Megachurch Pastor Comes Out - & Pays a Price
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.