A Megachurch Pastor Has the Courage to Come Out November 1, 2010

A Megachurch Pastor Has the Courage to Come Out

Jim Swilley was a megachurch pastor in Georgia for over two decades.

According to one reader (via email):

They’re located right on I20 and you can’t miss the sign [for the Church in the Now] if you’re headed east out of Atlanta. The place looks insane; like a casino had sex with a WalMart. I’ve heard stories about how they supposedly have ATMs in the lobbies…

But that’s all about to come to an end for Swilley now that he’s come out with his secret:

Swilley, 52, founded the church 25 years ago. He seemed the stereotypical picture of a pastor, with four kids and a wife who doubled as his associate pastor. But Swilley said he’s known he was gay since he was little boy. He said his wife, Debye, also knew his secret from the start.

… Swilley came out to his kids and his congregation. He said he knew he might risk everything, but the recent rash of gay teen suicides pushed him over the edge.

“As a father, thinking about your 16, 17 year old killing themselves. I thought somebody needed to say something,” Swilley said through tears.

“I know all the hateful stuff that’s being written about me online, whatever,” Swilley said. “To think about saving a teenager yeah, I’ll risk my reputation for that.”

We’ll see how much the Christian community supports him.

Evangelicals are so quick to come to the defense of pastors who speak out against homosexuality but who privately have sex with other men.

What happens when one admits to being gay? My hunch is they’ll either condemn him or pretend he doesn’t exist. Or they’ll throw out that awful line about how they hope he’ll find the “error” of his ways and come back to Jesus.

In any case, I’m glad Swilley had the courage to come out. I just feel bad that he felt he had to live a lie for so many years so that (among other things) people would trust him as a pastor.

There’s one big reason to leave Christianity: What the faith preaches is true is often not true at all.

But this idea that you must live a certain kind of life according to someone’s warped view of the Bible? That’s gotta be a close second.

(Thanks to Paul for the link)


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  • Danny Wuvs Kittens

    When I used to be a Christian, I was kind of in the “its just another fleshly urge that must be resisted”. I’m guessing that’s how this will turn out. He has a wife and kids, and so people will say “look!” he’s resisting Satan.

    I’ll be following this story closely.

  • James

    Congrats on him for coming out, his career is ruined, and his kids are in for a struggle, but for the overall part, he has done nothing to help people.

    Frankly I think had he stayed in his position he could have used it to push for respect and equality from within.

  • Belinda

    Thank you for having the courage to come out 🙂 Please reach out to those children that are hurting. You will be a great help to them and others 🙂 Please know that I only keep good thoughts for you and your family. Your children must be proud to have such a brave and wise father 🙂

  • Silent Service

    Wow. It’s tough doing what Reverend Swilley has done. I commend him for finally being able to speak out against anti-gay bigotry. But a the same time, he has been living on his parishioners’ dime for years. During that time, was he preaching hate against gays? I really want to know.

  • NewEnglandBob

    When the title said “Come out”, I got all excited! Then I saw he came out as gay, not as an atheist. Bummer.

  • Anonymous

    Vision: Church In The Now was originally founded on a concept taken from Psalm 2:8 in the KJV, which says: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.”

    http://www.churchinthenow.org/citn-vision-purpose.html

    ORLY?

    A helpful start would be to ditch the word heathen.

  • It’s a good start. I’d say that where he goes from here can potentially make or break this decision, though. He should keep his guard up.

  • Angel

    What a lovely church. It’s just a shame about that liberal asshole on the steps yelling about the moneychangers.

  • Ouigui

    Y’all know that “megachurch” doesn’t inevitably mean “bigoted”, right? Although it’s hard to know with the non-denominationals, as far as I can tell the Church in the Now hasn’t been one of the gay-hating types.

    The responses on Swilley’s blog are interesting. Many are from vocally supportive parishioners, and aren’t trotting out the “hate the sin, love the sinner” crap. Then again, most of the blog commenters seem averse to saying the words “gay” or “homosexual”, so…? I guess we’ll have to wait and see how this story plays out in the weeks and months to come, and how much of the congregation stays.

    James says:

    for the overall part, he has done nothing to help people.

    I strongly disagree. Swilley’s coming-out is important because it’s fundamentally different from the Ted Haggards and Eddie Longs of the evangelical world. He’s not apologizing for being gay or seeking forgiveness for sexual sin or scandal. That alone will open a lot of eyes and minds. (Plus, his ex-wife is openly encouraging, and apparently isn’t afraid to say “shit” in front of the congregation. How refreshing!)

  • Theresa

    I think Swilley will actually be more effective by coming out rather than working from within. I believe the biggest predictor of a person’s attitudes about homosexuality is whether they know an openly gay person.

    He must be one of very few high-profile evangelicals to come out voluntarily, while leading a church, and not in the process of a domestic scandal or criminal investigation.

    So even though he may lose some followers, he has already made an inroad into a community plagued by silence and misinformation. The more people come out, the more the theology will evolve (they may call it “discernment” or “revelation” if they want) to embrace full human rights for glbt people.

  • Alice

    From what I’ve seen, he’s getting a lot of support. Lets cross our fingers for the best for him instead of sitting back and expecting to watch another example of hateful Christian bigotry, yeah?

  • Angel

    Google ad above this post asking me if I want to become one of “God’s Children” and receive Jesus as my saviour? Awesome.

    Edit: After posting, the ad changed to “get ministry training here”. Google is trying to convert me.

  • Hemant, I’m surprised at you for this presumptive statement:

    But that’s all about to come to an end for Swilley

    How do you know this will end for him, the way things ended for (for example) Ted Haggard? Haggard was caught and accused of specific acts that betrayed the people who looked to him. Swilley came out voluntarily to reveal himself to his congregation. Big difference in how these two were made public.

