Betty Greene Salwak

Georgia Megachurch Pastor Jim Swilley Comes Out

Filed By Betty Greene Salwak | October 31, 2010 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Jim Swilley, welcoming affirming church

Bishop Jim Swilley, pastor of the Georgia interdenominational megachurch Church In The Now has announced that he is gay. Swilley is a fourth generation pastor who says he has always been called to preach and has known since he was a child that he is gay.

Jim Swilley.jpegMarried twice with four children, Swilley amicably divorced his second wife after 21 years of marriage. Ex-wife Debye remains his co-pastor and best friend. She knew from the start he was gay. She filed for divorce a couple of years ago, encouraging Swilley to be "real," as his ministry purports to be. She still feels today that "there is no finer man than this man" and calls him an "awesome man of integrity."

Why did Swilley choose to come out now? It was the stories of the gay youths who took their own lives that compelled him to take this risk. He couldn't stay silent, knowing that his story might save lives.

There is no scandal underlying this public revelation. Swilley says that he has been faithful and is now celibate. As to what will happen now in his personal life, Swilley says with a slight smile, "Frankly, that's just none of your business."

In a sermon to quash rumors that have swirled about in recent weeks, Swilley addressed all of the weaponry used by conservative Christians. He calls the Bible inspired but not infallible, written by straight men for straight men without the knowledge we have today about sexuality. His consistent message for all of his ministry is that God loves everyone exactly as they are, as God made them to be. He is righteously angry at those pastors shouting condemnation from their pulpits:

"There are lots of closeted preachers that are saying gay people are going to hell. You're just seeing the tip of the iceberg with the exposure. In the days ahead I predict all the ones who have damned everybody else to hell are going to be exposed themselves."

On the science of sexuality he said, "I know a lot of straight people think orientation is a choice. I want to tell you it certainly is not. .... When you define 'natural' you define what is natural to your nature."

Swilley knows that his orientation is a cultural issue, but he doesn't want this to interfere with his ministry and message. "I wish after 38 years I could be known for the fruit of my ministry."

What is the fallout? One of his staff pastors left because he was afraid Swilley would turn CITN into a "gay church." Some of his congregation will not be able to reconcile their faith with Swilley's orientation, and they will leave. He invites them to give it time and says they will be welcomed if they return. Several staff pastors--including his ex-wife Debye--stepped up to praise his courage and offer support. One pointed out that throughout all of his ministry, Swilley was a gay man doing God's work. Another closed with a message about the church:

"We preach inclusion because it is the truth of God and biblically relevant. This is a season for the Bible to stop being used as a weapon against people."

Please read Jim Swilley's blog and offer him words of support. Below is the video of the sermon in which he tells his congregation he is gay. It's long and it's worth every minute. I encourage everyone to watch, to see the true reflection of God's word made real.

Watch live streaming video from bishopjimswilley at livestream.com


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Is he "celibate" because he still believes homosexuality is "wrong." I'm sorry, but he wasn't clear.

Inclusion isn't very impressive.

Oh, great, AndrewW! Are you implying that this man doesn't have a right to be celibate if he so choses! Or, more precisely, are you second-guessing him because he is?

There are several reason he might want to be celibate. (1) He was faithful to his wife while they were married, and maybe he still doesn't believe in sex outside of a well-established relationship (although many of us may disagree, he has a right to his own values), (2) maybe he didn't want to be sexually active while in the closet -- that's an integrity issue that only a few of us might understand in our fuck-it-if-you-want-it world, (3) in a similar vein, maybe he just didn't want to have to engage in sexual sneakin' and creepin' while claiming to be a good example to his parishioners, and maybe he didn't want to invite the risk of gossipy rumors, (4) maybe he just felt like being celibate until he got his bearings at being an out gay man -- notice he has made no guarantee that he will be celibate in the future.

Gay pastors do tend to be more conservative than the rest of us. I suggest we give this guy a bit of time before we criticize or challenge him about not fucking around enough to please our own whims.

or (5) maybe he is celibate because "non-practicing homosexuals" are acceptable. "Hate the sin," etc.

He can take all the time he wants. I didn't multiple-choice speculate like you, I asked a question. Maybe someone from that church knows the rules regarding homosexuals and pastors.

Andrew if you had watched the entire video you would not have to ask. He answered the questions you ask.

