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. nonny

    Gay and clergy just don't mix unless you are starting your own religion and forgetting anything the bible says about sin.
    Being accepting of people and agreeing with their sin are two different things. Christians are taought to love the sinner not the sin.

    November 15, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  2. confused

    I belief in god... but don't belief in church.....how can you claim in work in gods name buliding more expensive churches .. whiel god children starving all around them?....didn't jesus said to help the poor not the rich?....bigger more expesive churches isn't that what made god mad?...some of this reliogius leader say if you domn't belief what I teach you you will not go to heaven... what happen the should no other god besides me?.....religion today is all about making more and more money....not doing what jesus told them to do... but I guess that just me......

    November 15, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
    • doggiepooop

      Man you are so right. How many times have I had this conversation with pastors who have large budgets and buildings. I can't tell you how many times I have said this myself.

      With that said, The American Church, as imperfect as it is, it also does what churches from other countries don't do. They are the main reason why Billions of US Dollars go to missions. The American Church is one of the main reasons that we are alone in the world when it comes to a nation that gives beyond what any other country gives to starving children, AIDS research and many other mission visions that help people around the Globe.

      The real question here is, why are those country's Governments allowing their country to be in a poverty state? Why are they sucking up all of their own oil to line the pockets of their pants and not investing it back into their people ... (AFRICA, SUDAN, etc, etc)

      Before we start throwing stones at the US for being so Fat and Wealthy, you should take a good look why those other countries are not. They are all crooks and don't care about their own people. Those governments are constantly under threat of a takeover.. That's because they are all fighting to be in power even by force if necessary.

      November 16, 2010 at 2:15 am |
  3. Bert

    ".but just rememeber, my voice is just a important as yours – whether we agree or not."

    No actually, your voice is not as important as mine. Why? Because you are delusional and you let your religious fantasy dictate your moral direction and the way you conduct your life. Not only that, you profess that this is indeed a rational way to conduct life in general. Finally, by the very nature of what you believe, you enslave humanity to continued wallowing in an unenlightened state and you hold back progress. So, my Christian brother, your voice is not as important as mine. In fact, your voice should be heavily discounted by any and all.

    November 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
    • SpaceDave

      LOL Bert I am not going to argue with what you think...because I'm not here to change your mind. You've abviously made up your mind. You can say whatever you like, and judge me however you like. I couldn't care less. What you think is completely irrelevant to me. You lack understanding of what democracy is, which is the freedom of those to express their thoughts and beliefs. I'm not here to force anyone to believe what I believe, and I could go on for hours defending against your comments, but that would waste both our time. You can say all you want about Christianity, but at the end of the day I don't have to answer to you for what I believe...I answer to me. However, my voice in this world, IS just as important as yours. That's called community. Now if you say I should shut up and be silenced, then I guess that would actually make you the one who wants to dominate and control this world?

      November 15, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  4. Bert

    Who cares what the bible says? You might as well quote a cereal box–it is about as useful an exercise. Neither have any relevance to how a life should be lead. If you take your direction from a text that is based on nothing, scientifically inaccurate, historically inaccurate, internally contradictory within itself, and essentially a marketing tool to enable control over a population, then I guess you get what you get...a life of mindless servitude and ignorance and a badge of contributing to the decline of civilization and progress.

    November 15, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
    • doggiepooop

      I feel you man. I used to be where you are at now. I, like the other people here will not try to attempt to change your mind, because you have already been offended by some other religious person. It's not my job to undo that offense. You alone have to carry that all by yourself.

      If you could see past your offense of the Gospel long enough to see the real reason why the Bible is important, you would see that it has nothing to do with religion, but relationship. If you took a moment to read the Bible in Genesis, you will discover that God's intention was to have a close relationship with Adam. God so loved Man that he gave one of the most incredible jobs on the planet to Adam. He asked him to name every animal on the planet.

      That should prove to you that God truly loved us and truly cared about our opinion. This is never taught in Bible School in Church because, as I have heard this time and time again, "A man was teaching their version of it.." which is actually very true, it has hurt the real message of God and the Good News of Jesus Christ.

