Kevin Swanson is a very expressive speaker: pic.twitter.com/ZgiuukhXmh— Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) November 6, 2015
To read an introduction to Freedom 2015, click here. To read about Cruz, Jindal, and Huckabee at Freedom 2015, click here. To read about Geoffrey Botkin's talk, click here and here.
The Freedom 2015 conference took place on November 6-7 in Des Moines, Iowa, drawing over 1,600 attendees, according to WHO 13 TV. Sponsored by Kevin Swanson's Generations with Vision, Samaritan Ministries, Heritage Defense, and other Religious Right groups, Freedom 2015 included appearances by Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal. The conference focused on supposed assaults on Christian "religious liberty", with special emphasis on the LGBTQ rights movement as an alleged threat.
Right Wing Watch and Brian Tashman were kind enough to live-tweet the event, which featured Botkin books, homophobic pamphlets, an array of Religious Right speakers, and a schedule full of workshops on alleged "religious persecution".
Progressives took notice of Freedom 2015's right-wing themes and dubious speakers. The summit came under fire by People for the American Way, who posted a petition urging Cruz, Huckabee, and Jindal to condemn Kevin Swanson's vicious homophobia. One Iowa, an LGBTQ rights organization, hosted a counter-event on November 7th, entitled "America’s First Freedom 2015: A Civil Conversation", a forum to discuss "religious liberty as envisioned by our founders" and counteract "self-serving versions that encourage and sanctify discrimination". (Hat tip to the Des Moines Register.)
I will discuss the speeches of Cruz, Huckabee, and Jindal in a future post, but first, I'd like to share some Freedom 2015 quotes from Kevin Swanson. With Kevin Swanson at the helm, Freedom 2015 quickly devolved into a circus. Swanson paced back and force on stage, screaming about hell and repentance as if on the verge of tears. Swanson's rants not only dripped with homophobia but also included bizarre comments about cow manure, pus-filled sores, children's movies, and country music. By appearing on stage with Swanson and failing to condemn his extremism, Cruz, Huckabee, and Jindal have torpedoed whatever slim chance they might have had of being viable presidential candidates.
For example, in a Freedom 2015 excerpt captured by Right Wing Watch, Swanson claimed that he would sit in cow manure outside a church if one of his children entered a same-sex marriage, then warned the audience not to carve happy faces into infected sores (!?).
"I was thinking, you know, there are parents -- and this is not a funny thing -- there are families whose -- and we are talking Christian families, pastors' families, elders' families in good godly churches. Their sons are rebelling, hanging out with homosexuals and getting married, and the parents are invited. What would you do if that was the case? Here's what I would do. Sackcloth and ashes at the entrance to the church, and I'd sit in cow manure, and I'd spread it all over my body. That's what I would do. And I'm not kidding. I'm not laughing. I'm grieving, I'M MOURNING! I'M POINTING OUT THE PROBLEM! It's not a gay time! These are the people with the sores, the gaping sores, the sores that are pussy and gross, and people are coming in and carving happy faces on the sores. That's not a nice thing to do! DON'T YOU DARE CARVE HAPPY FACES ON OPEN, PUSSY SORES! Don't you ever do that!"
In another Right Wing Watch clip, Swanson raged against abortion for allegedly killing billions of human beings. He saved his hottest rage for the Harry Potter franchise, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kacey Musgraves' "Follow Your Arrow" because they allegedly normalize homosexuality. Unfortunately, this was not the first time Swanson had made ridiculous comments about arts and culture.
"Friends, we are on the very cusp of judgment, as I see it, and we need to call America to repent. As you say, repentance from what? Repentance from defying the Almighty. Repentance of abortion, repentance of the hundreds of millions of dead bodies. I don't know how many children have been aborted by way of abortifacients, by way of the surgical abortion since the 1960s, but I do believe that Margaret Sanger is responsible for more deaths in the world than any single person who has ever lived, and I'm talking about billions of little babies thanks to the technology she developed in the 1960s.
Friends, it's us! The problem is us! We call the nation to repentance today. Repent America! ... America, repent of Harry Potter! America, repent of How to Train Your Dragon! America, repent that Dumbledore emerged as a homosexual mentor for Harry Potter, that Hiccup's mentor in How to Train Your Dragon emerged as a homosexual himself in order that history might repeat itself one more time, in order that little six and seven, eight year-olds might stumble, in order that tens of millions of parents, it would be better for them that a millstone be hanged around their neck and they'd be drowned at the bottom of the sea, in order that there would be so many people stumbling so many children in public schools, in movie theaters, in homes, in which children are raised to be stumbled by the Dumbledores and the mentors of Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon!
My friends, AMERICA NEEDS TO REPENT! AMERICA NEEDS TO REPENT of her culture! America needs to repent. Country music stations need to repent of playing the song "Follow Your Arrow" ... THESE RADIO STATIONS NEED TO REPENT OR THEY WILL BE DAMNED BY THE ALMIGHTY, BY GOD HIMSELF!"
