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.
Married 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.