The GOP and the God of Hate

Maybe I was wrong all along. My inbox has been filling up with links to a startling article in yesterday’s New York Times. Is the GOP really under the thrall of violently anti-gay extremists?

I’ve argued in the past that my fellow secular progressives need to relax. The chance, I’ve said, of a fractious bunch of fundamentalists uniting to do anything more complicated than hosting an end-times bake sale were slim to none. Pre-tribulationists can’t get along with post-tribulationists. Lutherans can’t stand Seventh-day Adventists. Catholics look nervously at all of them.

More important, each side in our continuing culture-war debates tends to exaggerate the clear and present danger presented by the other side. Leftists point to abortion-clinic bombers. Conservatives warn of government jackbooted thugs. In general, I think we all need to remember that these boogiemen are distortions, fantastic bugbears trotted out to demonize the opposition.

But the news from Des Moines has me scratching my head. Kevin Swanson, an Orthodox Presbyterian pastor, hosted leading GOP hopefuls Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee at a National Religious Liberties Conference. Swanson has become infamous lately for his repeated calls for homosexuals to be put to death.

Put to death!

According to the New York Times, Governor Huckabee claimed not to know of Swanson’s scary positions. Ted Cruz seemed unruffled. After all, his own father was a featured speaker of the conference.

Is this a simple case of primary extremism? In every election, the far fringes of each party wield outsize influence. We might say that such extremism will expend itself before the primary campaign gets rolling.

Similar claims, after all, have been made of President Obama’s connections with atheist terrorist Bill Ayers. Ayers was a real terrorist. His radical group really did try to bomb people. But he has long since—kinda sorta—denounced violence as a political tactic.

I’m flummoxed. I find it hard to believe that any serious presidential contender would consent to be associated with such a violent extremist.

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  1. Agellius

     /  November 17, 2015

    This is the first I’ve heard of Swanson. But after following your links and doing a fair bit of googling, I haven’t been able to find any place where Swanson says that homosexuals should be put to death, let alone makes “repeated calls” for it. Can you provide a quote?

    • Thanks for asking. I was skeptical, too, so I followed up on the coverage provided by RightWingWatch, admittedly a partisan site. They have links to Swanson’s radio show in which he calls for a return to “biblical law” punishing sodomy with death; another show in which he condemns a pro-same-sex-marriage law in New Zealand by saying that we need to criminalize homosexuality, in line with the Old Testament in which homosexuality could be punished by death; and another when Swanson waxed nostalgic about Puritan successes in eliminating homosexuality because they “brought the death penalty on homosexuality.”
      To me, the shocking thing is that such things–even if they were only ill-founded rumors–did not cause the GOP candidates to flee in terror. Could it be that they did not think such charges would shock the electorate?

      • Gordon

         /  November 19, 2015

        Right Wing Watch has video of Swanson at this event. Rachel Maddow played some length clips where he says everything @Agellius is questioning. RWW also has a length linked resumé of annotated Swanson sources from Oct. 29, 2015 in an article entitled “Cruz, Huckabee And Jindal Will Join Pastor Who Wants Gays Put To Death.” Despite this pre-emptive notice and extensive file on Swanson, the conference still featured the candidates a month later. Swanson actually interviewed Cruz at the event and told him no one can be an acceptable president if he doesn’t start his day on his knees praying.

        Swanson is well known in home schooling and Quiverfull circles on far the protestant right. His writings and radio shows are easy to find online. There’s plenty of video footage of him out there to watch if you want to study the man.

        What you will find: Swanson is a protégé of the late Greg Bahnsen (another OPC pastor like Rushdoony and Schaeffer) who was on the Chalcedon Foundation’s board. Swanson is a home school product himself who probably attended a now defunct theonomist college or seminary on the west coast which he never names in his biographical sketches. He has been beating the anti-LGBT drum a long time but has been controversial more recently for calling contraception (in general) a sinful sexual perversion that holds Christians back from re-establishing the nation. He has been a controversial defender of Bill Gothard and the Duggar family after their “problems” gained prominence in the public eye.

        Swanson’s message emphasizes home schooling and large “traditional” families as part of the standard Reconstructionist narrative where a vital “remnant” of “Dominion men” needs to be found or created, propagated through the generations (which is the name of Swanson’s radio show), and organized for a long march through the institutions toward a theocratic, eschatological destiny. Swanson’s strategy is based on the patriarchal family reclaiming education (and reproduction) from the state.

        Jeff Durbin is another theonomist whose name comes up in connection with Swanson. As kooky as they may sound, marginally less kooky versions of their ideas on society, schooling, and contraception are popular of the Calvinist right through people like R.C. Sproul, Jr. and Doug Wilson, both of whom have appeared with, endorsed, and otherwise cooperated with Swanson.

