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. marlin

    BORN THAT WAY?? As we look into what the world around us accepts as ok each one of us needs to do a truthful heart check WHAT IS TRUTH???? Are child molesters born that way?is it okay?? Is a liar accountable 4 his lies these r basic questions with intant answers in your mind because God himself put them there Is it okay with the LORD. To b gay? The bible clearly says repent to give G God His true Glory. Can men reproduce God said be fruitful and mutiply. What is LOVE?? Did u ever consider that a parent make commands 2 protect their children. So does the Lord. And as for judging 1 cor2:15 says but he that is spiritual judgeth all things yet he himself is judged of no man THINK

    November 14, 2010 at 7:42 am |
  2. toti

    God made us . He created man and woman, now we make choices in life to live the way we want and later we blame it to nature or whatever . Parents have a great responsibility to raise their children the way God inteds to, our society has a great responsibility also, but , do we really care? God bless and illuminate you all!!!!:)

    November 14, 2010 at 7:41 am |
  3. Brad

    "He who is without sin may cast the first stone." – JESUS.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:40 am |
    • Gui

      WTG BRAD!

      November 14, 2010 at 7:51 am |
    • Joe

      AMEN!!! I have no stones to throw. We all fall short of the grace of God and have found Grace and mercy through the Blood of the Lamb

      November 14, 2010 at 8:07 am |
    • primitive goat


      November 14, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  4. Sgbb7

    I can't believe that this is a headline at cnn.com? When will the media stop distracting people with this 'non news'? A pastor decides to come out? SO WHAT? The country is falling apart, we are at war and this is a headline?
    Wake up people to the truth of what is going on in our country.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:40 am |
  5. Leslie

    Good for you to be honest with yourself! God made him who he was and he tried to suppress it, but now he is truly being honest and that's a wonderful thing! For all of you people who hate gays, think about this, if it were not biology, would people choose to be gay?? It's a tough life, so no one would choose it, unless, to not choose it were to live a lie. Ahh, the conundrum. We accept that God makes people brown-haired, with big noses, shy, or outgoing, and we also need to accept that he makes some people gay and they are deserving of his love and our respect. So, good for you Pastor, you are truly living what you preach now and I appplaud you!!!!!!

    November 14, 2010 at 7:38 am |
  6. Christina Miranti

    Swilley says: "My position is not about gaying up the church," he said. "It's about people being who they are."

    But Jesus says:

    Matt 16:24Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, HE MUST DENY HIMSELF and take up his cross and follow me.

    No matter what sin you have in your life, to be a considered a christian(which the word means to follow Christ), Jesus says you must deny yourself and follow Him. The cross in our life is about dying to who we were and being like Him...

    November 14, 2010 at 7:38 am |
  7. khan

    As per religion story of Lot explains the act and people who do the act. As for as those who believe in science, many scientific explainations have been given, genetic marker has been identified but....no experiment has ever been replicated or failed to replicate, even by the same scientist. GO FIGURE

    November 14, 2010 at 7:34 am |
  8. jais

    Next Sodom and Gomorrah!!!!

    November 14, 2010 at 7:33 am |
  9. sprinkles

    Listen u are a sinner for u to say that you are Gay since you were a child is a choice smelly u made. I will never respect you because you are saying being gay is accetable when as a pastor u know its not, if u go on preaching being gay is ok and not telling the world the truth u will continue to sin. u need to find help with the problems u have. No one will respect christians when now we have every pastor turning gay. Everyone who is a christian the end times are comin this disrespectable to alot of people. Who ever is a christian keep ur faith they say that u are born with this that is a LIE its a choice they make, keep faith in god because when time comes u will see that gods power is greater than any human being can imagine. Please who ever is gay out there and think that its ok plz I encourage find help and let god in your heart.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:29 am |
    • LivinginVA

      I respect many Christians. I respect the ones who follow Christ's lead and love and care for their fellow humans. I do not respect the ones who, in the name of Christ, condemn and harass others.

      November 14, 2010 at 7:36 am |


    November 14, 2010 at 7:24 am |
  11. Jeff

    I think if Christians want to follow the example of Jesus Christ, they should look at what he did to the money changers in the temple. They were sinners, and he whipped them, turned over tables, and basically threw them out of there.

    He loved the PERSON, but NEVER did he accept the sin as "oh well...that is the way you live and that is your choice".

    A true Christian will love the PERSON but absolutely hate the SIN that person is doing. You have to separate the two.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:23 am |
  12. Dan

    The whole worlds problems are caused by (insert minority here.) Some non-thinking people still can't quite figure why not vote to just burn the (insert minority here.) They clearly don't understand republics or even theocracy for that matter. There's a reason you don't get to judge, direct vote or "throw the stone" as it were. Then again, I hear there are no gays in Iran perhaps they will welcome the intolerant christians. Nah I can't personally recommend it.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:22 am |
  13. welches, oregon

    I believe everyone has missed the point – if being gay were more acceptable, than the suicide would not have happened. So, more gay people in prominence are stepping forth in an effort to see being gay as more acceptable. Being gay will never stop, just as being hetro will never stop.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:21 am |
  14. BellaTerra66

    Pastor, you made the right decision. God is with you. I am not gay, but thank you for the reminder that we all need to be as authentic and to live as authentically as we possibly can, no matter what the cost of us individually.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:21 am |
  15. LivinginVA

    Are any of you who quoting the Bible following all the laws laid out? Do you eat seafood or pork? Work on Sunday? Break ANY of the other laws laid out? Do you think it's OK or do you get down on your knees and ask Jesus to forgive you your sins and try harder not to sin? If you think that some of them no longer apply, why? Why is your opinion on which are still important better than mine?

