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. hope

    I WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT THOSE OF YOU USING GOD'S WORD WITH HATE ARE SINNING AS THIS POINT IS ARGUED . And I am done with this as I have said my peace and have no desire toread anymore of my God's word twisted to fit a zellot like mentality that iswrong. By spewing this hate you are not winning people to christ but causing them to run from him and to me that is the greatest sin being commited.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:57 am |
    • BradLW

      Yep! That's all you have is "hope"; no knowledge!

      November 14, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
  2. Doc7655

    This message board is terrible. Posts take over an hour to appear, and when they do appear, they're out of chronological order. How is anyone supposed to have an intelligent discussion on this crappy board? And who keeps deleting the offensive posts?! You should never delete offensive posts! Reading the whole spectrum of views and writing styles, no matter how offensive and sloppy, is an important part of the educational experience! Only trolls should be deleted.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:55 am |
    • Bad Medicine

      That would be the CNN nazis that are deleting posts. I agree, all posts should be lft on here. To not do so is sensorship.

      November 14, 2010 at 9:07 am |
  3. Goinhome

    I am sympathetic to gays and what they have suffered. That said. Swilley. I am not buying this neither do I buy Eddie Longs plight.
    If I was not hip. I would think that the both of you are going through what you say you are. Both are TV preachers on some money collection shows. I think they could care less. It's a game for whatever reason. They probably make more money being on those shows than they do with their churches. Spoofing the Christians. Now they are Spoofing the gays.

    On the other hand the gay lifestyle is something your "born" into. You might want to look into being nicer to those people. They have had it rough.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:55 am |
  4. conoclast

    Swilley is to be applauded for his grit! He could have continued down the "easy" path but he would never have gotten the answer to a question that must dog him: how much better a servant could I be if I were at last one with myself? Now, will his congregation be as heroic?

    November 14, 2010 at 8:54 am |
    • BradLW

      I just know that you are not going to be holding your breath!

      November 14, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  5. Mike

    It just seems ironic to me that people who call themselves Christians always seem to forget the most basic of tenets. Love your neighbor, treat others as you would want to be treated, etc. I'm pretty sure Christianity isn't a religion based on intolerance and hate. Since some of you people want to quote Scripture to make your point, why not consult the sections in which Jesus sat and ate with the least in society of his time (tax collectors, lepers, etc). Is it really any wonder people like this pastor choose not to tell anyone for fear of the kind of behavior he's received in return? I hope this doesn't blow up to the point he's forced into retirement. Frankly, any one who leaves his congregation is doing him a favor.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:54 am |
  6. Mike Dallas

    Some of these comments makes you wander if a 33 year old unmarried male with 12 male followers would be welcomed if they showed up at the door of some of these evangelical "christian" mega churchs.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:53 am |
    • gs-can

      Nailed it!

      November 14, 2010 at 10:15 am |
    • SheisGod

      Eddie Long would gladly give them special consideration.

      November 14, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
  7. Faisal

    No one is gay. Jesus didn't call us to "come out" and admit we are evil. He called us to confess we have SINNED, TRANSGRESSED, FALLEN INTO TEMPTATION, ETC. What this guy is doing is DEMONIC, he is "COMING OUT" and *saying it's OK to be GAY*. he is doing NOTHING MORE THAN VALIDATING HIS FALL.

    YES, I SAID HE'S VALIDATING HIS FALL. do you HEAR ME? don't be stupid

    November 14, 2010 at 8:53 am |
  8. Bad Medicine

    And we care because?!?

    Why do gay people always feel the need to go around announcing it?

    I don't go around wearing a T shirt that says I am straight... Jesus people.

    How about the gays just STFU!?

    November 14, 2010 at 8:52 am |
    • LivinginVA

      I suspect that when they can say "I went out to dinner with my [spouse of the same gender] last night" and not have to worry about getting fired or harassed the same way straights do with their spouses, there will be far fewer stories about it.

      November 14, 2010 at 8:56 am |
  9. Michael Wm Miller

    God said "Hold no thing before me"

    November 14, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  10. LivinginVA

    Why do most Christians consider this to be a bigger sin that divorce? After all, Christ himself condemned divorce. Where are all the people quoting the Bible on this topic to keep divorced people out of the clergy and military?