    Personally I expected a portion of his congregation to leave, but I judging from the initial response on his blog, I expect a goodly portion to stand by him and come to a different understanding of the Christian message toward all people.

    He may well be knocked down, but I don’t think he’ll be knocked out.

    I have little sympathy for Christianity in general, but I commend Swilley for his honesty and hope he can bring a difference into evangelical Christianity.

  • L. Foster

    I think Swilley made a brave move, and did so for the right reasons. Whether his congregation or other pastors choose to support him or not, I hope he knows and remembers that he’s got people who love and support him (his family), and that there are total strangers who admire him for doing the right thing (including yours truly).

  • Good on him for coming out — I hope all goes well, and that he can use his position to educate and instill some compassion in people who might otherwise have never had the opportunity to truly learn.

  • JulietEcho

    Raytheist beat me to it, but yeah, it’s far from certain how the future will turn out for Swilley. Anyway, I was really impressed when I heard about this earlier today on the forums, and it has left me with a few more sparks of hope for “mainstream” Christianity in the US.

    More of this, please. There must be more gay pastors out there, and if Swilley is treated with the respect and *honor* he deserves for his brave revelation, maybe others will follow his lead. There are a lot of Christians I know who don’t attend churches because of the narrow-minded, bigoted natures of the sermons/pastors/members. Swilley might gain members for every one he loses if that kind of disenfranchised Christian decides to try his church on for size.

    And yeah, the “megachurch = fundamentalist evangelicals” is a tempting leap to make (because often it’s true), but it’s not necessarily true.

  • And yeah, the “megachurch = fundamentalist evangelicals” is a tempting leap to make (because often it’s true), but it’s not necessarily true.

    I did some poking around on Swilley’s blog, and from what I was able to find, the theology doesn’t seem too bad. Considering that most evangelicals are all about exclusivity, this is somewhat refreshing:

    But even though I believe that Jesus is ultimately the one way to God, I do not believe that all the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Hare Krishnas, agnostics and atheists, etc. are all going to eventually walk down the aisle of a Christian church and pray the sinner’s prayer and confess Romans 10:9 and 10…nor do I believe that they are damned and going to a place called hell if they don’t.

    In recent years I have particularly developed a greater appreciation for the Apostles’ Creed, which is accepted by both the Roman Catholic and Protestant Church (the Greek Orthodox Church favors the nearly identical Nicene Creed) as an official confession of Christianity. In both creeds (and this is true for all the other ancient Christian creeds) there is nothing mentioned about the devil, or a “rapture”, or a “tribulation period”, or about Israel becoming a nation in 1948, or anything about hell and eternal damnation. The older Roman Catholic version of the Apostles’ Creed used to contain the phrase “He descended to hell”, but the Modern English Version uses the more Biblically accurate phrase “He descended to the dead”, because true Hebrew and Greek scholars cannot deny anymore that the Hebrew “sheol”, and the Greek “hades” should never have been interpreted as “hell”, because they simply mean the grave, or more specifically, “the unseen”.

    It seems like he believes we’ll all accept Jesus at some point after death, but if he’s ditched hell and damnation, I consider that leaps and bounds ahead of other Christian groups, morally speaking. Still full of supernatural woo, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

  • Richard P.

    Or he will become the new poster boy of denial.

    They will hold him up as a shining example of denying the sin. They will parade him around as what gays should be living like.
    But, I doubt they will see past their bigotry and miss the chance to throw some one into the fire though.

  • Sean

    true Hebrew and Greek scholars cannot deny anymore that the Hebrew “sheol”, and the Greek “hades” should never have been interpreted as “hell”, because they simply mean the grave, or more specifically, “the unseen”

    I’m glad he makes this distinction, on intellectual as well as moral grounds. I’d disagree if he’s implying that early Christianity didn’t have a hell (in fact, for the first few centuries hell often had a much stronger Biblical basis since the Apocalypse of Peter was accepted), but it’s equally true that most references to hell in modern Bibles were not supposed to refer to what we now think of as hell (including essentially every reference in the Old Testament; some translations accurately call sheol “the grave” or “the pit”).

  • Sean

    They will parade him around as what gays should be living like.

    If he remains celibate and does not explicitly denounce the idea that gay sex in sinful, then yes, they may do this. I would not try to predict the behavior or career of a man in such an exceptional and pivotal position as this.

  • I admire a man who puts his reputation on the line to save lives. Even if it saves one life, it is worth it.

  • Following the link Anna provided above to Swilley’s blog, plus some Googling on my own, it is clear that Swilley is a Universalist, not a fundamentalist. If this is the case, and his congregation has been steeped in Universalist theology, I am confident he will do just fine. There may still be some people leaving, but his church is already open/affirming to GLBT, so I doubt they will be all that upset or angry. They may be surprised, but not hateful like fundamentalists would be. At least, that’s my opinion. He’ll be fine.

  • Claudia

    They will hold him up as a shining example of denying the sin. They will parade him around as what gays should be living like.

    Even if this were to happen, it would still be an improvement over the Ted Haggard type of outing. As horrible as it is to say that gay people should be with no one or enter into a heterosexual marriage (at least this pastor did it honestly, the damage done to the wife who was lied to is often overlooked) it inadvertantly recognizes that being gay is not a choice. This scenario implicitly accepts that you are either gay or you’re not and you aren’t going to change that, but that you should refrain from living in accordance with that nature. It’s bad, yes, but once you’ve accepted that being gay is not a choice, you’re on the first step to acceptance. It’s no surprise that fundies insist that it is a choice; people of good will, once they accept that being gay is not something you choose, will become more skeptical of the idea that God would create people whose fundamental nature he disapproved of.

