Jim Swilley, the pastor of a Georgia megachurch, recently revealed to his congregation that he is gay. The brave father of four said that his wife, to whom he was married for more than 20 years, encouraged him to come out years ago, but at the time, he told her:
"These words will never come out of my mouth."
Unlike other outed evangelical and political leaders, Swilley was not caught with his pants down, on a drug binge, or anything else unseemly, but, the recent spate of teen suicides, particularly that of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, prompted him to change his mind. The 52-year-old bishop simply wanted to live his life authentically, after he witnessed the rash of gay youth suicides in this country. He sincerely felt he needed to be true to himself.
"For some reason his situation was kind of the tipping point with me," Swilley told CNN's Don Lemon this weekend. "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?'"
Swilley, the founder and bishop of the Church in the Now outside Atlanta, Georgia, made it clear that sexual orientation is not about the feared "gay lifestyle" that is thrown around, and, that it is also not a choice. He said he's never stepped out on either his first or second wife. Debye, his second wife of 21 years, mother to two of his children, and co-pastor at the church, knew from the very beginning that he was gay. In fact, Debye encouraged him to be real and open about his sexual orientation and let the chips fall where they may. Debye is seeking divorce as she is ready to pursue a more conventional relationship. As the divorce unfolded, they told their children that he was gay, and Swilley's son Jared -- who also happens to be the front man of the Black Lips -- was shocked, but accepting.
I love that Swilley is not begging his wife -- or anyone else -- for forgiveness. It's just who he is. This is quite refreshing that a religious leader has the courage to face the nation, and his followers, without any regrets - it's admirable.
Of course, they're some of Swilley's flock that are not happy and are abandoning the church. But the bishop is finding support as well. I really hope their is an awakening in the Church that more pastors will come out and change some of the world's close minded views on homosexuality.
Well done, Bishop Swilley! You've done something that's bigger than you.
No word yet on whether Bishop Eddie Long will follow in his courageous footsteps.