In the Oct. 19 message, which is available on video below, Swilley noted the support of his wife and teenage sons, as well as his parents and church staff. He also acknowledged the rumors swirling around him, and said he felt he needed to be honest with the congregation, answer their questions, and find out who would stand with him in the future.
“I’ve been needing to talk to you for awhile about some things, but timing is everything, and there is a reason that the scriptures says it is the word in season,” said Swilley, who founded Church in the Now in 1985.
Continued Swilley in the discussion, titled “A Real Message to Real People, “I get a lot of emails, texts, private Facebook messages — some of them are out of line, and some are gossip mongers, but some have legitimate questions and they deserve answers.”
With his former wife, Debye, in the audience nodding in support, Swilley then spoke to his congregation first about what is not true, then about what is.
“For those of you that have emailed me and asked if Debye caught me with another man, that is not true, that did not happen… For those of you that heard that I left Debye for another man, that is not true,” Swilley said.
He also noted that the rumor that he left his wife for his next door neighbor also is false, and described his neighbor as a 71-year-old gay man who is a close friend and has been with his partner for years.
“As flattered as I think Arvin might be, that is not the case,” Swilley said.
Finally, “for those of you that have asked if I am part of the Eddie Long scandal, that is not true,” Swilley said, drawing laughter from the attendees by referencing the New Birth Baptist Church pastor embroiled in lawsuits from young men who claim he coerced them into sex. “This is some of the insanity that I deal with.”
Swilley then told his congregation “what is true,” adding that “I can only hope that you hear me out and you hear me with an open mind.”
“I am approaching my 39th year in ministry — All I have ever done is preach the gospel,” he said, noting that his parents tell stories of him preaching while still in diapers.
“There are two things in my life that are an absolute: I did not ask for either one of them, both of them were imposed upon me, I had no control over either of them,” Swilley said.
“One was the call of God in my life … the other thing, and I wouldn’t have known what to call it at the time, is my sexual orientation. I know a lot of straight people think that orientation is a choice, but I want to tell you that it definitely is not,” he said.
Swilley said that he was motivated to speak up by the recent rash of gay youth suicides, and by ongoing hate crimes targeting gay people.
Writing on his blog Oct. 22, he noted that since coming out, he has been contacted by teens and the parents of teens struggling with gay issues.
“More than anything else, though, I have loved hearing from so many young people, including teens who are dealing with some serious issues, along with parents of teens who have been touched by some things that I’ve said. If you’ve been helped at all, it’s been worth any negative reactions or bad publicity that I’ve received,” he said.
Swilley also told his story to WSB-TV in a report that aired Friday and Saturday. Swilley told the station that his wife, to whom he was married for 21 years but is now divorced, knew about his struggles with sexual orientation and finally encouraged him to stop living a lie.