    It’s still early in the game to call this guy a hero, but what he did was very brave, if that makes any sense. It’s not anyone who could put their entire life on the line for principle. The way he’s come out; as gay, not as “a sinner”, suggests that he’s not planning on becoming a Haggard. He’s probably already made the people of his church question their previously held views on homosexuality and he may have already saved the life of some gay youngster in his church. For that alone, he deserves thanks.

  • He came out as gay. Big deal. His motivations? Allegedly to save lives. That’s nice, and specifically how does this accomplish that? What was his game plan? How will he measure his rate of failure or success? It’s something he did to purge his “personal demons”, so to speak. He wanted to get his being gay off his chest and out in the open and he did so in front of his congregation. Great, but let’s not make any more of it than what it really is. So much silly speculation here…
    It doesn’t matter. Gay, not gay…he still preaches poison and Christianity harms many more than just gays, even if it is of a Universalist bent.
    It doesn’t make his religious bullshit “okay” because he happens to tell people of his sexual orientation.
    If the rest of the non-Christian world was gay and gays were the only ones injured by superstitious crap then I’d say “Bravo”.
    Methinks too many commenters see the world only through the lens of their particular demographic and aren’t looking at “The Big Picture” here.
    Now, if he came out as an atheist? THAT really WOULD be a big deal.

  • JohnFrost

    Wow. That’s bravery, there. I applaud Pastor Swilley, and I don’t agree with the posters who think this will have no effect. Earlier this year Christian musician Jennifer Knapp came out unapologetically as gay. I think, as more and more big names in the evangelical movement come out unapologetically, they might soon reach a tipping point. The more gays and lesbians Evangelicals know on a personal basis, or that they respect and look up to, the harder it’s going to be for them to maintain their hatred and bigotry.

  • Silent Service

    Godless Monster,

    Did you get up on the wrong side of the crypt this morning?

  • Mitch

    I’m glad this guy came out too. It’s a shame when people feel they have to live a lie in order to “make it” according to the views of a larger group. It’s especially good to know he’s willing to put his success and reputation on the line for what is right.

    For the record, I am a devout Christian, and for the record, we don’t all think that gay people are sinful or that queer identities or orientations are evil or bad. A lot of Christians do preach that the queer community should be condemned, but I stand firm in belief that Jesus died for EVERYONE and that ALL PEOPLE are children of God, blessed and beloved by their Creator AS THEY HAVE BEEN CREATED, whether that is straight, gay, cis-sexual, trans-sexual, black, white, yellow, red, or purple.

    Hemant, you said that “there’s one big reason to leave Christianity: What the faith preaches is true is often not true at all.” I just want to make it clear that if the “what” you are talking about is what Christianity preaches about homosexuality, then there is absolutely no way to classify that “what” as a monolithic doctrine. This is because within the christian community, there are so many different views about what the bible ultimately says on how to treat our queer neighbors. From my perspective, the ultimate answer is “Love thy neighbor as thy self,” but sadly, there are many christians who have been taught that this is some special case where different rules apply. I believe this is due to some fear of the “other” that many people have, and this is by no means a trait exclusive to christian persons.

    That is to say, that way of thinking is not what christianity is actually about, and that would be an example of PEOPLE using a faith to propagate their own agenda. We’ve all seen this before, yes? It may ruin public perception of a faith like christianity, but that doesn’t mean it reflects true christian values, even if people base that misconception on a handful of scriptural verses.

    So, IF that is the big “what” in your concluding statement, I would ask you to take another look at the christian community before you assume we are all the same, and reconsider your statement that people should abandon their faith because of what some may misguidedly say is true. I assume that your perfect world might not have any religious people in it, but then the world wouldn’t be nearly as diverse as it is, would it?

    God bless you 🙂

  • Godless Monster:

    I understand your position, but I don’t agree. Universalist Christians are NOT (always) the ugly bashers that Calvinists and Arminians can be toward gays, atheists, other-religion believers. Specifically, they do not condemn everyone else to eternal hell, because they believe everyone will eventually be ‘saved’, so they don’t waste much energy brow-beating everyone else. Granted, it is still Christianity, but if I were still a Christian, I would be a Universalist.

    Here, as with so many other things, it is helpful to NOT lump all Christians under the same banner in all respects. There is a big difference between Universalists and the others. (And Universalist Christians are not the same as the Unitarian-Universalists)

  • No one forced this man to ‘live a lie’. It was a choice he made. He lied to himself, to his children and to his congregation. But for what purpose? Why did he choose to live a lie? Was it because he didn’t want to lose his church and his position? That seems hypocritical to me. Much like a vegetarian working at McDonald’s.

    Will this man be shunned by the church? Probably. Will they attack his sin of homosexuality? Unfortunately, more than likely they will. But I for one have a bigger issue with lie he has been living for over 25 years. To me that is more telling of his heart than anything else.

    Jason

  • Grimalkin

    “To think about saving a teenager yeah, I’ll risk my reputation for that.”

    That’s the stuff heroes are made of, right there.

    Regardless of whatever else this guy might have done or may believe, that one line grants him my respect.

  • Claudia

    @The Godless Monster, you’re dividing the world into two warring camps of the good guys and “The Enemy”. This pastor isn’t worthy of your respect because he still is not totally in line with you. In this world view, there is no difference between a liberal and a conservative Christian. This is akin to saying that a secular Muslim in Turkey is basically the same to the Taliban. There are shades of gray in the world, and just because the man hasn’t gone all the way down the road it doesn’t make his steps insignificant.

