DEATH HEADS

The Christians Who Want To Execute You–And The Republicans Who Court Them

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Ted Cruz & Kevin Swanson

Old habits die hard. If you think that the Christian right has toned down its rhetoric when it comes to LGBT issues, think again. One of the most vicious ideas of the religious right is seeing a revival: the idea that homosexuality should be a capital offense. Moreover, the people promoting it aren’t relegated to the fringe, but are front and center among the leaders that Republican presidential candidates are courting.

Case in point: Kevin Swanson, an Colorado minister who called for the execution of gays and lesbians just this month. He did so at a conference that he organized, citing Leviticus. Then he invited his guests out to ask them some questions: GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal. Cruz later said the “doesn’t know what this gentleman has said and what he hasn’t said,” which beggars belief given the circles that Cruz’s father runs in. It also raises the question: Why the hell doesn’t he know anything about the people with whom he associates?

Swanson isn’t alone in his belief that death is too good for us. At the same conference, Philip Kayser, another religious right figure, was distributing a pamphlet that argued the death penalty was just when it applied to us.

Such sentiments shouldn’t come as a surprise. Earlier this year, a lawyer named Matthew McLaughlin proposed a ballot measure in California that would allow the state to “put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method” and LGBT citizens. McLaughlin was readily dismissed as just one more nut in the plentiful right-wing orchard, but he was merely reflecting a belief that still lingers on among the right wing, even as society rapidly changes.

And then, of course, there has been the religious right’s promotion of anti-gay legislation in Uganda. An earlier version of that bill would have allowed the country to execute gays, which the American ministers fanning the flames of homophobia conveniently dismissed as going to far.

In fact, there’s a strong thread of kill-the-gays belief running through the religious right. One of the chief influences of the modern conservative evangelical movement is Rousas Rushdoony. Rushdoony founded the Christian Reconstructionist movement, which called for the U.S. to follow Biblical law, including executing LGBT people.  The movement remains popular, especially during the GOP primary season. Four years ago, Republicans were tripping all over themselves to court David Barton, who advocates for theocracy.

For the most part, figures like Barton avoid calling for us to be rounded up and exterminated. But the underpinnings of their thinking are rooted in a philosophy that makes such murderous hatred a tenet of faith.

So, just when you think we’ve made some progress, the reminders come along that virulent homophobia has a long half-life. What keeps it going is the wink and the nod that Republican candidates keep giving it. Thanks to Cruz, Huckabee and Jindal, killing gays may be becoming respectable again.

Related: Christian Pastor Thinks Gay Couples Should Be Put To Death On Their Wedding Day