Renee Thomas | November 2, 2010 7:22 PM

Andrew,

For Christ sake watch the full video . . . it might do you proud just long enough to give your incessant second-guessing and nit-picking a rest . . . and the rest of us a break.

I did. He did a nice job of explaining "gay is not a choice," but he didn't un-wrong being gay. Biblical interpretation is just double-talk.

His churce website doesn't make a statement, either.

He may have taken a long to time to come out but that's ok. Many of us have done that. Some never do.

I am glad he always preached inclusion. I would have had a much harder time finding the positive in him if he had been untruthful to himself. I can respect maintaining his beliefs within his closet.

It is refreshing to see he stepped forward of his on volition to help those of us in need. He will probably lose a lot of support but he did the right thing. Someone somewhere will draw strength from this and that's the important thing.

He may not be perfect but he is Human and trying to make a difference. I wish more would follow suit.

Wow. I watched quite a bit of the video. His speech was wonderful, and very honest. I can't believe he said that in a Georgia church! Good for him, and I hope that minds can be changed and new allies can be made. I'm not religious or spiritual at all, but I hope that his ministry doesn't suffer for his honesty and his analysis of the homophobic Bible passages he shared in the video.

The Bible is the word of God. So are you saying God has shown us through his word that he is homophobic?

Your reply, NC77, is a great example of the context-twisting result of proof-texting. Take one word or phrase out of context and apply the heat of narrow definitions unrelated to the whole. In logic, your conclusion is an invalid inference.

What are you hoping to say? It isn't clear here.

and maybe he is a cowardly, still self-loathing homosexual that has a belief in the sky gawd who will send him to hell for acting on his natural sexual identity.

Seems more likely.

There are things in there that make me cringe as an atheist. Like saying god speaks to him. Makes me thinks he needs to adjust his medication.

But if he were a coward, he wouldn't have come out and risk his whole church in the process (which he admits isn't doing that well financially). I also doubt he goes to hell, because he specifically rejects the usual verses in Leviticus and Paul. Not in detail, but he certainly could if he wanted. He basically says that the Bible isn't a great guide when it comes to sex and sexuality.

The brief talk by the lesbian at the end is also interesting. She lost her job because she is with a black woman. That makes her doubly evil in the eyes of some others. The ignorance down there is astounding.

At least he didn't come out by being caught in the men's room with a prostitute and some meth. It would have made for a more fun story for the rest of us, but not him.

Hmmm. From this athiest's perspective: After watching the entire video, I was struck by two things, especially. The bishop is clearly a genuine article. He has integrity, as several in the video attested. He's at one with himself. He showed immense concern for the fate of his church (his followers) and his familial loved ones, and for the perception among them of his lifelong ministry, that it was genuine. Also, what a wonderful message he is sending to other Christian ministers. If only his understanding of their shared religion could alter the course of all Christian preaching. What a blessing that would be, not only for them and their parrishioners, but the wider community, gay and straight, as well. I'm going to share this video with some of my Christian straight friends. I think they'll find strength in it.

As for his celibacy, and reasons therefore: It's none of our damned business, just as it is no one's business how I or you conduct our gay lives. He seems to preach inclusion. A little bit of inclusion wouldn't hurt the rest of us, either.

America just need God the God of our Fathers. No gays should lead or preach in church of straight people. Start you own guy religion.

That ship has sailed, farai, hundreds of years ago, with countless gay men spreading the gospel of Christ; and there's no returning to harbor now. God has room for all.

Dennis Kirk | November 2, 2010 1:08 PM

How can this man claim that God loves everyone. Oh, he says the Bible teaches that. But he also says the Bible is fallible. How does he know that the part that says God loves all people is accurate. Seems to me this man wants to have a "burger king" religion. Have it your way. Take the parts of the Bible you agree with as true and the parts you don't agree with as the mistakes of men. I will just continue to believe that ALL the Bible is true. The part that says God loves all men and the part that CLEARLY teaches that men with men and women with women is an abomination to God. I didn't not write that, God did. But if you cast aside the Word of God then there are is no absolute truth anywhere.

... the part that CLEARLY teaches that men with men and women with women is an abomination to God. I didn't not write that, God did.

No, Mr. Kirk, you did write that ... at least the part about "women with women".

I dare you to point out one Bible verse that is unambiguous in its prohibition against lesbianism.

Are you claiming that the Bible verses that you fabricate out of thin air are also infallible?

