For many atheists the words “gay pastor”, “megachurch, “evangelist” and “scandal” in the same sentence bring forth a mixture of humour and disgust at the inherent hypocrisy. Ted Haggard‘s indiscretions leap to mind.
When news of Bishop Jim Swilley’s “confession” that he is gay broke recently, I assumed it was more of the same. Very quickly, however, I realised that whatever argument I might make about the intellectual dishonesty of the religious, this man has displayed an admirable personal integrity.
This integrity goes far beyond this one issue, as you will see if you read his blog. In a March, 2008 entry he talks movingly about one of his sons, Jared Swilley, with not a trace of the dismay (to put it mildly) that Fred Phelps, for example, showed his son who “strayed” from the “ideals” he espouses.
When Bishop Swilley came out to his congregation, many of them showed a similar integrity, as you can hear if you watch the video here. The applause is enthusiastic, rather than merely polite, and they too should be applauded. (It really is worth watching the whole thing, even though it’s quite long!)
I still despise religion, and there’s a lot in that video with which I profoundly disagree, but as I’ve said before, I don’t therefore automatically despise people who are religious. Sometimes I like and respect them. Religion can make good people do bad things, but more often than we usually notice, good people do good things, against the societal flow, which makes them all the more remarkable.