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Monday, November 1, 2010

Mega-church preacher, dad of Black Lips singer comes out gay in video

As a practicing heathen, I'm not a big fan of professional clergy folk — especially those of the gold chain-wearing, evangelical Christian, mega-church variety. But there's a video online now by "Bishop" Jim Swilley, founder and senior pastor of something called Church in the Now out in Conyers, and I gotta say it's pretty powerful, even moving.

For those in the local indie rock community, the Bishop's name may ring a bell. He's also the father of Black Lips bassist and lead singer Jared Swilley. Last year, as a favor to his son, he officiated at the funeral for scenester/musician B Jay "Bobby Ugangi" Womack.

If you are a rocker, you may have heard a rumor that Jared Swilley's dad recently came out as gay. Well, it's a rumor no more. Bishop Swilley has, indeed, come out rather publicly. The video above is simply a recording of a recent church service — I believe it was Oct. 20 — in which he discusses at length his own lifelong struggles with his homosexuality; the church-sanctioned intolerance that drives some young gay people to suicide; the myth of gay recruitment; and even "don't-ask, don't-tell."

Throughout the entire hour-long video, Swilley comes across as genuine. He rambles, he tears up, he talks about his two largely celibate marriages, all without appearing to be spinning his audience. He's also remarkably free from the preacherly affectation that I tend to associate with evangelism. I mean, Jimmy Swaggart in his prime was a marvelous showman and an accomplished entertainer, but I never believed a word the guy said — or thought for a moment that he believed it.

Overall, Swilley offers a message of understanding, acceptance and self-revelation that somehow avoids being self-serving. I'm guessing that this video could resonate with meaning for many in-the-closet Christians. In fact, the Bishop's plea for tolerance has already rubbed some haters the wrong way. An anti-gay organization called the Gay Christian Movement Watch has described Swilley's video as being "chocked (sic) full of profanity, heresy, mental manipulation and gross stereotypes."

Coming from them, that's quite an endorsement.

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