Jim Swilley, the founder and bishop of the Church in the Now outside Atlanta, Georgia, came out as a gay man to his congregation a few weeks ago. Unlike other outed evangelical and political leaders, Swilley was not caught with his pants down, on a drug binge, or anything else unseemly.
The 52-year-old bishop simply wanted to live his life authentically, after he witnessed the rash of gay youth suicides in this country. Specifically, the story of Tyler Clementi struck the pastor and he realized, with his soon-to-be ex-wife's encouragement, that he needed to be true to himself.
Another element to the outing scandals of late that you won't find in this story: Swilley won't be begging his wife -- or anyone else -- for forgiveness.
In an interview with CNN, Swilley made it clear that sexual orientation is not about the feared "gay lifestyle" that is thrown around, and it's also not a choice. He has a clear conscience, because he 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 do believe this is the most refreshing scandal I've witnessed.
Sure, some of Swilley's flock are not happy and are abandoning the church. But the bishop is finding support as well. As for that old argument about the Bible saying it's not okay to be gay? Swilley has an educated answer:
The Bible says a lot of things about a lot of things that people don't have answers for .... The scripture says if you're given to gluttony, put a knife to your throat. But people seem to be fine with fat Christians in the church .... If you have a son that doesn't work for a living and is rebellious, to take him by the hand and lead him to the elders of the city and let them stone him with stones until he is dead. We don't support that now. If you have an unemployed son, you don't kill him.
The bishop agrees that some people use the scriptures as a weapon.
If the Church in the Now continues to thrive, and Swilley continues working as if nothing is different simply because he has come out, that will truly be a massive shift in the way some groups think about homosexuality. Let's hope this story continues to be as devoid of drama for the bishop as it has been thus far.
Do you think Swilley is a hero or a heretic?
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