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. DanteX

    wonderment writes in part:

    ".... The fact that someone has a tendency or particularly stong temptation to commit a particular sin does not justify committing it. 'Christians are called to walk in light rather than in darkness[ ] and to abide in Christ' rather than in sin. A pastor who follows Christ does not call for people to simply be "who they are" according to their old, sinful nature, but calls them to walk in newness of life. Jesus did not preach forgiveness apart from repentance...."

    First – I am NOT a Theologian and I ponder these MANY QUESTIONS myself.


    Third – Although I was NOT there when the event happened I can only imagine that God -in His INFINITE Grace and Mercy and Wisdom- was indeed "disappointed" with and THOROUGHLY DONE WITH one of His greatest and most magnificent of Creations -that being Man- and was about to turn His back on us before He -again in His INFINITE Grace and Mercy and Wisdom- gave us His Son Jesus Christ as our salvation for ALL of our Sins if we so accepted and acknowledged Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior. Otherwise – What else could Jesus have POSSIBLY meant when He said that "no one gets to The Father but through Me" ?

    November 14, 2010 at 10:43 am |
  2. Ralph Workman

    Please visit familyradio on the internet.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:41 am |
  3. A real christian

    And he is a pastor? I guess we have really lost our morals in our country and now in our churches. Jesus please help America!.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:40 am |
    • YBP

      You would be shocked to learn that there are as many gay clergymen as there are a gay florists, interior designers, hairdressers, flight attendants, etc. The clergy is a huge closet full of gay men.

      November 14, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • HeyyyMacarena!

      some are so deep in the closet that they keep tripping over next year's Christmas presents.

      November 14, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
    • Hope

      Actually, this is not true! There are not so many of you there, as you would like people to think. But it does make you feel better to make it sound as it's such large number of you, because, you feel, it gives you leverage.

      But no matter how it is, this kind of thing can never be normal, even if the whole world has turned to be this degenerate! But I say it again... It is not sin to have h/s tendencies, it's sin to put them in practice. Remember this: the bird can fly over above your head, but you don't have to allow it build the nest on it....There has not any temptation overcome us , that God has no grace to deliver us. I know that does not concern the unbelievers, since they don't acknowledge laws of God. So, then don't! But do not think that by pushing your agen-da you will change most people's convictions. You never will! Because there is the principle of truth at stake, and the TRUTH belongs to God, and is not altered by any man's opinion. Period!

      November 14, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  4. Hope

    For those of you who keep saying Jesus associated with sinners, and use this fact as proof that he accepted them.... You are taking the Scriptures out of context when you say this! Yes, He did go tho the sinners and associated with them. But He Himself said the He didn't to those who didn't need healing , but to those who need it. And every one of those who accepted Him and believed on Him turned from his own ways, repented of their sins and didn't continue to live in them. That was Christ's message: He came to heal them and deliver them. People today want to stay in their sins, and want them and their sins to be accepted as good! And those who abide by truth, will not do it, because they can not compromise God's word, nor His truth.

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

    What a crook he is! I bet you he is an atheist, too!

    November 14, 2010 at 10:39 am |
  6. Recovering Cathoholic

    Good for him. For guys his age, it's extremely difficult to come out. Most men that age and older have lived a lifetime in the closet. So this is a big deal. Congratulations.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:38 am |
  7. Atahualpa

    He is gay. Ricky Martin is gay. I like women. Who cares? This is just another silly news report.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:36 am |
  8. accepting

    @HeisGod – You ask how one is to know God if not through the Bible. I would argue that there are many paths to God.....the Bible being one of many that God has provided. Unfortunately most Christians have a very closed mind in terms of the ongoing revelation of the Bible. Their faith is static. If one studied the Bible in the light of authentic Greek translation, not only would ho-mo-s-xuality not be condemned, it would be embraced as an acceptable, holy way of life by those who are being true to how God created them.

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

    When I look at the posts, especially when it's about a topic about religion, I wonder. Wouldn't there be less hatred and discrimination and more acceptance and tolerance of each other in the world, if religion didn't exist? Most of the posts from people, who claim to be religious are the ones filled with hatred and are discriminatory. And, the posts from so-called atheists or agnostics, the ones who show more compassion, acceptance. I wonder...... I'm not judging; just observing.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:34 am |
  10. Ariana

    Being gay is NOT a choice! Thank you for finally pointing that out! 🙂

    November 14, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  11. UstBond

    He should be accepted and loved by every follower of Christ, but he should NOT be in a leadership position. I am sorry but sin (any sin) is not compatible with God's word. If he truly loves Christ and wants to follow Him he should step down.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  12. zolo

    I am beginning to think that Jesus was gay because we never associated him with woman, wife nor children.–

    November 14, 2010 at 10:31 am |
    • YBP

      Jesus was probably married to Mary Magdalene. Read the extra-canonical gospels that were discovered in 1945.

      November 14, 2010 at 11:08 am |
  13. CAT

    I'm amazed about the lack of depth and authenticity here. Many of you quote some novel, and parrot its ancient dogmas, while largely pulling them out of context. Time to try to think for yourselves, for a change.

    Anyway, just imagine you would be in the same position as this gay man (or black man, or muslim, or female, or whatever you deem inferior or sinful), and how it would feel if you were to be treated the way you are treating him. Just internalize this notion, and give it some real thought. And again. And again. Don't brush it off, have the guts to keep trying until you really get it. You'll be surprised about how that makes you feel.

    Your self-declared superiority is sickening. Your lack of compassion is nauseating. Your stench of sulfur is telling.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:30 am |
  14. Ending123

    When will straight people realize that being gay is NOT A CHOICE??

    November 14, 2010 at 10:29 am |
    • The Soup

      People will realize this at the same time that they realize that having a physical relationship is a choice. Following a religion is a choice. A person cannot choose which tenants of faith they are going to believe and live by. If they do they are, in fact, unfaithful.

      November 14, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  15. Elizabeth

    I think you mean interdenominational, since the word donominational doesn't even exist. Stupid CNN, can't even fkin spell check.

    in other news...

    why is orientation still an issue? so sad.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  16. Freddy

    To all of the hypocrites who say they do not judge, then don't judge me when I say he is wrong.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:28 am |
  17. matt

    What a disgrace!
    Lots of christian churches have become Babylon.
    From the members up to the leaders.
    It will get worse as we are nearing the end of times.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  18. Lisa

    He needs to step down. He needs to go through a process of restoration. If he chooses to live out a gay life style, he has to step down and his parishioners have the right to remove him.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  19. Karl Blessing

    Far as the Priest goes though, he took a vow of celibacy, so he wouldn't be sleeping with either gender anyways.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  20. PurpleMd

    What I think, which is similiar to Cordele's comment is that EVERYONE HAS A CHOICE. It is your choice to do whatever it is on this Earth. When it is all said and done, it will be GOD that will decide if your choices helped or hurt you to go to heaven. Now that being said, like others here have attested to, we should not judge people beceause of their choice. However, just because I don't judge you doesn't mean that I have to accept what you do, I just can't judge you for it. Just like if I lie, you should not judge, but reasonably so, can not accept that I did that. In the end, I gotta do what is best for me.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:24 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.