American ISIS articulated

November 18th, 2015

Last week’s terrorist attacks by ISIS in Paris reminded us how dangerous faith can be in the wrong hands. So why would Republican primary presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal attend the so-called religious liberty conference hosted in Des Moines, Iowa by extreme fundamentalist Pastor Kevin Swanson earlier this month?

Swanson advocates that gays — and apparently adulterers, people who look at pornography and divorcees — one day should be put to death for inciting God’s wrath. He doesn’t pull this position out of thin air. Leviticus 20:13 says in the New Living Translation that men caught having sex with men have committed “a capital offense” and should be “put to death.”

Leviticus 20 also demands the death penalty for disrespectful children, adulterers, and men who have sex with their father’s wife, their own daughter-in-law, or a woman and her mother — along with the women in each case. It also requires anyone who practices bestiality to be put to death, along with the victimized animals. The death penalty is also demanded for those who claim to talk to the dead or allow the dead to speak through them.

I’ve not read that Swanson advocates that disrespectful children be put to death. But he did say that it would be better for children who read Harry Potter if their parents hang “a millstone … around their neck and they be drowned at the bottom of the sea.”

Why? Because the Harry Potter series features a prominent gay character.

Swanson’s blind biblical literalism is frightening and dangerous. And while he’s not a killer or terrorist, it makes his thought process no different than ISIS and other extremists whose interpretation of holy books glorifies killing in the name of God.

ISIS uses medieval Quranic interpretations according to Graeme Wood, the author of a lengthy piece in The Atlantic earlier this year. Karen Armstrong, in her best-selling book "The Battle for God," goes further and points to fundamentalism as the toxin infecting extreme factions of the Abrahamic faiths.

She describes it as an “embattled” type of spirituality that is “a response to a perceived crisis … a cosmic war between the forces of good and evil.” Fundamentalists fear annihilation and contamination, Armstrong writes, so they “create an ideology that provides the faithful with a plan of action. Eventually they fight back and attempt to resacralize an increasingly skeptical world.”

Do Cruz, Huckabee and Jindal believe that gays (a perceived crisis) should be exterminated (a plan of action) one day as Swanson does? If not, then why haven’t they denounced his beliefs?

Cruz, Huckabee and Jindal don’t need to become gay rights or same-sex marriage supporters in order to separate themselves from Swanson. But if they don’t denounce his views, sharing the stage with him at his recent conference sends a disturbing message about what their views may actually be.

If these religious Republicans actually do sympathize with Swanson’s death-to-gays theology, they won’t find much support among voters. Even though the majority of Christians in our nation still affiliate with denominations that oppose same-sex marriage, polling shows that a sizable number of individual believers now support marriage equality.

But even among those who don’t, only an extreme few actually believe that Leviticus 20 commands that gays one day must be executed to assuage an angry, vengeful God.

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