Is it terrible that my first instinct, upon learning Georgia megapastor Jim Swilley has come out, is thinking he must have a secret gay sex scandal that he’s trying to get in front of? Eddie Long and Ted Haggard have ruined it for everyone! But really, this is an amazing story. Keep your chin up for it.
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Swilley, who created the Church In The Now some 25 years ago, is a divorced father of four. But he’s known he’s gay since he was a boy, says the Rockdale County man of the cloth, and even his wife Debye — whom he divorced earlier this year — knew when they got married (!). The couple kept it a secret for more than two decades, but Jim says Debye recently pushed him to share his story.
The pastor made the announcement to his congregation two weeks ago (yes, it takes time for some stories to trickle), with his family in the audience and decided to come out now after witnessing the rash of gay youths killing themselves. One Internet forum poster says that unlike Atlanta’s Long (whom Swilley won’t speak about), Swilley has not used the pulpit to denigrate gays: “For those of you familiar with Church In the Now, while never discussing his own sexuality, you know that Swilley has always preached a message of inclusion, love and abundance for all God’s children. Bishop Swilley has been asked to step down as Bishop, but will remain as Pastor.” (That last part we haven’t confirmed.)
If there’s a mass exodus from his church, Swilley says he wouldn’t be able to survive it, but would certainly pick up and start again. “God has always spoken through me,” he tells his followers, saying the calling has been with him since birth. His parents tell him stories of him preaching as a toddler in diapers; he doesn’t remember that time.
“Those of you who are people of color. How do you like it when a white person says, ‘What is the deal? What are you so unhappy about? You’ve got a black president already, isn’t racism over?’ Doesn’t that make you want to say, ‘Thank you but you really have no idea what you’re talking about.’ … It’s very easy for people who have never experienced something … to have opinions about it.”
Below, video of his sermon where he tells his congregation, for the first time, that he is a gay man of god. It’s quite beautiful, and if you can squeeze it in between trick-or-treating, really, do it.