Megachurch Pastor Comes Out - & Pays a Price

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Nov 1, 2010

A Georgia megachurch pastor has come out of the closet, announcing that he is gay--and that he's know he was gay since childhood.

"I know a lot of straight people think that [sexual] orientation is a choice," James Swilley, a twice-married father of four, told the media. "I want to tell you it is not."

Swilley said that he had been up-front from the start with his wife of 21 years, Debye. After the two divorced, Debye encouraged Swilley to tell the truth, the pastor said.

Debye stood with Swilley not only as his wife, but also as the associate pastor of Church in the Now, which Swilley established a quarter-century ago, The Advocate reported on Oct. 29.

The recent rash of suicides by gay youths who were tormented at school for their sexuality provided the impetus for Swilley's public disclosure, the pastor told Atlanta news station WSB-TV. As a father..." Swilley began, sounding choked up, before starting again. "Think about your 16, 17-year-old killing themselves. I thought somebody needed to say something."

WSB-TV noted that anti-gay Christian websites had begun attacking Swilley, with one site calling him "unclean" and "an instrument of the Devil." Swilley acknowledged that if there is a major loss of attendees to his church, he will have to start over again--but he said that it was worth the risk. "I know all the hateful stuff that's being written about me online, whatever," Swilley told WSB-TV. "To think about saving a teenager, yeah, I'll risk my reputation for that." Swilley also told the media that his congregation has been largely supportive of his coming out.

The revelation comes less than two months after allegations against Atlanta-based megachurch pastor Eddie Long made headlines. Four young men filed suit against Long alleging that the pastor had used his position of spiritual authority, along with passages from Scripture, to coerce them into sexual encounters. The men were all of the age of consent at the time of the alleged encounters, and no criminal charges were filed.

Long has spoken out against GLBT equality and family parity, even leading a march through Atlanta to the grave of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 2004, in support of an anti-gay amendment to the Georgia Constitution. Long has denied the allegations, comparing himself to David facing down Goliath.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • jamal71, 2010-11-01 13:10:16

    Good for him !!!

  • , 2010-11-01 14:19:02

    Homosexuality is an urge that has no benefit to mankind... The intended outcome of sex is reproduction. Homosexual cannot come together and reproduce. This reduces sexual acts to solely enjoyment based results. we live in an age were people are doing everything to justify their fetishes/likes... Structure fails and animalistic behaivor gains momentum, and those who know truth are silenced.....

  • Rachum, 2010-11-01 15:20:58

    No wonder you want to stay anonymous, with a hateful, ignorant comment like yours. How about the benefit to mankind of love? Love is love, Anonymous, and I pray one day you realize it.

  • kenny, 2010-11-01 17:37:37

    I feel sorry for your ignorance and hate. Well no I don’t, there is no excuse for such thinking anonymous. If I worshipped a God who required me to hate another human why bother. Sounds kinda like the KKK or one of those hate mongers. Of course we all know you hate the sin but not the sinner, LOL

  • , 2010-11-01 18:45:20

    There was nothing hateful said in the anonymous comment! Just an opinion that differs from yours(Rachum, Kenny) Most Christians do not hate homosexuals we just dissagree with what we believe to be a life style choice. Last I checked that was still both our God given and constitutional right.I can disagree with you without disliking you, its called maturity! I respect that you disagree with his comment but to equate it to hate is no less than ignorance.

  • , 2010-11-01 19:11:22

    I know many christians that have sex with no intent to procreate. That notion is just silly. They do it for love and for pleasure. I feel sorry for you in your relationship if you only have sex only to reproduce. I suppose you have no room for intimacy unless it is to make babies? How shallow.... I might also add that we live in a free nation and legal attempts to discriminate against gays by so called christians is soon to come to a screaching halt. Religious people who fear this do so because if that happens they won’t be able to use it as a wedge issue and all the hate against homosexuals based on religion will be debunked. Christians have for a long time used their religion to discriminate and kill all kinds of people that have beliefs different from theirs with no other reason to do so than claiming God says so and you just have to believe. It’s all a smoke screen. You have no more clue about what God thinks than the next person. Every book included in the Bible (many were excluded) were chosen by mortal men who had their own prejudices. Stop judging and open your heart or you will never make it to heaven. How do I know? Because by your own standards that’s what God says and you just have to believe.

  • , 2010-11-02 00:35:22

    First of all anonymous isnt preaching hate and you to twist words he or she words are expected. When you speak of love what kind of love are you talking about because there are 3 types of love 1Agape love, God love for man: Uncondicitional 2 Philo love, Brotherly love. 3 Worldly love, you Know like I love that car, I love your hair, I love that coat, etc... Love today, like tomorrow. So again I ask what type of love? Cause if it involves self pleasure then it’s worldly love. Like the bible said nothing come out of it. Now before you get up set that not to point fingers because we all have issue no one is perfect no one! But when you have wisdom that God can only give to no the the differenace, to know what God have plan for your life not what the world say how your should be. You said open your heart to love true, but let it be the love of God let his love come in to our hearts. Read his words and be doers of the word and will see how it make sense. This not brain washing try it. God loves all of us it’s our sins he doesn’t love. And I love you no matter what Ps don’t listen to so call Christian of the world but to Christians that know the word and are doers of the word

  • , 2010-11-02 04:36:12

    I knopw I don’t want an uneducated fucker like you who can’t spell "no" influencing how other people live with your Bible bigotry.