  • Gabriel

    When I watched his video on youtube yesterday my initial reaction was “Hmm, I wonder if he is about to be caught in something and is doing this as a pre-emptive move”

    And I was ashamed for that thought. I instantly thought the worst of someone because he was religious. Hardly a skeptical position to take.

    He has done something very brave. He has done something that took honor and integrity.

    I am sad that there were so many bigoted comments full of hatred on the youtube comment stream.

  • Steve

    There is a 1+ hour video where he and his ex-wife talk to the congregation and explain it in more detail:
    http://www.livestream.com/bishopjimswilley/video?clipId=flv_c06fb65a-d284-4545-8237-775df11a2819

    Unfortunately he talks some BS about god speaking to him, but aside from the religious stuff it’s very interesting.

    @Gabriel
    It’s YouTube. The cesspool of the internet. Doesn’t matter what the topic is. 95% of the comments are pure stupidity.

  • muggle

    No, I somewhat concur with Godless Monster. I have very mixed emotions about this.

    First of all, it’s supreme hypocrisy (unless he’s being celibate — or given that he has four children — forcing himself to practice hetrosexuality). He is giving the example of repressing the “sin” for sure. He did and, as far as we know, still is.

    Secondly, how swell to be one of his kids now finding out you’re a result of that hypocrisy and repression. Yay, mom and dad. Thanks so much. I get that he loves his kids, that that very love is in part what made him come out following the rash of suicides. But, geeze, mom and dad you both lied to me my whole childhood. You married him knowing he was gay, mom? What were you on crack? Oh, yeah, that’s right. Just the opiate of the masses. Which you both continue to push.

    Third, he’s still promoting the poison. Ooh, a kinder, gentler Xianity. How nice. Well, yeah, but Christian lite is not really following its texts, is it? How much freaking better would it be to say religion is wrong and leave it and all its disgusting qualities behind. Mankind is evolving beyond the nonsense. But churches like this picking and choosing the feel good bullshit are just delaying the process of ridding ourselves of the “evil” all together. And does anybody really think that it won’t eventually lead right back to studying the buybull and going oh my god, I haven’t been living a godly life, I haven’t been walking with Jebus because I’ve been condoning sin?

    So while I’m glad he came out and cheering his courage in doing so and, yes, his church seems to have been (for some odd — or should I say obvious — reason) more lenient than your average one, I also have to say: you scammed people for 25 years and you continue to promote the buybull which promotes hatred of gays and has one hell of a lot to do with these gay suicides you say drove you to come out. Why are you not distancing yourself from the bullshit?

    Sigh. Muggle thinks she will never be able to understand gays who subscribe to religions that aren’t exactly benign to them. But then again, she doesn’t understand why women would have anything to do with them either for the same reason or any man who is man enough to view women as equals.

  • muggle

    Wow, one thing I will say loud and clear:

    THIS MAN IS NO HERO!!!

    Wow, how can anyone call him that? For 25 years, he ignored what Christianity stood for in this arena, he fooled his own children and his followers, he helped and still helps promote something that is very hateful to gays. Hero? No. Coward who finally found some damned backbone? Yes.

  • Robert W.

    I viewed the video and the website for the church. It appears that they do alot of great things in their community and have an open attitude to accept all people to bring them to Christ. That is very admirable and just like the church I attend. It is a church of love and inclusion.

    However, I have a hard time calling him a man of integrity and honesty just based upon this video. He told his wife which is admirable, but he clearly kept this from his congregation and his staff for years while this ministry was built. He was a member of organizations that held different views on homosexuality that he has now been asked to leave, so he deceived those members.

    I agree that there are different teachings within the church on homosexuality, some I agree with and some I don’t, but at least those who accept it have come out and publicly said so. I doubt this never came up at his church and I would be curious to see what he preached on it when it did.

    I pray that this has a good outcome and that Christianity in its complete truth will prevail.

  • To all who responded to my comment:
    As a kid I was beaten severely by a group of 6 young boys while defending another boy they were attacking for being a “faggot” and a “sissy”. I suffered facial and head wounds, a fracture to one hand and a deep wound to a knee that became infected and caused me to limp for months afterward. I would do it again, given the opportunity. No, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut back then, either. I don’t have a problem with defending others, let’s just keep things in perspective.
    Yes, I do approach this from a “black and white”, “warring camps” perspective. I have good company in this approach (Hitchens), though admittedly this does nothing to bolster my argument from a logical standpoint. I have been Muslim, Catholic, Churches of Christ and last but not least…Universalist Unitarian. I rejected them all and see them all equally repugnant in that they ask participants to surrender their minds and abandon critical thought. This requirement in and of itself is evil and goes against every fiber of my being. As far as the good intentions of the UU bunch, I have no doubt of this, but that fact does not make them my friends from an ideological standpoint. I can be friends with individuals, but that in no way diminishes my desire to see their religion go the way of the belief systems of the past. In the broader sense they are my enemy.
    Also, I detect a degree of smug arrogance here and there in regards to a general, -dare I say it- stereotypical protective attitude towards gays, as if somehow they are a group that is more despised than atheists and in need of greater protections and awareness. Polls indicate that a homosexual stands a (slightly)better chance of being elected President of the United States than an atheist.
    Chew on that for awhile…
    P.S. @ Silent Service 🙂 heh, heh, heh…good one.

  • @Claudia,
    For crying out loud…let’s stop conflating “gay” with “rational”. Yes, there can be “shades of gray”, but not in all instances and sometimes we make poor analogies in order to make our points. This is just such a case.
    Well, you put words into my mouth, so let me return the favor.
    You are claiming-in so many words-that his publicly stating a preference for putting his sex organ into other men is a heroic step towards rationality. Because I refuse to acknowledge this as a sensible argument, I am being scolded. 🙂
    What he does with his tool and who he tells about it has no bearing on his potential to do damage through the spreading of bullshit.