A comment similar to yours was carved on a stone tablet more than 2,000 years ago bemoaning the loss of Zeus. The good news it that it's just a matter of time until we see the Bible in similar terms.

The end is near.

Dennis let me point you to Numbers 31. God who wrote thou shalt not kill instructs Moses to murder about 150,000 young boys and women who are not virgins after they are brought back as captives following the slaughter of all the men the Israelites waged war on. The 150,000 is fairly easy to estimate since after the slaughter 32,000 virgins were left. Now if you really want to understand what is going on here you have to go back to Numbers 25 and see that some of "the chosen people" had slept with some "foreign" women and brought on a plague. This was the first recorded episode of a sexually transmitted disease and Moses who was, after all, the prince of Egypt recognized the consequences and dangers this presented to his nation. If you want to understand his level of knowledge (from the teachings of his Egyptian priests) look at what he had the soldiers do. All metal objects were put through purification by fire and all non-metal objects taken in plunder were washed thoroughly. He instructed how to sanitize the plunder to make certain the disease was not brought back into camp via the spoils.

Now here is what you must wrap your head around. Either Moses lied and blasphemed God by asserting that God told him to wipe out these people or God sanctioned the murder of thousands of innocent captives who were brought back after the battles. If you come down on the side of believing that every place the Bible says "God says" is God actually speaking then you serve a murderous God. If that is unacceptable then let me offer you a key to what is false scripture and what truly is the word of God. It is what is called the Golden Key. It was given by Jesus to his disciples. Would you like to know what it is? Just respond yes and I will give it to you.

Dennis, we are all selective Christians, choosing to emphasize those parts of the Bible that are concomitant with our understanding of the nature of God. While you say ALL of the Bible is true, you do not put equal weight on all of its passages. While you pay close scrutiny to the 2 passages of the Law of Moses dealing with homosexuality, you are giving less weight to the other 611 directives. Have you ever stoned to death any adulterers that you know are in your congregation, or have you counseled them instead?

If I chose to give all 613 Levitican laws the same value, I would have stoned to death my rebellious son instead of helping him to become the fine young man he is today. I would have to consider some members of my family abominations for remarrying a divorced spouse after realizing the mistake they made. I would be guilty of an abomination today for blending polyester, cotton and wool in my clothing. Ad infinitum, but you get my point.

I would respectfully ask you to examine the source of your zeal on this matter, other than "the Bible says," because clearly the Bible says some things that you choose to ignore (as we all do). There is a millennia-old bias that mostly men have against mostly men in regard to their roles: it is a cultural crime for a man to take a role that is assumed to be a woman's.

As for sexual practices -- which is really what the fuss is all about -- every single homosexual act is practiced in far greater numbers by heterosexuals. So we really can't justify our squeamishness based on the acts themselves. What is not natural to you might be natural to someone else. God has given us the great gift of sexuality to share and explore with those we love. How we do that is no one's business but our own.

While I can't speak for Rev. Swilley, his take on God's love is no mystery to me. Rather than hand-pick the passages we like and fling them about, we can look at the overall message of the Bible. The thread of redemption runs throughout the Old Testament and New -- God loves all of us -- and culminates in the greatest commandments issued by Jesus: love God and love one another.

Aren't there greater things in this world that we must work on? Can we let God settle this in His time while we get food and shelter to those without? Can we set this aside for the sake of those young children who don't have the emotional armor to deal with the confusion and questions? Let us be reasonable, loving people of God and leave the judgment to Him.

BGS, that is so well put that I truly appreciate you taking the time to write it out. What I'd really like to see is the person who wrote that all the Bible is true explain how he reconciles that statement with his choice not to follow the Bible's preachings in total and literally. I have never seen someone actually do that. They always pick the parts that they agree with and ignore the rest.

Bible scholar Timothy Ross | November 7, 2010 6:06 PM

I say think you Bishop Jim Swilley for having the Spiritaul Balls to be frank. I think many Evangilicals adn many others pervert the Bible for there dogma raither then for the origional intent of the Bible. I am not saying Homosexuelity is Gods intent. But as a homosexual by nature but by the Holy Spirit the Helper are God in us I have lived a great life and now practice a straight relationship. I have been saved and and filled and baptized into the HolySpirit for 14 years with these tendecies. Inclusion is the origional intent of scripture. Many misinterpret the scriptures about homosexuality for dogma tha tis rooted in tradition raither then pure scripture. When Jesus said in John 12:28-30 God the Son meant it !!!