  • , 2010-11-02 04:38:26

    You can’t spell "difference" either, you dumb asshole. I really want a moron like you deciding how others need to live their lives.

  • , 2010-11-02 08:22:55

    The Bible is not againt homosexuality any more than heterosexuality. The Bible is against immorality. I am a Christian and I have studied the Bible for years. The Church for the most part misinterpret the passages that seem to be against homosexuality. If you study the history of these you will discover that in these passages it is always connected with pagan practices of idolatry including temple prostitution, gangrape and other immorality. There are many scriptures that affirm gay people and there are 3 new testament scriptures are for gay people. But the Church never tells that because they are blinded by their bigotry against homosexuals. Jesus loves everyone and He died on the cross for everyone. Righteousness is to all that believe. Rom. 3:22. He went to the cross and paid the sin penalty price and for those that accept Him they will never ever have to pay that price. That is what the first for Chapters of Romans is explaining. That there is none righteous, no not one. We are all in need of a Savior and if the Church keeps exluding gay people thinking they have to change to be made right. Then they are the Pharisees of today. And that is the exact spirit that crucified Christ. Jesus loves You!!!!

  • , 2010-11-02 08:28:05

    To all you anti-Christian bigots (yes, the gay people who cry that everyone else is a bigot when people don’t agree with you), stop with the name calling and grow up. For the self-proclaimed Christians that believe homosexuality is right, please read your Bibles. There are plenty of instances that are specific that claim this is wrong (e.g. Jesus proclaiming that marriage should be between one man and one woman, sex outside of marriage is sin, etc...) If you deny thw words of Jesus then really need to re-think whether or not you are a "Christ"-ian.

  • ds2006, 2010-11-02 08:38:06

    It’s obvious the prejudice towards gays come from Christians. I have yet read a debate where the bible wasn’t involved. I hope people realize someday that sexual attraction is like any other genetic trait and not a choice, if it were a choice why are so many teens committing suicide.

  • Will, 2010-11-02 08:41:11

    It really doesn’t matter to me what Christians think about me since I am not a Christian. I left the church because of Christians. Still, I’m glad to see that this pastor’s got guts.

  • , 2010-11-02 11:26:01

    It’s sad how religious people bury their heads underground and can’t even dare to think what if there’s no god because they can’t risk to give away their pink dreams of heaven. Well, bad news there no heaven and you wasted/wasting your lives being passified by politics. When you die it’s over. There’s no other life. So don’t waste your life, make a change, leave a mark; live for a good purpose. Today there are more atheists than christians in the world. 30 years later god will be no more but a myth next to the ancient religions in the shelf. If you dare to see how religion is the biggest scam of the history watch the Zeitgeist Movie. If you’re insulted by what I say here, if you believe I’ll burn in hell, leave gay people alone an show me your hate instead, pity me, pray for me, curse me. That’s all you do anyway.

  • , 2010-11-02 11:42:32

    Help in discerning the issues and something to occupy yourself with while your waiting around for the Rapture if your pre trib and waiting for the tribulation if you are post trib... Just off the top of your head and not relying on your search engine 1.How many Christians can name 4 canonical fathers? 2.How many can name three of the many councils that were instrumental in determining what the present excepted cannon ether Catholic or Protestant is? 3.Can someone tell me what the council of Trent was about? 4.Can you name Two of the books that Martin Luther wanted removed from the Christian cannon at the time of the reformation. 5.Which canonical father Writes about a mythical bird as if it were a biological reality and referred to it as proof of the reality of Christ’s resurrection. If not I would invite you to search out the answers and let this be the start of a richer knowledge of the Bible and understanding your faith. The Holy Spirit will also have more to work with when the goal is to lead you into all truths.