  • Laura

    Love thy neighbor as thy self

    seems PRO-gay, actually 🙂
    Since people are the same sex as themselves.

  • Laura

    @Godless Monster
    On the Unitarian Universalist website they say an atheist can be a UU.

  • So Godless Monster, is it safe to say that you are not on board with the strategy adopted by many here that an effective way to “fight religion” is through atheists joining forces with the gay community?

    I’ve wondered what would happen if some evidence showed up that Jesus himself was a practicing homosexual and that the anti-gay passages in the bible were simply placed there by some homophobic scribes. Then if all the Christian churches opened their doors to gays, would we still see so many gay atheists? Its only an academic question. It can’t really be tested. I feel, though, that the gay commenters here are atheists mainly for theological reasons and not simply because the churches kicked them out as not being welcome.

  • Anna

    No one forced this man to ‘live a lie’. It was a choice he made. He lied to himself, to his children and to his congregation. But for what purpose? Why did he choose to live a lie? Was it because he didn’t want to lose his church and his position? That seems hypocritical to me. Much like a vegetarian working at McDonald’s.

    Will this man be shunned by the church? Probably. Will they attack his sin of homosexuality? Unfortunately, more than likely they will. But I for one have a bigger issue with lie he has been living for over 25 years. To me that is more telling of his heart than anything else.

    That’s rich. Your religion has spent decades telling LGBT people how evil, depraved and despicable they are because of their sexuality, and has encouraged them to resist their “sin” and live straight lives. Yet when one of those people does exactly what you have pressured and guilted him to do, you decry him for being dishonest and “living a lie.” That’s some nerve!

    And to all the people who decry him for getting married and having children, he told his wife before they were married that he was gay. I don’t condone deception, but he didn’t lie to her. She married him knowing about his sexuality. What more could you expect him to do? Most gay pastors who have come out of the closet have been married at one point, Gene Robinson and Mel White, for example. These men came of age in a different era and in an environment that was hostile to homosexuality. I have empathy for them because they were victims of their own belief system. That doesn’t excuse infidelity and hypocrisy (if applicable), but I don’t blame them for taking a long time to break free of that poisonous indoctrination.

  • muggle

    Oh, please, Anna. He lied to his congregation and — far more unforgiveable in my book — his children. And as for when he came of age, he’s my age. I’ve known out gays all my adult life. Before that I was sequestered away from them in a fundy church. He’s a fucking coward and scam artist.

  • Anna

    Muggle,

    Oh, please, Anna. He lied to his congregation and — far more unforgiveable in my book — his children. And as for when he came of age, he’s my age. I’ve known out gays all my adult life. Before that I was sequestered away from them in a fundy church. He’s a fucking coward and scam artist.

    Wow, you have no empathy for the man at all? The focus on his children seems a bit odd to me. They aren’t the first people in the world to have a parent come out of the closet. My parents are gay, too, and they were out before I was born, but that’s rare for someone my age. I know lots of people who had their parents come out when they were older, and their lives weren’t destroyed by it. It seems strange to assert that he “lied to” his children. They weren’t entitled to know the intimate details of their father’s sexuality. Plus, you have no idea how they feel about it. They might be surprised or even shocked, but I don’t think you can presume that they feel betrayed or lied to.

    Having come out of an abusive religious background yourself, can’t you empathize with the fact that he was probably taught to hate himself and consider his sexuality wretched and sinful from an early age? You managed to break away because you were strong, but not everyone is that strong. It takes some people a little longer to leave religion (and poisonous beliefs) behind. Some people never get there. Swilley seems to have made a big step. Sure, he hasn’t stopped believing in Christianity, but I don’t expect every theist to abandon their religion. I think it’s an important step for him to come out and be honest about who he is. And I think it will help LGBT teenagers (and adults) who are trapped in oppressive, homophobic churches to have this man as a role model.

    Let me be clear. I don’t like Swilley’s religion. It might be less harmful than other versions of Christianity, but I still don’t think it’s true. However, I’m not going to label all ministers “scam artists” simply for having religious beliefs that they feel are true. He’s not pretending to have those beliefs. He really does have them, even if we both disagree with him about their veracity.

  • Can someone please find a stat on the percentage of Mega Church pastors who enjoy sneaking peaks behind Jesus’ toga more than down Mary’s togs?
    I’m beginning to see a pattern…..

  • Steve

    @Lagunatic
    Swilley actually says that many of the pastors in the area he knows are secretly gay. He says something like “Come on! Please don’t tell me you didn’t know that?”

  • @ Jeff P,

    “So Godless Monster, is it safe to say that you are not on board with the strategy adopted by many here that an effective way to “fight religion” is through atheists joining forces with the gay community? “

    No, not really. I would say that a bit less silliness and condescension on the part of straight atheists would be nice. We need them (“gays”) more than they need us. Also, there are many in the gay community that are theists. I consider them to be just as much in the enemy camp as straight theists. It’s tiresome to constantly be exposed to the idiocy that conflates sexual orientation with intelligence, reasoning or morality. The assumption is made that if one is gay, they must be somehow, “alright”. It’s bullshit. I’ve had gay friends that couldn’t have a well reasoned thought if their lives depended on it. Some people know how to think, others do not. Some people are smart, some are dumb and the rest of us are somewhere in the middle.
    Enjoying gay sex and declaring it to the world in no way raises ones IQ, imbues them with special powers of reasoning or makes them the moral equivalent of Gandhi, yet to read many of the comments posted on this and other blogs, you’d think this was the case.