Your reference and your statement is obscure to me. Please clarify what you are saying so that I can comprehend it. I am a ditz and I am confused by your reference. I read the scripture but don't see the applicability. Can you make it simpler?

THE WORD OF GOD SAYS....BEING GAY IS AN ABONIBATION....FOR A MAN TO HAVE SEX WITH ANOTHER MAN IS A DISGRACE TO GOD......WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO PROFESS TO BE A CHRISTIAN LIVING THIS KIND OF LIFE???????? JIM SWILLEY NEED TO GO BACK TO THE ALTER AND FIND GOD. IN THE BIBLE GOD DESTROYED SODOM AND GOMARRAH JUST FOR THIS. IF HE IS A PREACHER HE SHOULD KNOW THIS.
I PRAY HE WILL EXCEPT CHRIST AS HIS PERSONAL SAVIOR. THERE IS NO MINISTERS IN THE WORD OF GOD THAT WERE GAY. THIS IS A LIE OF THE DEVIL.

Please read Romans 2:1 where Paul makes the point that you who condemn others are worse by far than those given over to lives filled with all unrighteousness for you only succeed in condemning yourself.

Then go read Leviticus which is health laws and notice that even Moses never condemns the love between two people of the same sex. What he did say was anal sex is perilous in the desert wandering around with little water and poor sanitation opportunities. He was concerned with building a nation of healthy warriors and if you had even a small bit of discernment you would recognize that feces on ones private parts in a desert environment is what concerned him.

Then, if you really want some enlightenment go study carefully the relationship between David and Jonathon.

I pray that the holy ghost will enter the lives of those who spew hatred and advocate harm to others to remove the blindness they suffer under. I pray that every person will recognize that it is the way of Jesus Christ of Nazareth to love others. I pray that every person will recognize that the relationship that should be focused on is their individual relationship with God and that pointing at others gains you nothing when you die and your own thoughts and actions are held to account. What part of the new commandment that Jesus gave to love one another is difficult to understand and accept?

Janis, Lot offered his daughters in lieu of his guests to the men of Gomorrah when they demanded to have sex with the guests. Why would he have done that if they were gay? The men refused and said they would treat Lot even "worse than them." What they proposed was rape. Rape of men at the time was a way to make them take the role of women -- that is, property. It was how the conquering armies treated their defeated enemies. It has nothing to do with sexual preference. In Ezekiel 16 we see that the crimes of the citizens were arrogance, gluttony, apathy, and pride. Nothing is said of homosexuality.

Where you WILL see homosexuality, though, is in the clergy. Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool are both bishops in the Episcopal church, and I have a wonderful gay friend who is an Episcopal rector. Donald Cozzen, a Catholic priest and head of a Cleveland seminary, estimates that the Catholic clergy is 60% gay. (I know two delightful gay priests and am aware of many more.) I am grateful to know personally one Lutheran, one Methodist, and two Presbyterian ministers who are gay. I think if all clergy came out, we would be astonished at the numbers of gay and lesbian people who are called to a life of service.

Isn't service what Christianity is all about, Janis? We are called to serve God by using his gifts in service to others. One need not be ordained to do that. Rather than shout in capital letters and point fingers in blame, let us look inward with the words of the Bible and apply them to ourselves. That should occupy our time enough and leave others in the care of God.

This isn't a question of homosexuality, primarily. It is a question of sin. Of course the Bible teaches homosexuality is sin. Of course a man in the ministry as long as Swilley knows that. What he's hoping is that you and I are so puzzled by his double-talk as to agree that perhaps it's OK to live that way. Jesus said if we love Him we will keep His commandments. Swilley is just showing love for his own self-indulgence. If he was born that way, he must be born again. Notice how he pain-stakingly proclaims to be a minister of God, but dismantles the credibility of the Word he says he expounds. "Can't believe Leviticus, can't believe Paul, can't believe Jesus!" Don't dare call yourself a Christian Mr. Swilley, you've denied the Word in front of men; you will be denied in front of the angels in heaven.

Thank you, Bishop80, for reading my post. I hope you also read my comments above that specifically address much of your argument. In a bit of providential timing, the same day you posted this comment an article published in the Washington Post addresses in great detail the verses in Leviticus. Click the title to read "Homosexuality in Leviticus" by Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson.

Dear Bishop80, John very clearly tells you the word of God is not a book. Go and learn the meaning of this.