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. awcanada

    To me, it is an amazing act for this man to have come out. Most people, especially the most judgmental, will only come to accept gay men and women when they know someone on a personal level. This hopefully lets them realize that if this was a normal, good man before, he still is. The only sad part of this man's story is that he felt he had to hide who he was for so long, and it's this hiding that leads to people getting hurt.

    November 14, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  2. David Allen

    Why is it the people who hear christ and talk to him are not locked up? If i wandered the streets talking to anyone who'd listen that some dead guy was telling me how to act...they'd lock me up. Christians can walk around talking about dead people floating to a place called heaven in the sky. What a bunch of fools to believe such utter nonsence. I say lock them all up until that dead guy walks into the prison personally and tells the guard to unlock the door.

    November 14, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
    • KC

      I don't agree with religion but I'm not going to judge those who believe in a certain religion. How do you know there isn't a higher power? You don't. I don't. However I won't subjugate myself to a certain belief that I don't agree with and they all contradict themselves.

      November 14, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  3. N49

    OK Anderson Cooper...your turn,

    November 14, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  4. The Dude

    Jesus liked the c0ck

    November 14, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  5. LiberateUs

    What good has atheism done for society?

    November 14, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
    • Observer

      It's encouraged critical thinking and progress in many areas of science. The Bible certainly doesn't do anything to encourage science. Think of all the scientific advances Jesus could have told people about but DIDN'T.

      November 14, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
    • Eric G.

      @ LiberateUs: "What good has atheism done for society?" Lets start with not killing hundreds of millions of people in gods name, then using unproven beliefs to justify it.

      November 14, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  6. David Allen

    There is no god.If I'm wrong, your all forgiving god should forgive me right ?, If I'm right I will not have wasted my life believing in fairytales. I'll take my chances. The Loch Ness Monster, Yeti, Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny,Leprechauns, Vampires,Werewolves,Gargoyles,Gryphons,Mermaids, the Unicorn,The Phoenix,Cryptids,Fairies, Ghosts, Heaven,Hell, Witches,Giants,Cinderella,UFO's,Dragons,Pegasus,Bigfoot,Paul Bunyan, Pele, Zorro,Plus countless others do not, and never have existed. Why would anyone believe that a 2000 year old goat farmer/ carpenter had a clue?
    Sorry folks...I'm not buying it. There is no God.. You washed up on some shore millions of years ago and you've not evolved enough to treat your fellow man with any dignity...you've got a long way to go. So stop praying to your pagan gods and lets try to get along!

    November 14, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
    • Kelly Garrett

      @David Allen,

      WHOA there. Don't lump us pagans in with the christians. Our god(s)/goddess(es) have no mandate to bow to them or perish and be tortured for eternity. To man of us, chrisitanity is just as valid as our ways....different paths to the same destination, though I have to say the christian god is a different "destination" than the rest of us, but he is the one that chose that, not us. Gay and Straight are no different than being right-handed or left-handed. Many of our ways are the ways of diversity...there must be different people, doing different things...and as long as no one is hurting each other. To us, "the high-god, the unfathomable god" is internal, not external. Our "knowable god" is always a creation of man, just an interface to the unknowable and unfathomable "highest god." Like a word processing program...it allows us to interact with that which is beyond our comprehension in a way that is practical to our daily lives.

      November 14, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
    • Sevres Blue

      I know you think you're being funny, but Jesus isn't a "2,000 year old carpenter". And if you listen to what Jesus actually said, I doubt you'd hear much about war, hatred, judging others either. So most of these 'Christians' are that in name only.

      November 14, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  7. Pratt

    Being gay is a mental breakdown.

    November 14, 2010 at 11:55 am |
    • Observer

      Being ignorant and intolerant is a mental breakdown.

      November 14, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
    • David Allen

      Thinking the way you do is more of a mental breakdown

      November 14, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
    • Ben

      YOU are the one that makes people have a mental breakdown. SATAN!

      November 14, 2010 at 12:47 pm |

      Ben! You called? It's good to hear from you again, but we really shouldn't be meeting like this. People will talk!

      And later I'll do that thing you love so well! OXOXO! 😈

      November 14, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  8. Pratt

    "Come out" and "Get out". So disgusting it's beyond words. If God loves and accepts everyone, why does he have a hell ?
    Because he doesn't love all his creations.....

    November 14, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  9. 3buckchuck

    I am so Sick of this religious christian BS! You people are so stupid to trust and believe in a book redacted countless times since the beginning of time! Why are you religious sycophants so worried about who everyone else is sleeping with? I hope that 2012 does result in the apocalypse so finally i wont have to hear your stupid vying for the greatest piece of mind control propaganda in history, because EVERYONE will be destroyed! I hope aliens come to earth and prove your GOD to be a farce, and send you all into a tail spin of schizophrenia! JESUS CHRIST!

