sins and let the rest of worry about ours.

    @ Mike Dallas – This is what God doesn't want to do, judge us because of our sins. What you should be wanting to hear is, Well done my Son, enter into the Kingdom of God. Those who are not found in the Book of Life will not enter into His Kingdom, is that what you are expecting to find out? Learn now of your sins and seek God while He can still be found.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  19. johnd

    God is great and awesome hes a God of mercy but not the author of confusion we cant let men corrupt his holy name if u r gay u have no right to b preaching. This ignorance must stop. Im against death threats and everything thats not the order of God but to take up 4 these actions isnt either.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  20. Jana

    @ Adam Same here on growing up with a strong religious upbringing. There were some positives, and I embraced it wholeheartedly. but when I was a child I thought as a child but now I have put off childish ways. I try not to get angry with Christians and understnd they are trying to make sense of the strange and glorious world we live in but it gets hard when you see the damage that is caused over and over. Hopefully as more people accept real evidence like epilepsy is a real disorder and not possion by demons that should be cast into a herd of pigs, religion will lose it's grip on our society.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:06 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.