  • @Laura,

    “On the Unitarian Universalist website they say an atheist can be a UU”.

    At the time, I was a theist and the internet wasn’t around.
    Regardless, the place I attended was a silly House of Woo and encouraged the dismissal of critical thought, regardless of any claims to the contrary.

  • Laura

    Godless Monstar says:

    At the time, I was a theist and the internet wasn’t around.
    Regardless, the place I attended was a silly House of Woo and encouraged the dismissal of critical thought, regardless of any claims to the contrary.

    I’ve never been to a UU group. But it makes sense that a culture of keeping one’s critical thoughts hidden would develop, so that a lot of people of different beliefs can mix together without painful conflict.
    That’s how they represent themselves: all sorts of different beliefs or paths are OK.

  • Mara

    http://www.livestream.com/bishopjimswilley/video?clipId=flv_c06fb65a-d284-4545-8237-775df11a2819&utm_source=lsplayer&utm_medium=ui-play&utm_campaign=click-bait&utm_content=bishopjimswilley

    I watched pretty much the whole thing above.

    1. He makes it a point to stress he never, ever said anything bad about gay people. He has never preached hate against them or said God hated them or anything like that, even when he was creating the impression he was straight.

    2. I really admire his relationship with his ex-wife (they’re still best friends, they work together, they love each other). He was honest with her before they were married and that says a lot.

    3. While I am not religious, I don’t get any impression he is a scam artist, as some above have said. Maybe, don’t talk about what you don’t know, if all you did was scan some article quickly. (If you have proof, I’d really love to see it.)

    In conclusion, while I still have my issues with theists, Christians, et al, I have to admire this man, and thank him for what he’s doing: coming out, not apologizing for who he is, not saying gay people must refrain from sex etc—and offering hope to gay kids/teens/people in general who grow up believing in God or being surrounded by people who do. I can tell you it would have meant a lot to me growing up if I’d heard someone like him, even though I stopped believing in religion at a very young age.

  • AxeGrrl

    Anna wrote:

    And to all the people who decry him for getting married and having children, he told his wife before they were married that he was gay. I don’t condone deception, but he didn’t lie to her. She married him knowing about his sexuality. What more could you expect him to do? Most gay pastors who have come out of the closet have been married at one point, Gene Robinson and Mel White, for example. These men came of age in a different era and in an environment that was hostile to homosexuality. I have empathy for them because they were victims of their own belief system. That doesn’t excuse infidelity and hypocrisy (if applicable), but I don’t blame them for taking a long time to break free of that poisonous indoctrination.

    GREAT post Anna 🙂 (all of your posts in this thread, not just the above)

    Your response/thoughts are precisely what I would have said if I’d gotten to this thread earlier 🙂

    Kudos.

  • Sean

    My appreciation also goes to Anna.

  • Claudia

    or crying out loud…let’s stop conflating “gay” with “rational”.

    Uhh, what? I actually went back to my comment to see if I had written “gay” instead of “gray”. I didn’t. I’m afraid I have absolutely no clue what you are talking about.

    My central point is that there are real, empirical differences between different types of religious schools of thought. This is simply beyond dispute. A society dominated by UU Christians will be a very different society from one dominated by the Taliban. I agree that faith is a problem that even the UU Christians have, but you simply cannot pretend like this similarity makes all their differences insignificant.

  • @Claudia,

    “A society dominated by UU Christians will be a very different society from one dominated by the Taliban.”

    You are 100% right. My argument (very poorly made) is that they are both points on a single continuum of Woo.

  • Laura

    @Godless Monstr

    they are both points on a single continuum of Woo.

    Is all “woo” bad? That would seem to be a pre-supposed conclusion, by giving it a negative name.
    Where on the spectrum from acting, imagination, fantasy, art – towards delusion, does it turn bad?
    When people go to the Renaissance faire and fantasize for a day that they’re in the middle ages and (perhaps) that magic is real – and debunking would not be welcome – is that so different from a very liberal church like UU? Isn’t the Renaissance Faire like a mini-religion?
    Doesn’t one have to judge these things by their effects on society as a whole, rather than how it feels to be inside them?

  • muggle

    Look he admits knowing he was gay since he was a kid and he still — whether he ever preached against gays or not — chose to make his living preaching a buybull that does condemn gays.

    He not only lied to his kids, he and his ex-wife (she ain’t off the hook on this one) made them knowing that he’s gay and that he would not tell them until they were older if ever. This is vastly different than someone who is in denial and repressing the gay and trying to force himself to be straight and thereby making kids while in denial of what he is. He planned to live a lie.

    And enough with attacks on my generation. He and I are both 52. I have seen gays more and more openly accepted over my adult life but since I was barely legal myself I have known out gays who were widely accepted in their circle of friends. I have known them to have problems on the job or with families and have seen the hatred but coming out in the ’70’s was still not like coming out in the ’50’s. I don’t dismiss the courage it took in the ’70’s but it didn’t mean automatic things that it did before or has since (sadly it’s grown worse with the uptick of religiousity).

    But even choosing not to come out in the ’70’s, he and his wife purposely duped everyone to set up and profiteer from this church (thereby contributing to the uptick in religosity that has also resulted in an uptick in hatred towards gays) and to make babies to further the deception. No, I don’t know how they’ve reacted to the news after having been reared in this lie but the fact remains they were lied to by their parents. Purposely and cruelly.

    I do say cudos to the jerk for coming out now but he’s still a jerk.