    November 14, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  10. Observer

    Everyone only selects those parts of the Bible that agrees with their own prejudices and ignor the rest. Christians could choose to support the Golden Rule rather than promote hatred towards our fellow man. Sadly, there are far too many who choose the latter.

    November 14, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  11. Jesus

    DAD and I having been reading these posts all morning. I have thrown up a couple of times but I digress. Let me share a secret with you. DAD has concluded that for those of you believing that hate is the way into his heart or mine for that matter, you are so going to get your asses kicked when you get to the gates. He didn't ask your opinon and you don't speak for him or me. Pay attention people. He's not kidding.

    November 14, 2010 at 11:37 am |
  12. Diane

    Being a christian means you do not judge others. The only person who can judge is God. So called christians who spew hate may be in for a shock when it is their time to be judged. As for "gaying" up the church, well, that is just stupid, God wanted ALL people to meet in fellowship.

    November 14, 2010 at 11:33 am |
    • Basic 101

      So, going before the bench is a sin?

      November 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  13. There are no gods

    You know, for a long time I have been against religion and felt allot of anger towards those of you that believe in gods and heavens and hells and all that sill nonsense. Well, I still do and think those that believe in these things are complete idiots that need their head examined. But, Now after reading this mess I feel that religion in addition to being a great gauge in telling me who to avoid as they are obviously not right in the head, religion for me is a great comedy relief! Just reading all your silly stories and testimonials and watching you religies struggle to lead a chaste life just makes me smile real wide. You religious nut cases when at a distance from me are so funny to read about. Keep up the great work, Im laughing my way straight to a non-existent hell, or heaven cause your religious antics do make me feel good while laughing at you. There are no gods!

    November 14, 2010 at 11:30 am |

    So many Christians, so few lions.

    November 14, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  15. kerry

    This man could not be called by God to be a pastor. Being gay is an abomination to God. Please people read your bible. This is in no way being mean or spreading hate. It is simply what God's word says. Live now in any manner you like or live by God's word and have eternal life later.It is your choice. Look at all the lives this man has potentially ruined.

    November 14, 2010 at 11:21 am |
    • LivinginVA

      Do you feel just as strongly about divorce? After all, Jesus himself actually condemned divorce. I find it incredibly hypocritical that people are leaving now due to this when they turned a blind eye to his divorce.

      November 14, 2010 at 11:30 am |
    • Doc7655

      Any god who would create people with carnal desires, provide no proof whatsoever of his existence or interest in their lives, and then damn them for simply being and doing as he created them, is either nothing more than the most mendacious of lies or the most sadistic s.o.b. imaginable.

      November 14, 2010 at 11:55 am |
  16. Reality

    Think about the logic (or lack thereof) of the following:

    “I believe the Bible is inspired.” “Why?” “Because it says so.” Would your
    anyone let that logic pass if it came from the followers of any other book
    or person? “I believe x is inspired because x says so.” Fill in the blanks:

    x=Pat Robertson
    x=the ayatolloah Sistani x=David Koresh
    x=the Koran”
    x= HeisGod

    more “logic”?

    “I believe there is One God Jehovah because He is revealed in the infallible
    Bible. I believe the Bible is infallible because it is the Word of the One God Jehovah.”

    November 14, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  17. bill clemons

    Why would anyone choose to be gay? They have to be mentally ill.

    November 14, 2010 at 11:14 am |
    • Ben

      Some people are just plain and simply uneducated. Shove it!

      November 14, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
    • Basic 101

      They are...or once was consider mentally ill until the g a-y psychiatrists and g a-y psychologists, G a-y mental health discipline, dropped the diagnosis from their diagnostic manuels

      November 14, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  18. james

    so the jewish god is the christian god is the islamic god and the good book is in various versions
    so if churches are tossing out gays from their congregations they all should be tossin out all sinners
    and since god know all sees all he knew his creation would be sinful to begin with but went ahead with it
    and a yellow brick road leads to oz oh my

    November 14, 2010 at 11:12 am |
  19. bill clemons

    Get a rope

    November 14, 2010 at 11:11 am |
  20. Elizabeth

    I cannot convey how much reading these comments makes me glad that I have divorced myself from religion (all religions). These days, I worship the rising of the sun, the change of seasons, the seeds in my vegetable garden that sprout and feed me and my family, the magnificent waves that lap at shores of the Pacific. I do not believe any of this is caused by a deity sitting in judgement (or paternal "love") in the sky. What liberation!!

    November 14, 2010 at 11:11 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.