      I would like to apologize for those religious hate mongers who offended you and have caused you to be tripped up in any way. I have gone through that too.. It sucks.. But this too shall pass if you let it.

      November 16, 2010 at 2:25 am |
  5. Sockness Monster

    Jesus Christ real name was Cesar.
    Born to Julius Ceasar (JC)
    and cleopatra Ptollemy
    Ceasar was declared by the Roman senate to be a god
    so Cesar was son of god.
    Cleopatra decalred herself the reincarantion of virgin goddes Isis
    so Cesar was the son of a virgin.
    The name Jesus Christ means son of Isis.
    After Cesars murder, cleopatra became involved with Mark Anthony
    and bore 3 more children (one of them later called Mary Magdalene)
    Roman leader Octavius attacked Egypt.
    Mark Anthony fell on his own sword, cleopatra sent Cesar away (to India)
    as the next in line to the Roman & Egyptian throne, Octavius wanted him killed.
    Cleopatra dead, Cesar studied Buddism intil at the age of 32 returned to to reclaim his throne
    under the name of Jesus Christ.
    You have been decieved by history (the bible is just a history book with many lies)
    The Roman Empire turns into the Holy Roman Empire.
    And Jesus is the cash cow.

    November 15, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
    • nonny

      wow!! what planet are you from? Jesus means God saves. Christ means the annointed. Has absolutly nothing to do with caesar.

      November 15, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
  6. Johnny Rodriguez

    If the church has any respect for the word of God; they must expell this so call pastor immediately. The word of Abba who is Elohim is clear.

    November 15, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  7. SpaceDave

    Wow! People really get upset on the forum. It's funny that the issue of the Church is debated by a lot of people who do not attend church or read their Bible with any regularity or understanding. It is often by their own bad experiences that they pass judgement on the entire Christian Church. WELL I understand, but I do not agree. I do not believe the Church people should deal with this man anyways...I believe those that he accountable to on a Pastoral level should deal with his decision to 'come out'. You applaud him because you see the church as 'hating' and 'controlling' and that God can't possible be real because He doesn't 'prove' Himself to everyone. Well if people who he is accountable do truly believe the bible (and I hope they do) they will correct him in love. If he decided to keep his lifestyle, then yes acccording to the Bible, he should not be a Pastor anymore. Does that mean the church stopped 'loving' him? Not at all. BUT the church has a right not to agree with his lifestyle as he is a PAID employee who represents that church. EVEN where I work, if my conduct in any way embaraces or discredits my employees 'moral' stances, they have the RIGHT to fire me. If the people I work for believe in the policies and proceedures they have put in place, and need to terminate my employement due to something I have done that they disagree with, then that is in their right. Does it make them 'hating' or 'controlling'? Not at all. It was something I understood when I signed up for the position. It is something that Pastor understood when he was hired. So if he cannot uphold the beliefs of the church, then of course he should be let go and not continue Pastoring. This has little to do with hate, as much as it does with beliefs. I do not hate that man. But I do not believe in that type of lifestyle. Does that make me a 'hater'? I don't feel hate whatsoever for the person. I don't hate gays or lesbians at all. But I have a RIGHT to not agree with their lifestyle because of my beliefs, just as you have a RIGHT to believe in it because of your beliefs. If you cannot accept the Christian Church beliefs, then ok....no big deal. But don't put us all in the same basket. Don't play like you are smarter and more educated and more 'real' then someone who professes to be a Christian...cause you're not. Some of the smartest, most educated and well versed people believe in God. It's their choice, just as it is yours not to. But don't talk down on the Church like you understand us, when you obviously hate what we believe. We are not all the same, just as the world is full of people who are not all the same. AND yes I do understand string theory and star formations, 'evolution' and a LOT of scientific research and studies. AT the end of the day I believe what I believe, which is God created it all, and you don't. So be it. So let the people who think their beliefs are 'better' then mine and that I'm a 'hater' and 'controller' and 'blind' and whatever continue on and make their comments....but just rememeber, my voice is just a important as yours – whether we agree or not.

