Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rev. Jim Swilley and Christian Courage

Apologies for the delayed pace of new postings.  I've been hard at work on a number of projects.  (Among them are Opiated Shamanism, my latest entry into the Blogosphere and my first promotional effort for the upcoming Power of the Poppy). But while I may not have been writing as much here, I have been reading as time permits: I also have several more responses that I hope to post here in the not-too-distant future.

When I saw Jason Miller's recent post on Jesus and Christian Magic, I thought I should give credit to someone who embodies Christianity's best efforts. It's fashionable to complain about the horrible Evil Fundamentalists who are just a few votes and some lighter fluid away from launching the latest remake of Ye Burninge Times. And there have certainly been some lousy things done in the name of Christ, from the murder of Hypatia to the pedophile priest coverup. But if we are going to hold a world religion at fault for its failures, it is only fair that we give credit for its successes: let us present Christianity's best along with its worst.

Some 25 years ago, Rev. Jim Swilley's congregants prayed in strip malls amidst rented space. Today their Church in the Now campus in Conyers houses one of the largest megachurches in the metropolitan Atlanta area. Swilley founded Church in the Now

... on a concept taken from Psalm 2:8 in the KJV, which says: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” More recent and better translations say, “Ask of Me and I will give you the nations…,” but CITN embraced the more archaic term “heathen” for the simple reason that this house was/is to be a place of human recovery for those who have not been reached by the conventional church…those who have been overlooked…those who have slipped through the cracks. Jesus gave an illustration about the king who told his stewards to go into the streets and compel the unwanted ones to come to his banquet after the original invitees had declined his invitation, and CITN has answered the call to become those stewards carrying out that mission.
By 2010 he had every reason to congratulate himself on his success. Yet his second marriage had crumbled at the beginning of the year, his wife announcing she was tired "of living a lie."  The comment stung: when he read about the surge in anti-gay bullying and teen suicides, he decided to take action. Before his congregation, without a scandal lurking in the wings and his entire career at stake, Swilley announced,
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 on me. I had no control over them.  One was the call of God on my life ... the other thing was my sexual orientation...
When I heard that the fifth teenager in the last few weeks committed suicide. It really makes me want to say to people who have no idea what people go through, 'You probably don't need to say anything about it.' Because, I've got to tell you something; a 14 or 15-year-old doesn't just say one day. 'Hey, I think I'm going to make up this story that I'm gay so I can jump off the George Washington Bridge.
The responses to his confession were predictable. Even before this confession, some Evangelicals were accusing Swilley and his wife of practicing an "apostate new age theology" with possible ties to Roman Catholicism. He has resigned as a bishop in the International Communion of Charismatic Churches after its Archbishop David Huskins said "if [Swilley] is yielding to a lifestyle that is contradictory to the Word of God, and then no, he would not be qualified to lead in the Church of God."   While he thanks his many well-wishers for "an outpouring of love and support," he admits that he may not be able to continue leading Church in the Now should members desert en masse. But despite all this, he has no regrets: as he says in his blog,
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.
To those few of you who have severed ties with me, I want you to know that I understand, and that I love you, and I also want you to know that I hope our division is not permanent. If my transparency has offended anyone, I apologize.

I pray that all of you will be blessed, and again, I can’t thank you enough for your support…