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. DavidC

    Mudiwa – story says he pastors Church in the Now

    November 14, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
  2. Stacie

    Really, you are calling a woman's breast a rack? Personally, I think there is more damage done in this world by men who demean women than any gay relationship. Grow up – women are human beings not play toys for you to do with as you wish. Thinking with the head on your shoulders is how real men roll.

    November 14, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
  3. DavidC

    Sportslady- I see nothing with my name attached that I didn't post

    November 14, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  4. mudiwa

    Report does not mention name of the church, so that we can make an association with the other story. Notice the emphasis on Georgia and Antlanta.... bad reporting unless you consider the deliberate intention..

    November 14, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
  5. sportslady

    I posted under "sportslady!" Not "davidC!" I think its high time CNN quit screwin w/ peoples posts!!!

    November 14, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  6. DavidC

    David- if that's so then you must hold to ALL of it, lest you be a hypocrite. No cheeseburgers, no shellfish, no pork. All your clothes must be of the same material. Intimacy with your spouse only to procreate. Go for it

    November 14, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  7. Bob

    I always suspected something was wrong with him. I am a member of that church and the only reason I go there is because my wife likes that church for some reason. God has finally forced this degenerate to speak the truth, praise god for that. We are going to kick him out soon. He can move to San Fransicko and preach to the unclean animals over there.

    November 14, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
    • Raymond H. Burgoon-Clark


      God created the gay men and lesbians of San Francisco in His/Her own precious image, AND LOVES US JUST THE WAY HE/SHE created us. When you call US "degenerate animals," you are calling GOD a degenerate animal as well.

      Don't THINK so ...

      November 14, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
    • Bob U.

      @ Bob: One can always rely on a good ol' Christian for hatred and vitriol. You represent your faith well.

      November 14, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
    • Patti Cook

      @Bob...Please don't lie to these people. I am a proud member of CITN...you obviously are not. If you were, you would never have posted such a bold faced lie. If you knew anything about Church In The Now or about Bishop or its members, you would know better and you would not have spoken such an easily deniable falsehood. I doubt you've ever even stepped through our doors. If you had, you would have been overwhelmed by the Love and Acceptance given by the Body of members there and if you had been there for more than a few minutes, you would know that we Love Bishop Swilley and Pastor Debye and would not allow them to go anywhere. I am not certain why you would say such a thing...did you not believe that any actual members of the church would read the posts here? You really shouldn't post things about which you have NO knowledge, it makes you look foolish. (I would have preferred to bring this to you privately but am new here and did not see a way to accomplish that so please forgive the public reply.)

      Bishop Swilley has more integrity than any preacher I've ever known. His message of inclusion and Love is one of tolerance and of GREAT PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY...it is a strong gospel...the Good News is just that...GOOD! He has neither stepped down as our Bishop nor has he been asked to do so. The only thing he "stepped down" from is the ICCC...a governing body for some independent, non-denominational churches to which he had been invited several years ago...but he remains as our Bishop and continues to oversee other ministries.

      For those who have stated they are praying for us...thank you. No matter what your beliefs about God or the lack thereof, I speak abundant blessings to all.

      Peace Brothers and Sisters...

      November 17, 2010 at 2:14 am |
  8. Henry

    You can insist until doomsday that 2 + 2 = 7, but that will not change the fact that 2 + 2 = 4. In the same way, you can’t nullify God and His word out of existence just because you say so. Once you have been cut down to size by the sorrows and beatings of life, you will realize that you are not so high and mighty as you had previously thought, you will realize that you are feeble, puny, fragile, and powerless. God is Lord, Master and Judge over all creation, including you, weather you believe it or not.

    November 14, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
    • Raymond H. Burgoon-Clark


      Self-esteem problems much, dude?

      November 14, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  9. david

    i do not care for mans opinion for they are all wrong. i will hold to the Bible.

    November 14, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
    • Raymond H. Burgoon-Clark


      But the Bible IS a collection of man's opinions, wildly contradictory and formulated over more than 5,000 years. The Church tried to sift through it all around AD 400, but that Council let a few things in that shouldn't be there, and left a few things out that SHOULD be there. In AD 2010, we STILL don't agree on the number of BOOKS in the Bible, much less details of translation and authenticity. Read up on "A Harmony of the Gospels" if you want to see a bunch of scholars trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. To claim inerrancy, they HAVE to TRY to do it, but they will NEVER succeed, BECAUSE the Bible IS full of mis-translations and contradictions.

      I am a gay Christian, but my Christianity (Anglican) doesn't rise or fall on infallibility, inerrancy, or literalism.

      November 14, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  10. marie

    Listen up everyone of you who can't see what's really going on with this man.read the parable of the lost son.God is with him, God knows his heart we don't.What has the Lord presented to us about the lost sheep who go astray Gods word does not come back void.I once knew a woman who never failed to say I speak my mind. She never said I speak from my heart.today I got to thinkin about what she said.look also at 2 chor 10 verse 5 casting down imagination and every high thing that exalts itSelf against the knowledge of God and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.Captivity to negativity of the mind and not your heart is what leads us astray. Jesus plainly states he chose us we did not choose him first. This man also stated he did not ask for 2 things from God,we did not ever ask God to be chosen by him either we have always been his before we were put in this world.as a spokesman for the Lord this is Truth this man is Gods chosen vessel. This man knows Gods love for him God Bless

    November 14, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  11. richardsrussell

    The fool says in his heart "There is no God." The wise person says so right out loud.

    November 14, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  12. blf83

    It should not require courage to acknowledge how we were made.

    November 14, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  13. richardsrussell

    Heck, another gay pastor? Ho hum. I thot maybe he had "come out" as an ATHEIST, which would have been something like news, since most ministers who've lost their belief in God don't want to give up the only livelihood they've ever known and so prefer to remain anonymous — and closeted.

    November 14, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  14. DavidC

    Mixing meat and dairy is an abomination. Pork is an abomination. Hey Joe Moral, how's that bacon cheeseburger? According to Leviticus, putting that in your mouth is no different from what that pastor seems to enjoy putting in his!

    November 14, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  15. blf83

    Amen, and Alleluia! It sometimes takes courage to acknowledge who we are and were made.

    November 14, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  16. mom2homer

    Luke 20:34-35: Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage." Anyone else ever wonder if Jesus was gay?

    November 14, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  17. DavidC

    Since working the sabbath is also an abomination, as are shellfish, pork and cheeseburgers, may we presume that NASCAR is doomed for eternity?

    November 14, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  18. sportslady

    My husband & I grew up in 2 diff. Relig.s! Been happily married for 11 years now! I can't believe all the people calling christians "haters!"
    Maybe? By them trying to help you understand more, you HATE that? You have a chip on you're shoulder for some stupid reason that really, the "HATE" is inside YOU!!?? Now....let's watch some Football!!

    November 14, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  19. janinpenna

    I hear deflection and reasoning in his interview. Of course there are many things in the Bible that are different today but I think "abomination" is clear.

    November 14, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • Observer

      "Abomination" is surely clear. Eating shellfish is an abomination. See any Christians protesting against Red Lobster?

      November 14, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  20. David

    I'm sorry, why are we condemning a man over how he achieves orgasm?

    November 14, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
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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.