A couple of hours ago I spoke to Jared (my oldest son) in Manchester, England, where he and his band are currently playing. They are doing very well, about to release a new album, and will be featured on the cover of Spin Magazine next month. I've already written about him and the band on my other blog (www.bloginthenow.blogspot.com) "Yes, Jared Swilley is My Son!" - March 14, 2008).
Anyway, after we ended our conversation, I started thinking about all that has happened in the last year, and was reminded of a letter that Jared sent me last July. At the time, I had come out to him and my three other children, but I had no plans to ever publicly say anything about the real reason why I had gone through a very unexpected and surprising divorce. I thought that if I ever told the church about my orientation, I would most likely lose my ministry, and so I just went with the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" concept, in order to keep things afloat in a ministry that was already having financial challenges.
But then, in September/October, there was an unprecedented spate of gay teen suicides...so many that it had a profound effect on me, and made me feel that I had no choice but to tell the whole truth about myself. My intention was to possibly help change some attitudes and misoncpetions about people with same-sex attraction. And the rest, as they say, is history.
This type of letter was completely out of character for Jared...really surprised me...and it had a great impact on my thinking. It's as much a factor in my coming out publicly as anything else, really. He may not want me to share it (I didn't ask his permission)...but here I am nearly a year later, and I want to use it as a point of reference.
I didn't lose the ministry (the gifts and callings of God are without repentance), but I've definitely lost a lot. Most of the pastors I covered for years don't speak to me any more, and, even though it's not the reason we lost our property, I'm sure that many of our people left CITN because of it, and so it has had an indirect effect on our ability to maintain a megachurch.
But despite all that, I still have a wonderful relationship with all four of my kids, and that's one of the most important things to me. I have no regrets. I am blessed. The online gay watchdog groups that write about me so much will probably have a field day with this, and so, in a sense I'm throwing my son to the sharks in posting it. Whatever. They and their bloggers are so extremely hateful and mean-spirited that I don't take them seriously as being anything with moral authority...they don't talk about the Gospel, they just obsess about me and people like me. Anyway, I love this letter and I love my son. The picture above is of him and me in 1985 when he was two...
(please ignore my punctuational and grammatical errors, I woke up in the middle of the night and am writing a stream of consciousness email)
I have obviously been thinking about everything that has happened recently. I was asleep but have been tossing and turning the last few hours. I have never heard a "calling" or felt like God has spoken to me (something has). My relationship with God is fleeting and sort of intimidating. That's a whole other issue (don't worry I am not an atheist, I just question a lot).
I have been thinking about how D.E. told you you could be like an MLK to the gay community. While I think that is somewhat of an extreme statement (like someone comparing me to John Lennon), it does ring true. I have come to feel very strongly about this issue. I was always proud of the fact that I came from a family that upheld human dignity and equality. I even brag about Uncle Earl's supposed signing of the Atlanta Manifesto sometimes. I have always felt a special sense of history and accomplishment, being from an Atlanta family that helped overcome what is, in my opinion, this country's greatest obstacle.
Knowing that your and Grandad's generation was there to fight for other humans to actually be treated like humans with dignity makes me feel very proud, and this place was the epicenter of that struggle. I just listened to a speech Kennedy made about the plight of the "Negros". The fact that in 1963 he had to actually refer to them as Negros blows my mind. BUT what's worse is that they weren't granted full civil rights until 1964 (when you were 6) That's even crazier. My point is that, whatever it is, I don't know what, maybe just intuition, I have been spoken to by something. Maybe my own mind...maybe God... this doesn't happen to me. Before I get to my point I want to say that, although we haven't actually spoken more than usual, I have never felt closer to you in my life. I feel like I understand you a lot more. You are finally yourself. I feel like that, myself. We are both outsiders in a sense, and lead strangely parallel lives in a sense. I am comfortable with myself after a lot of doubt. I made myself on my own, as did you.
I'm rambling now. I just want to say that I know you have a MASSIVE operation and you are in a strange place. I also think that you can change thousands of lives if you talk about who you are. There are millions of people in your situation...not the exact one, but similar. You always told me that I can survive without the Black Lips. I know that's true. You can also survive on your own. You have such an amazing ability to connect and reach people, especially outsiders. That, coupled with the fact that you are completely honest, and have zero bullshit attached, is a goldmine of human progress waiting to happen.
You have always been making people think. You have challenged beliefs that were not subject to thought. You have questioned your own beliefs and have grown with them. You seek knowledge and understanding. You are the only reason I don't vomit when I think of the notion of a church or God. There are almost no voices in America that speak rationally, right or left. I couldn't sleep because you have something to say. And I believe that it is very important. I can't say it, but you are really an expert at this. Not saying you have to be a "gay" preacher, but I don't think you should have to pander to outdated and ignorant attitudes that hate for no reason either. I really feel like this is your moment to be who you are and say EXACTLY what you want. You have your message, and it's one I actually believe in.
Humans are humans. I understand it's a lot, but I really feel like you should come out (as you hate to say) to the public. If you lose the church, that sucks. It's not the end of the world though. You NEVER did anything close to being wrong. You are one of the only honest preachers out there. I even consider you more of a teacher and a mover. I feel good after hearing you speak and actually reflect on it (and I don't dig church). YOU ARE GREAT AT IT. I'm not saying to give up the church, I just think this could be a new beginning. Things change. A lot. And maybe you should come back to the city. You have helped countless people, but I think you could help a lot more that would have never heard you otherwise. I think it's really important for you, and many other people that have no voice.
You are still young, and I think you could make a huge difference. There are still massive human rights issues in this country. Homosexuals, among others, have no voice in this country. They need a responsible one that doesn't alienate them further. You embody that. I would like to see you find someone that you love, eventually. Unfortunately you would not be allowed to be married, and that is completely unacceptable. I have never pictured myself actually working with you before. Not saying I am now, either, or that you would even be down with that. But I do feel very emotionally connected to this. This is a real thing happening in our time and it needs to stop. People can not be marginalised for their genetics. It is the same thing as hating someone for their skin hue.
Sorry for the long rant, but it's easier to write in passion then spout out on the phone.
Jared and me in Peru a few years ago, building a Habitat for Humanity house...