By Barry W. Lynn
It’s election season, and that means it’s time for candidates to pander to the Religious Right. We’ve heard U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee claim that everyone’s favorite anti-gay Kentucky county clerk should’ve been allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ people. We’ve heard Ben Carson declare that the “power of God” is behind his campaign for president and that Muslims should never occupy that lofty office.
The Religious Right is fond of extreme rhetoric. So too are its chosen figureheads and political representatives. We know they want to restrict LGBTQ rights, and women’s rights and the freedom of expression based on their idiosyncratic dogma. Usually, though, they stop short of calling for LGBT people to be put to death.
Kevin Swanson, a Colorado pastor best known for his radio show “Generations of Vision” and his advocacy for the Christian homeschool movement, has some strong opinions about LGBTQ people. Specifically, he believes the Bible says they should be put to death. He hasn’t been shy about his opinion; he’s stated it over and over, in fact, mainly on his radio show.
Despite this, three presidential candidates – Cruz, Huckabee and their compatriot, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal – recently appeared at Swanson’s Freedom 2015 Conference. And if you thought Swanson might stow his blood thirst to appeal to his famous guests, you’d be mistaken.
In a vicious rant, Swanson told his audience he’d smear himself with “cow manure” if his son ever married to another man. And he didn’t stop there.
“Yes, Leviticus 20:13 calls for the death penalty for homosexuals!” he screamed, swinging a Bible over his head. “Yes, in Romans 1:32 the Apostle Paul does say that homosexuals are worthy of death. His words, not mine! And I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ! And I am not ashamed of the truth of God’s word, and I am willing to go to jail for standing on the truth of the word of God!”
The audience applauded.
Swanson stopped just short of calling for LGBTQ people to be executed, even though he thinks the Bible condones such punishment. No, Swanson said, it’s better to let them live long enough to repent. How generous of him!
He had somewhat harsher words for fans of the Harry Potter series and the children’s film “How to Train Your Dragon.” Harry Potter, you see, features at least one notable gay character, the wise old wizard Dumbledore; “Dragon” stars a character that Swanson insists is gay. (The film does not dwell on the character’s sexual orientation. This is likely because it is a film about dragons and the magic of friendship.)
“Repent that Dumbledore emerged as a homosexual mentor for Harry Potter. Children are raised to be stumbled by the Dumbledores and Hiccups on How to Train Your Dragon,” he thundered. “For tens of millions of parents it would be better that a millstone be hung around their [children’s] neck[s] and they be drowned at the bottom of the sea.”
Extreme? Not for Swanson, who’s previously railed about the evils of “Frozen” because it turns little girls into lesbians. And not, it seems, for the aspiring presidents in his audience. Swanson launched his hateful rant mere minutes after Huckabee had vacated the stage.
Huckabee has not condemned Swanson’s comments. Nor has Cruz or Jindal.
The grim truth is that Swanson’s Biblical utopia would be a dystopia for anyone who isn’t like him. No one would be safe. Not progressive Christians like me, who believe the Bible stands for justice and fairness instead of hatred. Not LGBTQ people. Not women. Perhaps not even other members of his Orthodox Presbyterian denomination because even there, one would surely find dissent.
Is it too much to ask that a candidate of any party disavow rhetoric this extreme, over the top and hateful? No one has said a peep, so apparently it is.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and author of the recent book God And Government: Twenty-Five Years of Fighting for Equality, Secularism, and Freedom Of Conscience.