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. Marcus in Greensboro, NC

    I like that the pastor came out to his congregation. I am happy that a man of God is not afraid of who he is, and realizes that he's not a mistake. He didn't ask to be gay, but he knows he is and he is strong enough to speak out about it. I hope this doesn't change the makeup of his church, and that he does well in the future.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:37 am |
  2. CyndyP

    Judge not, lest ye be judged! Much of the Bible is man's interpretation of God's will. I do not believe for one second that God does not love gays, just as he loves straight people.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:36 am |
  3. L. Alan

    Reality made this statement: ""I am the Truth" i.e. John 14:6. This single attestion passage was, according to many NT exegetes, not said by the historical Jesus but was wishful thinking and an embellishment by John to make Jesus more like the ancient and local gods of first century Palestine."
    The problem with this is there is absolutely no evidence that Jesus did not make this statement. Nor is the any evidence that any of the gospel writers embellished on what Jesus said or did. It is improper exegesis to claim such it is nothing more than an attempt to make the word of God fit into what we want to believe. If one truly believes the Bible to be inspired of God then such blasphemous criticisms would not surface.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:35 am |
    • Reality

      A large number of NT scholars (e.g. Crossan, Borg, Fredriksen, Wright) over the past 200 years have reviewed the NT doc-uments, the doc-uments that went into their preparation and all the associated doc-umentation. By comparing the number of attestations and stratums in these books, they were able to separate the "wheat from the chaff". I highly recommend the same an-alyses for anyone interested in what really happened in Palestine in the first to third century CE.

      Some references to get you started:
      and earlychristianwritings.com/

      Every Christian has his/her own interpretation of the NT. Four different books, at least five auxiliary books/epistles, competing theologians/sects/protests, and competing stories just in the original set followed by translations and embellishments followed by countless interpretations, hidden codes and ra-ptures. IMHO, this god needs to have another visit to a mountaintop to get the mess cleaned up.

      Of course, there are the other religions that have the same God but different authentic Words. Very strange that the same God could create such confusion don't you think? The whole ca-co-phony smells of politics and economics.

      November 14, 2010 at 11:10 am |
    • Mike, not me

      It went from Most to a large number? 29 to be exact and 2 who have been debunked as frauds that I know of Ehrman and Crossan. See Carl Evans response in the Case for the Real Jesus.

      as for the five auxilary... yada yada, none of those being in the same centries as the gospels.

      The gospel fo thomas, which is now dated as late, not early, 2nd century at best is like finding a letter from King George in Ohio defending his right to America.

      November 15, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
  4. DAVE

    MARGARET...you said it perfectly!!!!!!! Its about getting right with God to have peace and joy in our lives and to honour Him...We have made God so small to try to fit him into our sin rather then us accepting His love and sacrifice..thank you Margaret!!!!

    November 14, 2010 at 8:34 am |

    the Bible says all sorts of things, most of which cannot be verified.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:33 am |
  6. Chris Willett

    It seems high time that evangelical congregations begin an investigation to find out if ANY of their pastors are straight.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:32 am |
  7. Michael

    'Coming out' as "gay" is just a fashionable way of giving God the finger so you can get on with fulfilling your lust!

    November 14, 2010 at 8:30 am |
    • LivinginVA

      Divorce must be even worse in your eyes then, because Jesus actually spoke about that being wrong.

      November 14, 2010 at 8:33 am |
  8. Donnieee

    Any other way is chaos existing(IS THIS THE WAY YOU WISH TO EXIST ON THIS PLANET?)

    November 14, 2010 at 8:30 am |
  9. Bob S In Austin

    Jesus told us to love one another. This is not what I see some Christians do. They claim to love the sinner, but hate the sin. If that's the case, then what difference does being gay make? We are all sinners, are we not? And all sins are equal, so why be so judgmental?
    Jesus chose to minister to the lady at the well. She was as unclean as one could possibly be; having had many husbands, and being a Samaritan. Yet this is one of those he picked to spread his love. If we are to follow Him, then we should do the same.
    We need to work on our own faults, and spread the faith. When we become perfect, then we can judge others.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:29 am |
  10. Hogan

