Jimmy Swaggart, unclear on the Ten Commandments:

Swaggart says this about homosexuals:

I’m trying to find the correct name for it . . . this utter absolute, asinine, idiotic stupidity of men marrying men. . . . I’ve never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I’m gonna be blunt and plain; if one ever looks at me like that, I’m gonna kill him and tell God he died.

The audience laughs and cheers, though when Swaggart is saying the “I’m gonna kill him” part, he sure doesn’t seem to be joking. Andrew Sullivan points to the program, available here; check out the material starting at around 36:00 — I watched it, and the transcript is right. Later, as Andrew says, “Swaggart also claims he has nothing against ‘the poor homosexual,'” except that he seems to think it’s fine to kill them.

There’s apparently talk about the Canadian government trying to punish this, since it was broadcast in Canada. I don’t support that, and I’m quite sure that the First Amendment wouldn’t allow such speech to be punished in the U.S.

But it seems to me that decent Christians ought to condemn this defender of murder, who publicly says that he’d violate the Ten Commandments when someone “looks at [him]” the wrong way, while purporting to preach God’s word and lead Christian congregations. Tell us, at least, that this supposed Christian — who was once one of the nation’s leading evangelists, until he was tripped up by another of the Commandments — doesn’t speak for you.

UPDATE: Sweeney A. (Res Ipsa Loquitur) writes:

Eugene is certainly right that ethical people should condemn [Swaggart’s] words, but one wonder’s about Eugene’s implication that this moral stain is automatically conferred to other Christians until they renounce it. One might say that for a Christian who has heard this comment to consciously refuse to renounce it is a tacit endorsement. That may be true, but the very terms in which Volokh has couched the ultimatum is unfair.

Since advocating murder because a gay man looks at you wrong is an obvious violation of the Christian ethic, why should Christians, qua Christians, feel obligated to renounce the remarks any more than people who share the last name of Swaggart?

For the record, I condemn the remarks, but Volokh’s post was an unfair example of guilt by association.

Christianity is a belief system — not just an involuntary status such as race or ethnicity, but a consciously chosen belief system that is based on certain writings and certain traditions. Historically, Christians have often stressed the importance of those writings, which supposedly provide something of an objective standard of behavior, and of a Christian community, which helps enforce this behavioral standard. In recent decades, many Christians have also tried to downplay denominational differences (say, between Protestants and Catholics), and to stress the common purpose of those who follow Jesus’s teachings.

When someone who is a Christian minister, and still something of a Christian leader, makes a claim about what Christian scriptures mean, it seems to me that those Christians who condemn his views — and condemn them as deeply evil, rather than just subtly or slightly wrong — do have a responsibility to speak out. Though this man calls himself a Christian leader, they should say, his is not the Christianity that we endorse. That, I think, is needed for them (1) to better educate their own children (whom they’ve presumably raised to have at least some respect for Christian leaders), (2) to diminish the chance that their fellow parishioners will be seduced from the righteous path by this Christian leader’s cachet, and (3) to make clearer to the non-Christian world that the Christian mainstream does not endorse this interpretation of Christian scriptures.

That’s not guilt by association: I do not condemn people simply because those who share their religious affiliation advocate bad things. I do expect Christians (or, in analogous situations, Muslims or religious Jews), as people who care about the reputation of Christianity and of the Christian community of belief, to want to tell the world: “True Christianity, as I understand it, doesn’t endorse such atrocities” (and, in particular, doesn’t follow Leviticus 20:13, “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them”). And when people don’t object to what is done in the name of their religion by those who claim to share it — when they don’t express any interest in the religion’s being tainted by the views of those who speak on its behalf — then I do wonder whether those people might in fact agree (or at least not strongly disagree) with those who purport to speak on their religion’s behalf.

As to Swaggart’s actions being “an obvious violation of the Christian ethic” — well, since so little is obvious in religion and in scriptural interpretation, it seems to me that non-Christians would understandably like some assurance from other Christians that this is indeed so. And Christians should try to remind those, like Swaggart and apparently some of his congregation, that they are indeed obviously wrong, and are undermining Christianity’s reputation.

FURTHER UPDATE: I’ve gotten a bunch more messages along the vein of the one I quote in the UPDATE above; but I’m still of the view that I expressed originally.

I’m not asking for anything much — I’m simply saying that Christians should be outraged at Swaggart’s essentially slandering their religion, and should denounce his views, to make clear that his views (though purportedly Christian) are not mainstream Christian views. Swaggart calls himself a Christian; was once a very prominent minister; continues apparently to have some influence; and purports to interpret the Bible. His statements are representations of what Christianity is supposed to be about. I would think that Christians would want to denounce those representations, and the closer they are in denomination to him (e.g., Protestants, evangelical Protestants, etc.), the more they would want to do that.

This is the standard that I use for members of my ideological movement — when Republicans say outrageous things, it seems to me that we Republicans ought to condemn them, to try to redeem the movement’s good name. Careful readers of this blog will notice that I have done this in the past, and that many other Republicans have done it as well. This is one of the responsibilities of being part of an ideological movement, of urging others to join your movement, and of praising the movement as good for society: You need to police your own, or those who purport to be your own. Not an onerous responsibility, or an unreasonable imposition, it seems to me.


Comments are closed.