  • , 2010-11-02 14:34:28

    I am a Christian, and I do not hate homosexuals, but I do believe they are living sinful lives by not repenting. God does love everyone, but He also wants us to repent and obey Him. God created man and woman for man, not man for man or woman for woman. I think humanity is getting closer and closer to becoming animalistic with their acceptance of sinful behavior. I also think the people who are commiting suicide are most likely very unhappy individuals with other issues and who would do it even it they were not gay. Most gay people don’t care what others think or believe...they are living for themselves and they flaunt their homosexuality with gay parades and other aggressive demonstrations. God help humankind...we are surely on the road to self-destruction. I pray that this self-absorbed hypocritical pastor and any others who decide they want to come out of the closet, gets off the pulpit and stops preaching. I would NOT want to be spiritually guided by someone like him. It makes me wonder if they have a love for the money that comes along with their pastoring a mega church. Money that is well intended by many Christians who want to please God with their tithes. How sad is that? Those so called Christians who say that it is okay to be a homosexual do not know the Bible. They seriously need to stop making excuses and mislead others with their beliefs. I think we were so much better off before everyone started coming out of the closet. Personally, I think they should’ve stayed there and stop whining for equal rights and attention. I am entitled to my opinion, so please don’t attack me with hateful comments. Anonymous

  • , 2010-11-02 18:09:29

    Um, you are confused, Mr. Christian. You have a right to free speech. You do not have a right not to be criticized. People who maintain precisely your attitude have greatly and gravely damaged and wounded gay people. And you have borne false witness against us. So please take your lies and yes, your hate towards gay people, and shove it.

  • , 2010-11-02 23:08:41

    Swilley has demontrated astounding courage to expose his secret for the sake of preventing more tragic and teen suicides. Regardless of what one thinks of his church’s interpretation of Christianity, I view Swilley’s act as one of love in the truest Christian sense. He will pay a heavy price for it, but he will have regained some precious integrity. God bless him.

  • , 2010-11-03 13:36:47

    I can’t speak to this mans motives in all this. It seems that the reverent and his wife were actively deceiving the congregation, in my opinion it would be hard not to think that every moment they postponed being honest with the flock that they were milking the situation for what they could get avoiding the inevitability that at some point they would have to come clean. And it could be that the recent rash of teen suicides produced a crisis of conscience within them. The thing is the only attitude that Jesus advocates toward one that falls is forgiveness in response to repentance. Swilley should be willing to make reparations to those that have supported him and his ministries during the long years that he was deceiving them. There are several Biblical issues that would seem to stipulate that they step down from active ministry at least for a time, but church constitutional matters may intervene especially in matters of compensation and salaries. And yes I hope this can be used of God to prevent teen suicides and demonstrate the body of Christ’s love for one another. For me it is Swilley’s willful deceit and not his homosexuality that truly makes him unfit at this time for ministry.

  • , 2010-11-04 20:27:27

    How is it you pharisee christians just havent learned the lessons of the Christ. Cant you see it is you that turn men from God with your letter of the Law legalism christianity. God Loves and cares and has saved, is saving ,and will save ALL men even you selfrighteou,murderous, hateful,bigoted so called true christians.You make me want to vomit, God have mercy on you and may His Spirit teach you Love.

  • , 2010-11-05 18:32:06

    Having known I was attracted to men as early as age 5, I still married, and have two wonderful daughters for whom I am deeply grateful. Nevertheless, had I not been overwhelmed with religious condemnation of being Gay in my denomination (Churches of Christ), I might have made a more honest choice and spared my loving wife (and all of us) much pain. Fortunately, we are all still deeply attached to each other and my wonderful partner of 21 years and I were married in Connecticut one year ago, and immediately afterward in our extraordinarily loving and affirming Episcopalian congregation. There is no doubt whatsoever in the medical community that sexual orientation is an innate part of our selves, and in no way a "choice" of a "lifestyle". We can accept who we are, or not - THAT is the choice. I commend Brother Swilley in his decision to be honest and faithful, and pray that his Creator will sustain him all the days of his life. "We are all ONE in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3: 26-28). Michael B. Gehl MD

  • Skibum03446, 2010-11-06 07:03:43

    Congratulations to the Pastor for opening up and showing who he really is and caring about people he has never met. Sadly others don’t have the support that he has and these teens and others feel that death is the only way to be at peace. I’ve been there and while the fear of coming out is huge with all the issues it brings the final result is so rewarding. A couple of things concern me. If people like Anonymous are so against the gay lifestyle, why do we always see their comments and chastising on sites like this? I don’t go and look up "straight sites" and comment on those, darn those straight people for the way they live. Second, people that spend their lives reading and studying the Bible and ONLY the Bible. Who really wrote it? How did that person or people become so all knowing about how people centuries later would think or want to think? There are plenty of other books out there and more importantly shouldn’t we all think for ourselves and draw our own conclusions? Religion is interesting, really a cult. The Catholics have one person to think for them and tell them what to believe (no gays in the Catholic church? I don’t believe that for a minute.) These "super churches" have one person to think for all those members and the list goes on. Guess I was raised to be an independent thinker. Think of all the changes in our lifetime with attitudes of people and beliefs. Live and let live people. If your neighbor doesn’t believe and do the same things you do, so be it as long as he isn’t hurting you or your children...who cares. Enter into a discussion on what they DO believe in, maybe, just maybe you will see that they have a better life then you !!

  • , 2010-11-14 22:42:14

    @Michael: You had sexual feelings at the age of 5? You knew that you’d be a homosexual at 5? Give us a break.

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