    November 14, 2010 at 7:20 am |
    • dsilviano

      Read my reply to you above....it's NOT Old Testament!! Read Romans chapter 1. God's word is God's word. You cannot get around it!!

      November 14, 2010 at 7:27 am |
    • LivinginVA

      Are you suggesting that unless it is restated in the NT we can ignore the laws of the OT? That's not what Jesus said. So, unless you are following ALL of the laws of the OT (unless Jesus specifically changed them) you are not following the Word of God.

      November 14, 2010 at 7:31 am |
  16. qwerty

    If a gay person thinks that life is worthless and feels the need for suicide, they have the right to take their life, you don't have the right to question their choice, are you liberal serious, you always say, leave people be, now someone makes a choice on their life and you call it a shame, it is not, suicide for some is away of gaining control over one's life when all else fails, you believe in abortion and assisted suicide, but will not let a peron die in peace, and you make a examplr and embarrass the family all over the news. If a we turly believe people let live and die, PLEASE let all people make a choice and stop being hypocrite about which suicide is ok and not ok, of course this will be easred becuase CNN can not see the point of view the person to choose, according to CNN and other is not allowed choice, own are we to say that person make a choice in a logical manor, Stop thinking for other people and stop tellig what the world to do, it is not your right, the only right you have, it to ask what could have better if that person saw the world in a different light, BUT was the way that person saw his/or her world, so don't embarrass the family when someone dies in peace, or help seek mental health with their problems, and get them to stop whatever the problem is.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:17 am |
    • matt

      You may want to consider using the full stop more frequently. Your thoughts are rambling.Forgot your antipsychotic today?

      November 14, 2010 at 9:02 am |
    • gs-can

      I was trying so hard not to participate in a discussion where there was no actual discussion! A number of you have made extraordinarily articulate points – and the gentleman with the gay daughter and conservative son, in my humble opinion, expressed the situation with the most simple clarity.

      But Qwerty posted essentially that suicide is a choice and it should be respected – and regretfully, here I am posting! Suicide comes from many things, but frequently despair. And in despair – just like in anger – we can make choices that we later regret. But in suicide, there is no chance to repent. There is no opportunity to rethink. There is no option to turn back the clock. So any opportunity we have to intervene with those who contemplate taking their own lives is extraordinarily important. Of all the choices that one has – and this thread seems to be indicating that there are many – suicide is not a choice unless it is within the context of a rational discussion (for instance, assisted suicide). And even in that case there are powerful arguments about whether nor not it is appropriate. Qwerty, I suggest strongly – and I know you will disagree and likely post something about me and my views – but I suggest strongly that your views on this topic would be very much different if somebody you loved felt such despair that they took their own life. And I have been fortunate that I have not had this experience – . But I do encourage you to consider that all decisions are more appropriate when made with a balanced mind and a balanced heart. And suicide is not a choice to be respected – but rather a choice that is at ever turn to be discouraged through hope, intervention, attention and treatment.

      Now, let loose the cannons and watch everybody tear this apart. But alas, you will not be able to invalidate the sheer sense of it.

      November 14, 2010 at 10:01 am |
    • Gabriel

      Using your logic, we should be allowed to murder who we like, kidnap everyone we see, mutilate anyone who disagrees with our religious views, immobilize everyone with strait-jackets, attack anyone we feel is insane with hypodermic needles, violate every bit of privacy we want, and even commit every crime we can.
      In short, you logic fails the most basic tests. You would willingly violate a person's privacy and freedom of self-determination. You would gladly destroy them to "save them".
      People like you need to be put somewhere you cannot touch other people.

      November 14, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  17. km1


    November 14, 2010 at 7:14 am |
  18. anonymous


    November 14, 2010 at 7:14 am |
  19. dsilviano

    @LivinginVA....I don't choose, God does. It's HIS word and HE is the one we will ALL stand before one day to explain what we did or didn't do to follow His Word. The Bible speaks of this sin in the New Testament too....it is not just an OT law. Romans is clear-cut

    1:21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

    22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

    23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

    24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

    25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

    26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

    27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

    29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

    30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

    31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

    32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:13 am |
    • LivinginVA

      Where in there does it say "it's OK to eat seafood and work on the Sabbath now"? Where does it toss out all the other OT laws?

      November 14, 2010 at 7:26 am |

    JESUS said "Beaware of those who say they come in my name" This man is a hypocrite and a deciever.
    He is supposed to be the head of a church? The very bible that he reads and preaches from said

    November 14, 2010 at 7:11 am |
    • The Soup

      What if he's making comforters or pillows or winter coats?

      November 14, 2010 at 10:38 am |
    • Don Elliott needs a millstone around his neck and a free trip to the nearest ocean.

      Not even in the same room as other men? Good going dumb-ass, you just destroyed our Armed Forces in the name of your crazy scribblings done by men – not God.

      November 14, 2010 at 12:37 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.