    Its not my place to put judgement on this man. Everyone of us lives in sin. That's why Jesus went to the cross. When I accept Gods blood covenant of his son, I Am now apart of this great covenant. That doesn't mean I'm sinless, it means my sins are covered past, present & future. When Jesus said to the thief on the cross "Today you will be with me in paradise" should give us all hope. This pastor just confessed his sin in front of the whole world, therefore we should not judge. God will not condemn you if you cut ties and run from these churches. You don't have to follow leaders of sin, but you also must not judge either. That is Gods job......AMEN

    November 14, 2010 at 8:28 am |
    • Dan

      Hogan, he did not confess his lifestyle as sin – he simply stated that he is a gay man. Regarding "judging", please read what Paul had to say about judging those inside the church in 1 Cor 5.

      November 14, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  11. Michael

    You cannot be a shepherd of Jesus' sheep while defying the teaching of your Master.
    'Coming out' is just a fashionable way of giving God the finger in the West and dictating to HIim our standard as being superior to what he commands us.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:28 am |
  12. Joe

    Alter boys..?

    November 14, 2010 at 8:27 am |
  13. Joe, San Diego

    Swindler/Swiney... now has his 15 minutes of fame!

    November 14, 2010 at 8:26 am |
  14. Tyrone

    the "Great Apostasy".

    November 14, 2010 at 8:26 am |
  15. LADY D.


    November 14, 2010 at 8:24 am |
  16. scott501

    It is interesting that many Christians rate being gay as worse as a worse sin than their sins. Many people lie, cheat on their spouse, taxes or do not show love to others (which is the most important according to the Scriptures)
    Judging makes then feel superior BUT it turns people away from church and THAT IS THE WORST SIN OFF ALL. Why not let God judge..does He need your help?

    November 14, 2010 at 8:24 am |
  17. twiddly

    To al those idiotic bilbe quoters:
    The bible also says slavery is good, and that women are a man's property.
    Times, and people, change; except for those living with a mindset from the dark ages.
    Christians that take the bible literally are no better than muslims that take the koran literally; both are very misguided.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:22 am |
  18. Michael

    If he's not biblically literate, then he needs to apologize to Jesus and confess and repent of his sins as all of us must.
    If he knows better from scripture and is defiant, then he risk the Lord's judgment. Either way he should resign from the Pastorate. You cannot be a shepherd of Jesus' sheep while defying the teaching of your Master.
    God already knows our hearts and what we intend so you cannot trick him.
    'Coming out' is just a fashionable way of giving God the finger in the West and dictating to HIim our standard as being superior to what he commands us.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:22 am |
  19. GoodWitchPA

    To all of those who are quoting "Men shall not lay down with men":
    1) check the context (that's important in any story)
    2) the bible also states that you can beat your wife and keep slaves.
    Thankfully most people have enough sense and figured out that these stories are wrong as well. Please remember that the bible was written by MEN, not your god.
    (And yes, all of my capitalization in this message was deliberate.)

    November 14, 2010 at 8:21 am |
    • Mike, not me

      Romans 1
      18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
      24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
      26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
      28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, s-exual immorality,[c] wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving,[d] unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

      November 14, 2010 at 9:41 am |
  20. Ann

    I hope all you folks out there that are using the bible as "proof" are being consistent with your positions by stoning adulterers and killing your offspring who talk back. Also, don't forget the jewish dietary laws. How's that working for you? Anybody who looks to bronze aged screed ( go to the library, pick up a dictionary which I doubt you own, and look it up) to guide their decision-making should abstain from antibiotics and join the Flat Earth Society. After all, if it's not in the bible it can't be good! And, oh yeah, there never were dinosaurs. God just planted those bones and fossils to test our faith. And you all get to vote. Now THAT"s scary.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:21 am |
    • Dan

      Ann, don't you know who God is? He gave us a better covenant in the New Testament. The law was given to point us to Christ. No one was able to keep the laws of the Old Covenant (except Jesus). Jesus Himself forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery. However, he told her to "go and sin no more". Do you not understand this? God will empower you to stop sinning (grace), but you must turn away from your past sins and follow Jesus Christ.

      November 14, 2010 at 9:10 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.