    November 14, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  11. Smellie

    He will be just fine, Conyers, GA is a hotbed of the liberal elite mindset . . . . (typed with tongue inserted in cheek, not butt cheek, mind you)

    November 14, 2010 at 8:50 am |
  12. gtruck

    Churches are filled with brainwashed, zombie hypocrites. Most of the believers are self righteous and need to be destroyed. We need to stop the free rides for these hate camps. They should start paying taxes and actually become useful to society.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:50 am |
    • jhendrix731


      November 14, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  13. j.jones

    Wat Bible does he preach from cause in mine its an abomination..... Oh I guess he skips those chapters.... Woe to him!!!!!!!

    November 14, 2010 at 8:48 am |
  14. guy

    So called preacher,please explain all of this to God on judgement day and listen to His response.I don't think you'll like the results!!!!! Enjoy it while you're alive!

    November 14, 2010 at 8:43 am |
  15. bob

    All you who are bashing this guy on here, what do you think "the calling" refers to? it refers to a man who doesn't feel attracted to women. thats what is supposed to prompt you to go into a life of celibacy - meaning basically that according to the church, feeling that you are gay IS the calling to become a priest.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:42 am |
    • Lenoirlady

      OK Bob, explain the molestation of children. That in no way is a "gay" thing to do. Celebacy should be practiced intentionaly by the Pedophile. Chemical sterilization could and should be used by the child molesters. On their own! At their request!

      November 14, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  16. Daoud

    REALITY: Yep, and that same pseudo-science that you choose to follow also stated that African and Asian people and all other cultural groups were biologically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually inferior to Europeans. And that the accursed people of color (Blackened) were born to serve the people without color (Whitened). These ignorant quasi-scientist of racism failed to factor in the ROLE of the Sun in determining what we see as "color" in all living things. All human beings are created with the same nature, based upon the elements of Earth, Air, Water and Fire. Being 76.2% water, our inclination is to FLOW to the path of least resistance, unless directed by "pressure" to travel a more disciplined path and not follow the easy path that may disclose our weaknesses.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:42 am |
    • LivinginVA

      Read your history books. Science changed its stance LONG before the Church did.

      November 14, 2010 at 8:48 am |
  17. Gary

    I wonder if he would have "Come out" if there wasn't a video of him being gay.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:42 am |
    • LivinginVA

      Unless you are reading a different article than I am, there is no video. There was video of the boy who killed himself.

      November 14, 2010 at 8:45 am |
    • JQ

      @Gary...He was never going to come out mate! You're the only smart guy on this board! Cheers...

      November 14, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  18. Pearl

    My first response is.."He without sin cast the first stone"! The Bible has been preverted to fit the church's roll in controlling the en masses. Look how quickly everyone jumps on the band wagon to strke out at this man..if he has in your opinions "Sinned" than as good christians you should be reaching out.

    Conversations with Spirit by Dolores Cannon suggests...
    The broadest concept of God that you can possible conceive would still be as norrrow as a thread compared to this " all that there is"And then you must consider that many of your fellow human beings have narrow concepts of God, shich is unfortunate but that is the way it is. They're too frightened to open up for their full potential,.
    God as merely an observer of His children in their tasks. The children are doing the tasks,God simply IS. God is, period.The children are doing, God is. The concept of God is the sum of all, of everything. We are God. We are collectivelu God. We are individual pieces of God. God is not one, but God is all.
    There for by casting stones at this man you are there for casting stones at yourselves and God.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:42 am |
    • Daoud

      Pearl. did you concoct this idea on your own? G'd Is One. Everything else is two. The Reality Of G'd Is Manifested in All things, conceived and unconceived. G'd Is The Cultivator of all living things and societies and all systems of knowledge. He never slumbers or sleeps. He never gets tired or needs any rest. He is without form or measure. He cannot die and was never, ever born. He has no beginning and he has no ending. He Is The Absolute. The Reality. The Truth. The Love. The Mercy. The All Knowing. The All wise. The All Encompassing. The Judge. The Disposer of all affairs. The Originator of Life. The Determinor of death. And He Has Power over all things.

      November 14, 2010 at 8:53 am |
    • gs-can

      Daoud – oh my. As I now know He is responsible for everything, is there any chance at all you can but G'd in contact with my Range Rover dealer – cause he is just killing me with my service invoices. Here I was asking to see the manager. I just didn't realize I needed "Him".

      Oh, and while you are at it, wouldn't mind a little more face time with the girl four desks down at my office if you can get that arranged too.

      November 14, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  19. the truth

    Religion is evil, pastors are bunch of liers.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  20. Ms. Alford

    He will have to deal with it personally! only God knows his destiny!

    November 14, 2010 at 8:40 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.