The pastor of a Rockdale County megachurch has publicly announced he is gay.
Jim Swilley, bishop of Conyers’ Church in the Now, said he hopes his coming out will change attitudes toward homosexuality.
“I know a lot of straight people think it is a choice. It is not,” Swilley told Channel 2′s Diana Davis.
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.
“I think some women marry gay men because they really think they can change them,” Swilley said.
The now-divorced couple kept their secret for 21 years, but earlier this year, Swilley said Debye told him it was time to stop living a lie.
She said he should practice what he preaches and follow the church’s motto, “Real people experiencing a real God in the real world.”
So, 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.
He says he’s received support from many in his congregation, but at least one conservative Christian blog has called him sick, twisted, unclean and an instrument of the devil.
“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.”