Two Republican presidential candidates and one now-former candidate spoke earlier this month at a forum in Des Moines, Iowa, hosted by a pastor who raved approvingly that the Bible justifies killing gay people — “and I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” But neither Texas Sen. Ted Cruz nor former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee nor Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal rebutted Kevin Swanson’s incendiary statements.
They chose instead to talk about a war on Christianity.
Some 1,700 people paid $79 apiece — discounts were available for couples and families — to attend the National Religious Liberties Conference. Swanson is the director of Generations with Vision, which is billed as a national Christian ministry. Program notes also depict him as a father and radio host.
“Yes, Leviticus 20:13 calls for the death penalty for homosexuals,” Swanson exhorted. “Yes, Romans Chapter 1, Verse 32, the Apostle Paul does say homosexuals are worthy of death — his words, not mine. And I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And I am not ashamed of the truth of the word of God. I am willing to go to jail for standing on the truth of the word of God.”
In a video of the event aired on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” you can hear applause and whistles from the audience.
Swanson went on to say he doesn’t “advocate for our civil leaders to do this (impose the death penalty on gays) today” because dying itself isn’t a big deal, though burning in hell, where gay people are bound, is. He says he would give them time to repent.
Calls and emails seeking a reaction to Swanson’s remarks by spokespeople for Cruz and Jindal, who suspended his campaign Tuesday, went unanswered. Huckabee’s spokeswoman Alice Stewart asked for documentation and was sent a video link. She responded the next day saying, “Gov. Huckabee appreciated the opportunity to speak with an audience in Iowa about the importance of standing up for our religious liberties.”
The program had a long list of sponsoring organizations, including the Family Leader organization, Homeschool Iowa, American Family Association, Landmark Events, Liberty Institute, Midwest Parent Educators, Generations with Vision, Samaritan Ministries, the American Vision, Heritage Defense and Illinois Christian Home Educators.
And this was billed as a family event. Just imagine the psychological impact on a young attendee who might have been considering coming out as gay. Swanson even urged parents of kids having a same-sex wedding to sit at the entrance “in sackcloth and ashes” covered in cow manure.
Bob Vander Plaats, who heads the Family Leader, was behind the successful campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled in 2009 that there was a basis for same-sex marriage. The Family Leader will not endorse any presidential candidate who refuses to sign a pledge limiting marriage to a man and a woman. But in an effort to promote civility, Vander Plaats has been meeting for coffee with LGBT leader Donna Red Wing, who heads the One Iowa organization.
Asked if Vander Plaats or the Family Leader condemns Swanson’s remarks, Drew Zahn, the organization’s director of communications, wrote in an email: “The Family Leader absolutely condemns any call for violence against homosexuals. Our involvement with the conference was intended to advocate and preserve our First Amendment religious liberties and the rights of conscience for all Americans. The Family Leader consistently advocated the Bible’s principle of treating others as you would be treated, a principle come to life in the friendship between TFL President Bob Vander Plaats and One Iowa’s Donna Red Wing.”
But Zahn wouldn’t say whether the organization would express those views to Swanson or if it would have withdrawn sponsorship from the program if they had known what he would say.
Homeschool Iowa did not return a phone call.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that a conference to hail religious liberty, or the freedom to follow one’s faith without persecution, would morph into a call for attacking others who don’t share those beliefs? The event’s prevailing narrative was of Christians under attack because, among other things, they cannot legally deny business, service or public accommodations, or refuse to issue legal documents to gay people, as the courts have ruled they must. All three candidates brought up Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed briefly for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples once they got marriage rights.
“Christians are under physical assault all over the world, and Christian values are under assault right here at home,” declared Jindal. “Four more years of these radical left policies, we won’t even recognize our country anymore.”
Some of us are having trouble recognizing our country now. We’ve heard such extremist anti-gay propaganda come out of Uganda, where a since-abandoned measure would have imposed the death penalty for gays. It’s no secret there are radical fringe groups and lunatics in America sounding like the Taliban in their calls for attacks on women, gays, religious or ethnic minorities. But when one of them uses your town as his platform to spread such vile nonsense, it deserves a loud, cohesive rebuttal.
As for these would-be presidents: If staying silent in the face of such dehumanization of gay people is a price they’re willing to pay to get evangelical Christian votes, which liberties would they trade away once in office?
Rekha Basu, firstname.lastname@example.org.