In October 2010, megachurch pastor Bishop Jim Swilley stood in front of his “Church in the Now” congregation and told them that he was gay. His secret was known by his wife, Debye, when they married. In the end, she was the catalyst that brought him out of the closet when she realized that as long as she stayed married to him, he’d never really be the gay man that God created him to be. She divorced him to free him and then he came out to his family and his congregation. Georgia Voice was among the first to tell the Swilleys’ story.

The fallout was unavoidable. The church suffered a mass exodus and was forced to downsize. After Jim suffered some stress-related health issues, Debye prompted him to examine his heart again to do what made him happy. In July 2014 they closed Church in the Now. The Swilleys and their sons, also church employees, started over on their own paths. We recently caught up with Jim, Debye and son Judah (from our original interview), to see what they’re up to.

Judah is a fifth generation preacher at The Movement, a congregation that meets at a downtown coffee house. He is set to appear on the Oxygen network show, “Preachers of Atlanta,” on Feb. 3. The show follows Judah and four other Atlanta pastors and provides a close-up look at their personal and professional interactions.

“The last five years has been an evolution,” said Judah. “It’s grown me. Going through my parents’ divorce, my dad’s coming out and the loss of our church—those challenges made me who I am today.”

“I realize that not everyone is connected spiritually,” he said. “I really want to create community. The goal of “The Movement” is to reach people and connect them with others that are chasing after God and chasing after love.”

Moving on, reclaiming identity

After the church closed and Debye lost her job there, she was devastated. “It was all I had done for 20 years. Going through that loss forced me to find my own identity.” She also found freedom in her faith. “The changes over the last few years have allowed me to be more open and honest about my personal views and not withhold about the universal way that I think and believe.”

Does she go to traditional church now? “I do not. Purposefully. For over 20 years, I was in every service and in the (church) office every day. I just needed the freedom not to have to be anywhere on any Sunday or any Wednesday night. I need the freedom to worship in my own way, in my own time. It’s been awesome.”

When it comes to regrets, she has none. “If your life is built in love, then you never regret. Love never fails. And those that are a part of your journey are going to be blessed. It’s been an awesome ride.”

Love and ministry in the now

On Dec. 31, 2014, Jim married his husband, Ken Marshall. Jim now pastors a congregation called “Metron” which meets at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema and streams live every Sunday on a YouTube channel.

“Midtown is where I live, that’s where I have energy. I thought the year I came out was the happiest of my life. But honestly, this last year was the happiest. It’s not a reflection of my past family life,” he said.

“Being married as yourself, preaching as yourself and living your life as yourself is infinitely better than doing those things as someone else.”

“When I married Debye, I thought the rapture was going to take place in the next couple of weeks. There was no reason for me to come out. Clearly, my theology has evolved.” he laughs. “Part of evolving is parting with illusions. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like someone who brings treasure out of their house, both old and new. I love that imagery. There are certain things about my Christian upbringing that I’m never going to abandon. That’s what I know. That’s my ground zero. There are also new ideas that I do not see as contradictory to the Christian message.”

Like Debye, Jim also has no regrets. “Dr. Seuss said, ‘don’t cry that it’s over, smile that it happened.’ I don’t regret anything,” he said. “I met a great man and I love what I do. I have an abundant life.”

6 Responses

  1. Mark Everett Sanders

    It is an interesting story. I don’t know what my personal beliefs on LBGT is but I like this quote “The highest courage is to dare to be yourself in the face of adversity. Choose right over wrong, ethics over convenience, and truth over popularity.” ~unknown

    Reply
  2. Dennis Crawford

    It is very disheartening to read this story. I pray for Jim Swilley, but I particularly pray for his ex wife, Debye, his family and most of all his congregation from the old church he pastored. You see decisions you make does not only affect you, but affects the souls that God gave him to pastor. Very selfish decision caused his sheep to be scattered….

    Reply
    • Karen S

      I disagree Dennis. My faith tells me that nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ. GOD will find the sheep and bring them to where they need to be in terms of their journey with H/HER. As the bible tells us, authenticity in Christ is not about The Show put on in a mega church, butts and bucks, it’s about being with one another in Christ, accepted and loved for who HE created us to be and following the greatest commandment to love one another. Politics belong to Ceasar, Heaven belongs to those who “get real” with the LORD and each other. And the “church of Constantine” inability to do this is why attendance has been dwindling for decades. How will they know us? How will H/HE know us, by our deeds…not our talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.

      Reply
  3. Mark

    You cannot claim faith in Christ living in open sin. Iniquity can be perged .their is no second chance when you are lost without Christ at death . as that so called bisgop certainly is . Sgorr rime of using christianity as a living to spend eternity lost.

    Reply
  4. Larry Teglia

    I believe the whole Swilley family prospered in Spirit and grew from not withholding the truth. Sure, it hurt the congregation of Church In The Now. I’m sure, some got bitter! But, whose problem is that? The truth is ALWAYS BEST! Sometimes, it’s not what we want to hear. We must not judge! Jesus died for Bishop Jim. He had to give up his flock, but he didn’t lie to his flock. I know that Jesus is still his Lord & Savior! Jim Swilley will be in The Kingdom!

    I am a Born-again Christian. I am a heterosexual male, attracted to Transgender women. Does that make me gay? NO! I’ve never been attracted to men. I was married to a genetic woman for ten years. My wife was physically, emotionally, and mentally abusive. She refused all counseling! She ran away from God. I met a transwoman and we became platonic friends. Her mind was incredible! She was always very kind, very nice personality, very moral and a very devout Woman of God! I was very impressed with her knowledge of the Word of God. I actually, didn’t know she was transgender until she told me months after we met. She appreciated me because I never judged her, even after she told me. She asked me if I had any feelings for her. Truthfully, I told her, “Yes.” We dated, without having sex. I wasn’t sure about that, from a spiritual aspect. I prayed and asked God about it. If you are close to God (Holy Spirit) you know His voice! I was brought up in an Apostolic/Prophetic church. Christian International, Santa Rosa Beach, FL. The ministry of Bishop Bill Hamon. I was a personal friend of Kim Clement. I would go to Church In The Now, when Kim would minister there, Prophetically. He prophesied a new friendship would be in my future. A woman that I wouldn’t be sure of, someone special, someone different, a Woman of God but physically different. We would meet in the next year. It was this transgender woman. She spoke to me, prophetically, saying she was the one spoken of by The Prophet, whose name was Kim.
    Now, I ask you, was that a demon, disguised as a Woman of God? I asked Holy Spirit, again? Am I attracted to a woman that is considered to be an abomination to the Body of Christ, as stated in the Bible?
    Holy Spirit said, “No! She is of me, created by me, only special! there are special men that I created to be attracted to only this certain type of special woman. Other heterosexual men don’t consider her to be a woman, but she is in mind and in spirit.” “I don’t make mistakes in My Creation!” “Her Purpose & Destiny was dealt to her for this life on earth. She will accomplish her Purpose & Destiny, to accomplish My works displayed in her.”
    This is basically the same story as John 9:1-3. It is set for this Age that we live in. I’m not in fear of committing a sin or losing my salvation. He answered my prayer.

    Reply
  5. Courtney

    I’m sorry. I’m coming from a place of love but, “the gay man that God created him to be”? I rebuke that in the name of Jesus. That is not of God.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.