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. JohnA

    As a believer in God who has more problems with the Catholic church (I consider myself Catholic) than a hyperactive kid has problems with sugar free cake (best analogy I could come up with upon just waking up, don't be offended), I applaud this man for not being afraid to be who he truly his (i.e., how God created him, not how he chose to be, cough cough fundamentalists who believe that being gay is a choice) in the face of a religion that will hate him for it. Better to be truthful than live a lie for the approval of others.

    November 14, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  2. Observer

    If the Christians here who trash gays ACTUALLY followed the Bible, they would be trashing their favorite sports teams for working on the Sabbath. Obviously, they just pick what they like from the Bible and ignor the rest.

    November 14, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  3. janinpenna

    He should have made his choice before marrying and having children. Too much hurt to go around here.

    November 14, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  4. The Savior Himself


    You are so far removed from reality, I think you are un fixable.

    First of all, people are "born this way". Everyone is genetically different. It is nature and evolution and it's never ending fluctuation of genetics that makes life possible. When did you choose to like blondes or brunettes or redheads ? When did you choose your height or eye color ?

    Most of all, you are delusional if you think there is a god or jesus. You lack of intelligence and belief in 1st grade fairy tales is clouding any chance that you may have of seeing reality. The sooner you realize that there is no magical man in the sky, the closer you will be to really witnessing life.

    Do you realize that you did not choose your religion ? Whatever religion you are is because of your parents and community preferences.

    "I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation – and is but a reflection of human frailty."

    – Albert Einstein

    November 14, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  5. Tim

    Mr Swilley, being a religious leader, should be very aware of what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, that "unrighteous persons will not inherit God's kingdom..Do not be mislead. Neither fornicators,...nor adulterers,...nor men who lie with men....will inherit God's kingdom." Paul continues: "And yet that is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean," because these ones in the Corinthian congregation had to give up their former way of life, as "fornicators....adulterers....men who lie with men."(1 Cor 6:9, 10) Though perhaps this may have been a way of life for decades, these had to leave this immoral conduct behind in order to "have been washed clean", and as Jesus said, "to exert yourselves vigorously to get in through the narrow door (to life everlasting, whether on earth or in heaven)."(Luke 13:24)

    As have many religious leaders since even before Constantine, they want to "water down" the moral requirements that was established in the Garden of Eden by God.(Gen 2:22-24; Matt 19:4-6) Thus, Jesus stated that "narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading into life, and few are the ones finding it."(Matt 7:14) For some, an immoral desire is so strong, that a person would have to figuratively "tear out" their "right eye", or "cut off" their "right hand (that) is making you stumble." Otherwise, Jesus said that one who does not change to God's clean moral laws would "land in Gehenna", or everlasting destruction.(Matt 5:29, 30)

    November 14, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
    • Observer

      The Bible (and Paul) also supports the inferiority of women and slavery, but let's pretend those don't count.

      November 14, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
  6. Mandingo J

    I wanna do his wife with my 9 1/2 black pole...

    November 14, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  7. django

    In other words now that the Gay Gestapo seems to be winning public approval (not!) it might be safe to come out..these gays kill me..lol..the gays in the church are hating on the gays out of the church...check this out: you are tolerated never respected and no amount of bullying or propaganda is gonna change that fact that ppl cant be forced to accept your lifestyle...remember that

    November 14, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
  8. Sevres Blue

    The above question goes to 'John', with the off-point quote..

    November 14, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  9. jerry

    nobody is born gay it doesnt happen that way is a murderer born a murderer is a rapist born a rapist no it is something they choose because they are decieved

    November 14, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  10. YBM

    Another genetic defective that needs our tolerance and pity.

    November 14, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  11. The Savior Himself

    @thebibleisclear, You should read up on genetics and physiology. It is not as simple as X Y . Have you ever heard of the human genome project ? Life is complex. BTW, what makes you prefer blondes, brunettes, tall, short, blue, brown, white, black ? It is because everyone is geared differently

    November 14, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  12. Get over it

    Ok all you religous folks. The greatest view on who we are and where we might be and go is found in the movie "Animal House" The scene is everyone smoking pot delving into the meaning of life! The line is" Our world could be a cell in the nail of another being" great isn't it?

    Get off your high horse, we are all just a piece of fungus!

    Thats' how inane this whole conversation is. people are people. period!

    November 14, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  13. Master_Kush

    I'd rather be a gay than a Christian anyday..

    November 14, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  14. Motsy

    It's time for every LGBT American to quit living the lie, free themselves and be who they were born to be and be proud of it! The only guilt you need to shed is the one that the current society and those religious fanatics have imposed due to ignorance and fear but that's something they need to deal with not you. The current society must evolve to the next level.

    November 14, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • YBM

      Why would you want to "evolve" to a genetic defect? I think the term you are looking for is "de-evolve" in other words go backwards. Why would we went to go backwards?

      November 14, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  15. KC

    @Jbegg – it says former wife – so they were already divorced before he told her. So let's say someone who knows they are gay but hides it to be "normal" they get married knowing they don't truly love that person they should let both of them suffer in a loveless marriage?!

    November 14, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  16. Charlotte

    Does no one see something wrong with the fact that he chose to have two marriages with women knowing he was gay? Why would he put them through that?

    November 14, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
    • LivinginVA

      Probably because he had been taught it was wrong and if only he tried and prayed he would be cured. So he tried and prayed for years before finally accepting himself for who he was. Sad that he had to do that.

      November 14, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
    • Charlotte

      He said he knew he was gay since childhood. Awareness isn't acceptance, but it's something. Again, I ask why would he put the two wives through that?

      November 14, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  17. Len

    This Pastor in under a whole seperate guidlines and he has a responsibility to his flock. He is held at a much higher level and is responsible for there soull and if 1 of them loses out with God he will be judged by God.

    November 14, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  18. Jay

    Brave decision to come out. You can't help who you're attracted to. Still, Jesus said that's Gods word is truth.

    So if you call youreself a Christian, you well know (or at least should know) fornicators, adulterers and men who lie with men will NOT inherit Gods kingdom.

    Simple as that. Trying to change Gods word to suit your lifestyle only makes you a false christian.

    November 14, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
  19. Kiran

    when did God ever require people to love a certain way? as far as i'm concerned, we should be allowed to love whoever we want. i'm actually really proud of this pastor that he finally came out. i'm sure he feels liberated at the moment. instead of throwing negative comments at him, why can't we all accept him for who he is. this goes for all the gays in society. why does religion always have to play a role in deciding who we choose to love? whatever happened to separation of church and state? those who are gay in society are probably one of the most bravest people, to come out and live against this constant scrutiny they receive from others. i applaud them and this pastor.

    November 14, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  20. ringo

    A clergyman with integrity. Who wouda thunkit.

    November 14, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
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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.