In a particularly offensive excerpt captured by Right Wing Watch, Swanson argued that the Bible commands death for the "sin" of homosexuality. It was not the first time Swanson has made such a statement.
"There are instances in which both the Old Testament and the New Testament speak to the matter with unbelievable clarity, and friends--and this is the highest level, the very highest level of clarity, where the word of God has spoken. Both Old Testament and New Testament. Ought not to be any debate whatsoever about it, and you know what that sin is. It's the sin of homosexuality. Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy I think it's chapter 4, and of course Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20. The word of God speaks there, both, and in fact, [in] Romans 1, Paul affirms that this particular sin is worthy of death, in Romans 1. So, granted, there are varying levels of clarity/relevance relating to ethics, but still, the Old Testament and New Testament I believe both speak with authority, and we ought to receive it."
With regards to whether the U.S. should execute LGBTQ persons, Swanson was evasive. In one Right Wing Watch clip, he argued that mass repentance for sexual "sins" (homosexuality, adultery, divorce, and porn consumption) was of far greater urgency.
"Yes, Leviticus 20:13 calls for the death penalty for homosexuals. 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 JESUS CHRIST! And I am not ashamed of the truth of the word of God, and I AM WILLING TO GO TO JAIL for standing on the truth on the word of God! And I know I've taken the counsel. Many have told me this weekend, 'You be careful. You choose your words carefully. We have presidentials coming down to this conference this weekend.' I understand that, but I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE TRUTH OF THE WORD OF GOD, and I'm willing to go to jail for it.
Then they ask me, 'Yes, but do you advocate for our civil leaders to do this today?' And my answer is no. But why? Here's why. Because that's not such a big deal. We are not to fear those who can kill the body. Yea, Jesus says fear rather the one who can cast body and soul in hell forever.
The discussion concerning the capital punishment of homosexuals is nothing, is not all that important when contrasted with hellfire forever. You say why wouldn't you call for it? I say it's because we need some time for homosexuals to repent. That's why ...
There is not much difference between adultery and homosexuality as conveyed by the word of God. There's not much difference between adultery and divorcees who themselves have committed adultery by illegitimate divorce or remarriage. There is hardly any difference. They need TIME TO REPENT, DO YOU UNDERSTAND? AMERICA NEEDS TIME TO REPENT! YOU SAY, WHY DON'T YOU CALL FOR IT? AMERICA NEEDS TIME TO REPENT of their homosexuality, their adultery, and their porn addictions, and I'm speaking of 80% of young men who, according to Barna research last year, have confessed to a porn addiction, to at least weekly or monthly involvement in pornography, an addiction that, my friends, constitutes such a porneia that as I see it, they are not qualified to even marry.
America's steeped in a destructive form of sexuality, and friends, THEY'RE BOUND FOR HELL! DO YOU UNDERSTAND? It's not so much an issue of the death penalty; it's an issue of God's judgment that's hanging upon this nation today."Swanson's howling, his palpable fear and rage, his paranoia about being incarcerated, and his ongoing obsession with sexual "sins" all made me squirm. This was not a pundit making outlandish statements just to score political points; this was a man seized with terror, loathing, and morbid obsessions. Something is very, very wrong with this man, I thought as I watched him scream.
Swanson's statements bring the madness of the Religious Right into sharper focus. Screaming aside, his dismay at the state of the world echoes the Religious Right's dismay at 21st century life. People who cling to patriarchy, heteronormativity, and Christian hegemony now find themselves disoriented as women, LGBTQ people, and religious minorities assert their rights. Their disorientation gives way to anger and fear as they find themselves unable or unwilling to adapt to the new world.
And so Swanson and his ilk lash out. They lash out at women who exercise their reproductive rights. They lash out at LGBTQ people, demonizing them as worthy of death. They lash out at church-state separation, wailing about "religious persecution" as they persecute others. As their hegemony weakens, their rhetoric becomes more fevered and outrageous.
Swanson's rants at Freedom 2015 magnified what we've know about the Religious Right for years: they're angry, they're hateful, and they're disconnected from reality. We must counteract the Religious Right's efforts, especially in the political realm, for that reason.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Towleroad: ‘Kill the Gays’ Pastor Says ‘We Are Messed Up’, Proves It with Epic Meltdown
Jezebel: Spitting and Sweating, Anti-Gay Pastor Kevin Swanson Welcomes Huckabee and Jindal to Weird, Weird Conference
The New Civil Rights Movement: Christian Pastor Says Gays 'Worthy Of Death' At Conference With 3 GOP Presidential Candidates
The Frisky: What If Bernie And Hillary Spoke At An Event With People Who Wanted To Kill Christians?