        This is just one branch in the family tree of Christian Reconstructionism. If you look at the funding sources for the event Swanson and Cruz appeared at, as listed in the New York times, you will find connections to old players on the extreme religious right with longstanding extreme anti-LGBT views who are nevertheless influential in the conservative religious mainstream. For example, has a well-sourced 2014 article by Josh Israel called “The 800-Pound Gorilla Of The Christian Right” that explains the history, formation, and inner politics of the ADF and its president, Alan Sears. John W. Whitehead, head of the Rushdoony-connected Rutherford Institute, is a source in that article. He is an ADF board member and executive at James Dobson’s Focus on the Family organization. He says Rutherford was kept of of the ADF’s membership over disagreements about fundraising which have hurt Rutherford. Reading between the lines, my guess is care has been taken to distance groups like ADF from known, historic Reconstructionist groups and perhaps sunset their direct influence, but the same people and ideas remain at work where the ideological fringe meets big money and influence on the religious right.

        Michael McVicar and Julie Ingersoll have published two groundbreaking, major academic books this year on the history and influence of Christian Reconstructionism, Theonomy, and Dominionism. They provide deeper, well-sourced insight into the subject and the relevant players.

      • Gordon

         /  November 19, 2015

        The thing that puzzles me about the ADF is if they don’t want to be tied publicly to Theonomists, why do they describe their programs as seeking to “recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries?” That seems like a reference to the Council and Creed of Chalcedon, which Rushdoony saw as a source for the idea that the state is subordinate to the church.

        Why have people like Swanson at their events, and why have the De Vos Family (a conduit of the Koch family) as a founding member? Why have Whitehead on the board at all? His Rutherford Institute is a product of Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Foundation and was created as a libertarian legal and political influencer in partnership with Rushdoony. (They won landmark cases defending homeschooling and represent an important link between Libertarians and religious/social conservatives.) In 2010 the Southern Poverty Law Center moved Chalcedon into its list of hate groups, and that’s not just some subjective, polemical thing. SPLC works very closely with the DOJ now on domestic terrorism threats.

      • Gordon

         /  November 19, 2015

        Correction: I misread the Rutherford connection. That answers my own question, partly. Israel’s 2014 article has Whitehead saying he/Rutherford was invited to join ADF by Dobson’s Tom Minnery ca. 1994, but Whitehead declined because he thought they would be lining their own pockets, not just doing pro bono legal work. As a result he says he was “blackballed” by ADF and Rutherford suffered financially. Whitehead must have had some axe to grind last year by saying this to the activist press — basically tipping them off to his connection to ADF and their ideological alignment. So ADF has nothing directly to do with Rutherford, but it’s significant if they originally wanted Rutherford on board, and their founding members do seem sympatico with reconstructionism. The causes they have taken up internationally have focused on criminizalization of homosexuality. Their suggestively Chalcedonian language about spreading “Christendom” is rare and a real marker for Reconstructionist ideology. So that’s still odd to me if they wish to be seen as a more mainstream organization for religious conservatives, like the Beckett Fund is for Catholic conservatives on religious liberty issues.

  2. There were multiple people there who advocate for the genocide of LGBT American citizens.

    Joel McDurmond openly advocated for Ugandan laws to make sodomy a capital crime, and affirmed that he believed homosexuals should be put to death if they commit sodomy:

    Phillip Kayser supports the death penalty for homosexuals, claiming that, if implemented correctly, only a few would be actually executed, while the others would be driven into the closet or forced to convert.

    Kevin Swanson has said multiple times that homosexuals should be put to death. At this current conference, he reiterated his position again, saying that homosexuals should be killed, but not immediately; they should be given some time to repent first.

    Agellius can look at those links if he wants. Yes, three presidential candidates in 2015 were present at a conference with people who openly advocate genocide.

    • Whoops, I attached the wrong link on that last paragraph

    • Gordon

       /  November 19, 2015

      McVicar and Ingersoll argue that these extreme positions of Reconstructionists — support for slavery and executing people for a variety of biblically enumerated sexual sins — should not be seen as their main agenda or threat. They make a good case for why we should see their more insidious influence on religious subcultures in terms of their view of American history, schooling, and economics. At the same time the big money and legal influencers *are* pursuing a longstanding agenda of suppressing LGBT rights *globally* and they have had significant impact in African countries where they have had their wish come true: people are executed under the law for being gay.

  3. Swanson should research the ‘put to death’ texts – there are at least 89 in the KJV – obviously he is just picking and choosing.