    And, yes, I do maintain the world is more religious and more hateful than it was 30 years ago. At least in my neck of the woods. It’s weird because simultaneously nonbelieving numbers and those who openly accept gays have also grown perhaps in response to this. Perhaps, it has resulted in being discussed and thought about more. The idea of gay marriage was only mentioned in passing back then; now it’s looking like a distinct universal possiblity in the near future and is indeed happening here and there.

    But, while I can understand his being closeted, I don’t understand his being part of the problem or he and his wife plotting to be deceptive like this. And he obviously has no intention of not continuing to profiteer from religiousity — a large part of the problem with the gay teens who have committed suicide. There’s a part of me that thinks if he really cared, he’d be soundly condemning it.

  • Anna

    Muggle, I suggest you watch the podcast that Mara linked to above.

    In it, he relates that he was raised in an extremely religious home, so he was indoctrinated from an early age. He mentions he began preaching when he was in diapers. I can’t even imagine the intense indoctrination that must be required to get a toddler to think he’s getting messages from a god. He has been in an extremely homophobic environment his entire life, and yes, he was in denial about it and tried to change himself and become straight. He also mentions that his marriage was not a sham, that he deeply loved (and still loves) his wife, and that he doesn’t regret his marriage or having his children.

    As for his children, would it have been better for them not to have been born? That seems like what you’re saying. What is wrong with them making their kids “while knowing that he’s gay?” At what point was he required to tell them? Since when are children entitled to know every detail of their parents’ sexuality? As a daughter of two moms, that puzzles me. I know that my parents are gay because they’ve been out of the closet my entire life, but if they had come out later, so what? I know plenty of people who had a parent come out when they were older, and it was not because the parents were intent on lies and deception, but because they were deathly afraid of their own sexuality and struggling to overcome religious indoctrination and/or social opprobrium.

    I simply cannot blame Swilley for taking a long time to accept his true nature. I know you and he are the same age, but he has been enveloped in this kind of hostile religious environment his whole life, while you left when you were young. He didn’t have those same experiences that you did. This life is all he has known, and he has been struggling to fit into it while having been taught (and still believing) that his orientation was wrong. As a lifelong atheist, it’s an environment that I cannot even begin to imagine. The belief in sin and hell must really do a number on people psychologically. Coming out of that situation yourself, you know better than I do how that kind of indoctrination affects how people feel about themselves.

    Honestly, watching the podcast, I gained a new level of empathy for the man. He’s not caught in the midst of some scandal, so his coming out is not marred by accusations of infidelity or sexual misconduct. Indeed, if what he says is true, it sounds like he’s never even slept with another man, that he’s spent most of his adult life celibate. He and his former wife are still best friends, which is certainly a nice thing for their children and grandchildren, and they continue to work together. He seems like a decent guy.

    I’m just not seeing any basis for calling him a “jerk.” What has he done wrong, aside from having certain religious beliefs? He’s a Christian, but he hasn’t preached hatred against gays or bashed them from the pulpit, so you can’t accuse him of hypocrisy on that score. His only “crime” is being gay and not having had the courage to come out sooner. Looking at his life experiences, I can’t blame him for that.

  • Betsy

    If I had an ounce of belief left, I would want to give this guy’s church a chance.

    Definitely watch the video!! Beliefs aside, he seems like an earnest guy, has not spent his life bashing gays and as far as any money he has brought in, he makes comments condemning pastors who have profited and mis-spent earnings from their ministries in this video.

    His children have taken the news well. His ex-wife continues to support him. He has lost financial support for his ministry, has lost positions he held as head of churches and pastors and may lose the building in which his church meets.

    As far as not coming out sooner, he alludes to his upbringing and I can only assume it is similar to the fundamentalist upbringing many ex Christians like myself share. Trust me, coming out in that is not a picnic. You can lose every person you have ever loved. I applaud his courage and I was heartened by the loving response he received in this video from many in what was left of his congregation. (Notice how empty the church seems.)

    His wife’s speech even moved me, as religious as it was – and I’m an atheist! I loved it when she said “shit” in front of the congregation and he said, “Oh, Debye!” then, “Well, that oughta do it…” From what I can see, these are real people with good intentions and a message of love and NOT hate… and aren’t those the types of religious people the nonreligious should be working WITH, not against?

    Anyway, on another note, the ONLY place I could find any mention of ATMs in the lobby upon googling it is HERE. Considering the apparent influence of this pastor and his church (in its heyday, anyway), I’d think if that were true, it’d be all over the place. Let’s… get the facts before we spread things like that, shall we?

  • muggle

    Groan, Anna, gays can make babies all they want. I think many are excellent parents. I just don’t think it was right not to raise them honestly with what he was. I also don’t think it’s right to promote the Christian religion which promotes gay bigotry even if his touchy-feely church doesn’t.

    Cry me a river about being indoctrinated as a child. (He also admits knowing he was gay as a child so don’t give me that bullshit about not accepting who he was; he told his wife he was gay before she married him.)

    Him, me and millions of others. I was taught gays were pretty much the spawn of Satan. This fear evaporated the moment I met and conversed with one. One half of a couple that cohabitated for 12 years, much longer than my hetero marraige.

    Frankly, I have a stinking suspicion that he’s capitalizing on this opportunity to gain publicity for his church while coming out. How many donations has this stunning revelation netted him? How many new tithers?

  • PhileoTruth

    While it may be fashionable for society to embrace homosexuality into the mainstream, long before our society existed, God declared it to be sin. For clergy to act as if it is okay to be homosexual, they are simply revealing their own apostasy from their profession of faith and rebellion against God’s word. God’s message to humanity does not change; His moral standard does not change. Woe be unto the society that embraces what He has declared to be sinful. Even greater judgment awaits the church for doing the same.

