Earlier this month I read a post in the Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan’s blog at The Atlantic, about a megachurch pastor in Georgia, Jim Swilley, who decided to publicly come out of the closet. He felt compelled to do so after hearing too many stories about gay teens committing suicide after harassment by bullies.
“As a father, thinking about your 16-, 17-year-old killing themselves, I thought somebody needed to say something,” he told WSB TV in Atlanta. “I know all the hateful stuff that’s being written about me online, whatever. To think about saving a teenager, yeah, I’ll risk my reputation for that.”
This man is a hero. I can’t imagine the courage it must take for anyone to come out when those around them don’t approve of their lifestyle. A lifestyle, Swilley reminds us, that is not a choice. But imagine doing that when you’re the pastor of a conservative church and your career and livelihood is on the line.
It made me think about what I would risk to do the right thing. Would I be brave enough to risk my reputation and career? I won’t know until I’m in that position. I can only hope that I’m as strong as he is. I’m not assuming I will be although I think I have a strong metaphorical spine. I think about whistleblowers who don’t even know Sarbanes-Oxley protection exists, yet put their jobs on the line to do the right thing, as Jim Swilley did by blowing the whistle on irrational hatred.
How much would your organization put on the line to do the right thing? How many people (members or even board members) are you willing to piss off? How many opportunities do you miss to be a hero because you worry about the risk to your brand or about the risk of failure?