  4. Agellius

     /  November 17, 2015


    In the first clip from the radio show that you link to, he calls for a return to biblical law, but doesn’t say the part about “punishing sodomy with death”; that was added by you. I realize that sodomy was punishable by death under the Law of Moses, but the Israelites were also required to observe the Passover annually with the sacrifice of a year-old lamb, and I don’t think Swanson is calling for a return to that custom. In other words, “getting back to biblical law” doesn’t have to mean “re-instituting the Law of Moses in its entirety”; it could mean simply “believing that homosexual activity is immoral”.

    In the second radio show, what I understand him to say is that in light of the Old Testament law (the Law of Moses) making homosexual acts punishable by death, the least that modern people should get out of that fact is an understanding that homosexuality is wrong. Beuhner says that homosexuality is a crime against God’s law and that Christians should not endorse any candidate who endorses crimes against God’s law (specifically gay marriage). Again no calls for capital punishment for homosexuals that I can discern.

    In the third radio show you cite, Swanson mentions that the death penalty existed for homosexuality between 350 and 1850, but again does not say that it should be the law of the United States currently.

    What you (and others) are apparently doing is making a syllogism: The Old Testament made homosexuality punishable by death; Swanson believes the Old Testament is the Word of God; therefore Swanson believes homosexuality should be punishable by death in the modern United States. But that is a faulty syllogism since the second premise, believing that the OT is the Word of God, does not necessarily entail believing that the Law of Moses should be made the law of the modern United States. It doesn’t follow logically. In fact, the vast majority of Christians believe that the Law of Moses was fulfilled by the sacrifice of Christ and is therefore no longer in effect.

    From the evidence I’ve seen so far, it seems to me that this is an inference that people are making about Swanson, who are probably eager to draw such an inference on whatever basis they can find, but it’s not a necessary inference from anything he says.

    • Swanson, urging on fundamentalist Christians to “impose God’s laws upon our systems, especially our political systems.”

      He called on Christians to advocate for the recriminalization homosexuality…for freedom: “

      “God’s laws require that we prosecute homosexuals who are caught in the act of homosexuality or the act of sodomy on the basis of two or three witnesses. If Christians would do that, if Christian pastors would do that then we would be able to hopefully press back the line upon those who are impressing their rights upon Christians who really need that religious freedom.”

      It seems implicit that Swanson believes that the death penalty kept homosexuals in the closet: “A Christian perspective ultimately brought the death penalty upon homosexuality between roughly 350 AD and roughly 1850 or so, for about 1,500 years that form of life had pretty much been eliminated except here and there, it was in the closet, but it was almost unheard of for over 1,000 years, until recently. Of course, now you have a massive, massive increase in this kind of thing.”

      He also advocates for a return of the Pilgrim times when homosexuality was punishable by death: “You know, Dave, I think if we’re going to have a halfway decent, stable society, much like what the pilgrims had, with a divorce rate of .01%, fornication rate of 1%, and a homosexuality rate of .0005%, if we’re going to have a stable society, we’re going to have to get back to biblical law.”

      Interestingly the videos that perhaps had the direct quotes seem to have been removed from YouTube and other sources, but some transcripts remain:

      “There are instances in which both the Old and New Testament speak to the matter with unbelievable clarity,” Swanson told his audience of evangelical Christians. “There’s not to be any debate about it. You know what that sin is – it’s the sin of homosexuality.”

      “In fact in Romans 1 Paul affirms that this particular sin is worthy of death,” Swanson says. “The Old and New Testament, I believe both speak with authority and we outta receive it.”

      Seem pretty clear to me.

  5. Gordon

     /  November 23, 2015

    The Human Rights Campaign has been tracking the ADF for a while and has a good summary of their work here. HRC has a whole site ( dedicated to the story of how groups like ADF and their backers funded junk science and legal efforts to keep LGBT couples from adopting.

    What seems less known is how the maninstream umbrella organization for conservative Christian colleges, the CCCU (Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities) has Gregory S. Baylor, an ADF senior attorney on their board acting as a consultant for the CCCU. CCCU members schools have been in anti-contraceptive litigation against Obamacare in recent years, with a few going to the Supreme Court next year.

    I doubt it is widely known among faculty at CCCU schools that the ADF has been involved in not only the Hobby Lobby and Citizens United cases but also international efforts to suppress LGBT rights, support sodomy laws, etc. Here is how the ADF is following the Uganda v. Lively case:
    Note their use of WorldNetDaily as a source; it is a known Reconstructionist operation monitored by the SPLC:

    More about the ADF’s anti-LGBT activities and ties to Reconstructionism:


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