    November 15, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  8. Father Bayo

    I Love, because love conquers all. I love you all.

    November 15, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
  9. Keyia

    I understand that we all sin and fall short of God's glorious standard, but this isn't right. What if you had a teacher who didn't go to college or a policemanwho broke the law? Everyone makes mistakes but it's not enough to just acknowledge it, I think the intent is to recognize where you are wrong and try to change, not to recognize you are doing soething wrong and accept it.

    November 15, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  10. GLee

    Pointing fingers at others only reveals to God that you know better. We are all guilty in God;s sight. Only Jesus can make up the difference for us. Make sure you are right in God's sight. The is the only thing that counts in this life.

    November 15, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  11. GLee

    You all sound like experts. Don't tell others, lets spend time directly with God's Holy Spirit and be sure we are right with God. After all, He is the only one to impress. He alone will judge each of us on the way out of this temporal life. He will make the final call as to which of us is right in His sight! Only Jesus Christ can make the difference in our (your) life. Jesus, in fact will be the final judge. God, the Father, has assigned the task of final calls on each of us!

    November 15, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
  12. GLee

    You all sound like experts. Don't tell others, lets spend time directly with God's Holy Spirit and be sure we are right with God. After all, He is the ony one to impress. He alone will judge each of us on the way out of this temporal life. He will make the final call as to which of us is right in His sight! Only Jesus Christ can make the difference in our (your) life. Jesus, in fact will be the final judge. God, the Father, has assigned the task of final calls on each of us!

    November 15, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  13. Lola

    I think it's horrible that he married a woman and lied to her all of those years. He used her.

    November 15, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
    • Patti Cook

      He neither lied to her nor did he use her. She stated she knew his orientation prior to their marriage. Thank you for your concern...bless you!

      A CITN Member

      November 17, 2010 at 3:00 am |
  14. Christian Man

    I don't have a concern with someone choosing to be gay, because God made us free morale agents. But for this guy to say that he had no choice, is nonsense. Just say you chose to be gay, just like people choose to lie, etc. God DOESN'T make mistakes. Take responsibility for your own choices because you will be held accountable for them in the end.

    November 15, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
    • Sockness Monster

      So you chose to be straight ?
      How great for you.

      November 15, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  15. Mark from Middle River

    "Almost all of us Gays are steadfast in our opposition to Christianity. "

    That's the biggest load of cow-flop I have ever heard.

    November 15, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  16. TiredODaCrap

    Four kids from two marriages, and an "ex" wife that still works at his church??

    He's not gay, he's selfish!!!

    November 15, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  17. Maggie

    He is incredibly brave and he is not alone.

    November 15, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  18. David

    Good for him ! Down with the hypocrisy.

    November 15, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  19. x

    For all those so ready to call for resignation, the only thing he stated was his relationship-orientation, yet you are willing to cast the stones, and kick him to the curb. You don't even bother to seek the truth here. Nothing in the article says he has acted on anything, which I believe in most faiths would not be a sin, but you have already judged and condemned.

    November 15, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  20. Minister Mike

    There was a preface to the 1611 King James Version of the Bible that was written by the actual transulators of the Bible for some reason it was no longer printed anymore around 1821 I believe. Anyway everyone who considers themselves a Christian should read it. It is available online once you read it you understand that the intentions of the transulators were noble but they themselves fell short. The Bible was transulated by men who admitted that their transulation comes up short. The Bible is like an instruction manual or guide, however it is up to us through prayer and guidance of the Holy Spirit to discern what is right and wrong. Down through the centuries people have twisted scripture for their own personal benefit. However there are absolutes in scripture, there is right and wrong moral guidlines and a way for us to live our lives is clearly there. It is up to each individual to seek it, accept it, and live it. The choice is theirs we should not be comfortable with sin especially our own.

    November 15, 2010 at 1:17 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.