(ATLANTA) -- The pastor of a Georgia megachurch with thousands of followers, who was twice married and is a father of four, is speaking out about his recent decision to publicly declare he is gay.
"I know a lot of straight people think orientation is a choice. I want to tell you that it is not," Jim Swilley said in a video shot in the nondenominational megachuch Swilley founded 25 years ago.
Though Swilley said coming out was a decision he's struggled with since childhood, he made the announcement last month not for personal reasons -- he said he hopes to save lives.
The 52-year-old founder of Church in the Now in Conyers, Georgia, said he's coming out to help stem the recent tide of gay suicides in America and won't be swayed by some hateful messages that have been written about him online.
"To think about saving a teenager, yeah, I'll risk my reputation for that," he told ABC News' Atlanta affiliate WSB-TV before before tearing up. "As a father, thinking about your 16-, 17-year-old killing themselves."
Online, those hateful messages have been drowned out by an outpouring of support. Swilley has recently reached his 5,000-friend limit on Facebook and his wall is adorned with praise for his decision to come out.
"I'm overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support that I have received in recent days..." Swilley said in a church blog post. "Your words of kindness have been life-giving... hose of you who have had less than supportive things to say, please know that I really do understand where you're coming from, and I'm sure many of you actually mean well, and want to help me... I respect your opinions and viewpoints, and can only ask for the same consideration."
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