In an effort to court primary voters in the first-in-the-nation nominating state, Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal are all scheduled to speak Friday at the National Religious Liberties Conference — an evangelical confab in Des Moines, Iowa, that has attracted some negative attention for the extreme views of its director, Pastor Kevin Swanson.
As the host of the “Generations Radio” program, Swanson has praised a Ugandan law that carried lifelong prison sentences for so-called “aggravated homosexuality;” suggested flooding and wildfires in Colorado were linked to a photographed kiss between a gay lawmaker and his partner; and, most recently, argued that HIV/AIDS could be both “God’s retribution” for homosexuality and “God’s kindness.”
He has most often been in the spotlight, however, for repeatedly referencing Biblical passages that instruct gay people be put to death.
To better clarify those views, MSNBC caught up with Swanson a day before the National Religious Liberties Conference was set to begin. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that phone interview:
MSNBC’s Emma Margolin: What are you hoping to get out of this weekend’s conference?
Pastor Kevin Swanson: We’re hoping that people will have a renewed respect for freedom and appreciation for freedom and understand what freedom is. We seek candidates that will be more likely to defend freedom.
EM: How do you define freedom?
KS: I would define freedom as the freedom to life, liberty, and property. The right to own property, use property, control property without government confiscation and excessive regulation.
EM: You’ve received some negative attention this week in the lead-up to conference for certain things you’ve said on your radio program, particularly your views on homosexuality. I saw a few reports saying that you believe homosexuality should be punishable by death — is that your honest belief?
KS: I would not recommend that politicians seek the death penalty for homosexuality. But at same time, I don’t think governments should commend that behavior.
EM: Do you believe homosexuality should be a crime, if not one that is punishable by death?
KS: It depends. I would recommend a severe penalty for sodomizing a 12-year-old boy, for example.
EM: What about two consenting adults?
KS: My position right now is that government should not be commending that behavior. That would include, that involves, same-sex marriage.
EM: What about suggestions you’ve made that HIV/AIDS is both an act of retribution and an act of God’s mercy, or that a photographed kiss between a gay Colorado lawmaker and his partner were linked to wildfires and flooding in the state that year? It seems like you’re blaming disease and natural disasters on homosexuality. Is that correct?
KS: I do not draw one-to-one correlations between specific acts of God, such as fires and things, and specific sins. I’m pretty careful not to do that. However, I think we can ask that question. Is there a link? And I’ve done that a couple times — asked could it be, is it possible that there is a connection between sins of a nation and the acts of God that come in the form of natural disasters? And the answer is yes, it’s possible. I believe there is a God and I believe He judges nations for sins as defined by His law, not defined by man’s laws.
EM: Do you expect all of the three presidential candidates speaking at this conference to support your views and try to implement them as policy if they make it to the White House? In other words, do you want the next president to endorse some sort of proposal that would frown on homosexuality or make it a crime?
KS: I want our leaders to fear God and respect His commandments. How that works out in specific policies I understand will be different. But as somebody voting for a candidate, I’m looking for a guy who will fear God and keep his commandments.
EM: What about the Establishment Clause in the Constitution and separation of church and state? Wouldn’t policies based off what the Old Testament instructs be a violation of the First Amendment?
KS: There are some candidates that will not respect the commandment, “Thou shalt not murder,” and other candidates that will respect that commandment. I prefer the candidate that respects the commandment, “Thou shalt not murder.”
EM: Which candidate doesn’t respect the commandment, “Thou shalt not murder?”
KS: I’m not in the position to talk about individuals.
EM: Have you decided which candidate you’ll be voting for?
KS: I haven’t decided.
EM: What is the main piece of policy you’re looking for from the next president?
KS: I think it would probably be the restriction of funds toward abortion providers or organizations that provide abortions like Planned Parenthood.