    It doesn’t surprise me that all who are anti-Christianity would celebrate this announcement. After all, isn’t Christianity the reason for the anti-gay sentiments? Or is it that God Himself, who is the Judge of all, declared homosexuality to be immoral. (It is not the only sin, nor is it the worst sin, but He has declared it to be sin nonetheless.) True Christians will speak and live in agreement with God’s Word– heterosexuality in itself is moral, homosexuality is immoral. The Bible is clear and unequivocal, Old and New Testaments on this matter.

  • Anna

    Okay, Muggle, I can’t change your mind.

    I just find it odd that with your background you can’t appreciate the depth of his fear and indoctrination. Indoctrination is too nice of a word for what happened to him. It’s really brainwashing. Just because he recognized that he had same-sex attractions at an early age does not mean he accepted that about himself. Indeed, if you watch the podcast, he did not accept it. He struggled against it for many years. He even mentions undergoing an exorcism and having “demons” cast out. It’s one thing to be heterosexual and meet a gay person and realize that they’re not the “spawn of Satan.” It’s quite another to be gay having been brainwashed to believe that your sexual orientation makes you sinful, evil, and depraved. Your response to that kind of brainwashing is “cry me a river?” Just because you found it easy to break out doesn’t mean everyone else does.

    I say kudos to Swilley for realizing that all the terrible things he was taught about himself were not true. As I said before, I don’t like or agree with the man’s religion, but I think he has conducted himself honorably throughout this whole situation. He was honest with his wife from the beginning, and she’s the only person to whom he owed the details of his sexual life. Not his congregation, not his children. He wasn’t living on “the down low.” He didn’t get caught snorting meth with a male escort. Compare him to a pitiful case like Ted Haggard, who still has not managed to break free of that brainwashing and in the process of his self-denial has managed to hurt his family and many other people along the way.

    Watching the podcast, I don’t think it is likely that Swilley will ever abandon his religion, so I don’t expect that from him. Morally speaking, I think it is enough that he is not promoting a harmful form of Christianity. His universalism is still infused with woo, but it’s not as bad as the exclusivity of most evangelical churches. I disagree with faith in general, but there are forms of it that are mostly benign. With that in mind, I think it’s good that he has come out of the closet, and his actions will certainly help other people who are caught in unaccepting, homophobic religious communities. I don’t question his sincerity. Really, I wish nothing but the best for him and his family.

  • muggle

    Is he more honorable than Ted Haggard? Yes. Is he honorable, no?

    Please explain to me the difference between indoctrination and brainwashing. And, no, it wasn’t easy for me to break free. If you’ve read my comments in the past, you’ll see it took me 10 years.

    But this is where we’re utterly disagreeing:

    He was honest with his wife from the beginning, and she’s the only person to whom he owed the details of his sexual life. Not his congregation, not his children.

    You see, I think while he doesn’t, of course, owe his children the details of his sexual life, he does owe them his honesty. Instead, he lied to them for 25 years.

    That kind of pisses me off. Good for him that they’re not. He’s lucky.

  • Kayla

    @Phileotruth:

    Do you keep the 7th day Sabbath? Do you eat pork or shellfish? Do you agree with stoning children for being disrespectful to their parents? Are women allowed to speak in your church?

    There are tons of things that are attributed to God/the Bible that the vast majority of Christians now ignore.

    Why is homosexuality so different?

  • phileotruth

    @Kayla,

    Thank you for your comments. The Bible is clear that homosexuality is an abomination to the LORD (Lev. 18:23). Homosexuality is also clearly condemned in New Testament passages such as Romans 1:24-27. Old and New Testaments show no wavering on God’s position against homosexuality.

    As to eating pork, shellfish or keeping the Sabbath, those were laws given through Moses to the Hebrew people. Those pertained to the dietary and ceremonial laws that were ultimately fulfilled through Christ Jesus. As a Christian, we are not required to do as what was commanded to the Hebrew people in the ceremonial and dietary laws. The only exception– that is, continued prohibition is that Christians are not to eat foods strangled, nor the blood of a creature (Acts 15:20,29).

    You see from Acts 15:6-29, that the apostles confirmed that non-Jews (i.e., Gentiles) who are following Christ did not have to take on Jewish customs to be Christian. However, God’s moral laws– against homosexuality, sexual immorality (which includes heterosexual sex with persons who are not your lawful spouse), murder, theft, lying, etc. remains the same in both testaments.

    For a Pastor to “come out” and preach acceptance of homosexuality, he is clearly going against his vocation and more importantly, what is plainly revealed in Scripture. God’s morality has not changed even though the society is embracing what He condemns.

  • Star Gazer

    Part of me wants to agree with Muggle 100%. I knew this guy 30 years ago before he was even married, before the megachurch.

    But then I have another somewhat softer side of looking at it. To me he always radiated honesty to a fault. So yes, I was shocked to learn about his recent coming out. And this sense of honesty he has about him is what makes him interesting when you consider that he hid this side of himself from his congregation for 25 years. How did he pull that off? I’m thinking it was only through some deep psychological smoke and mirrors.

    Back when I knew him (I was not a friend – I was an acquaintance), he annoyed me with his teachings of believers being able to receive rewards of prosperity and health due to a type of positive Biblical thinking.

    I could never understand how he could not see the obvious contradictions all over the world to this type of teaching. I could understand how people not as intelligent could not see them, but he was sharp.

    I’m speculating but I’m thinking he is a victim of indoctrination since his birth and on some level be it subconscious or whatever, he believes he would not be able to cope in a world without his faith. And it is this fear that keeps him in check and it seems to me this “coming out” is the beginning of an unraveling for him.

    Interesting to follow. Maybe I am just talking out of my (you know) but it’s what I am thiking.