Television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart apologized for saying that he would kill a gay man who looked at him romantically, after the comment prompted a viewer complaint in Canada and reaction from gay-rights groups.
"I get amazed at these politicians dancing around this—I'm trying to find the correct name for it--this utter absolute, asinine, idiotic stupidity of men marrying men," Swaggart said in a broadcast of his Sept. 12 sermon on Canadian TV. "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."
An Ottawa viewer who heard the comment while channel surfing complained to both the Toronto station airing the program and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. An official at the Omni 1 station called the comment "a serious breach" of broadcasting regulations and said the station's manager was reviewing a tape, according to news reports.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune on Wednesday quoted Swaggart as saying it was a tongue-in-cheek statement that he regretted. "All of us have made statements we wish we hadn't made. That was one for me," Swaggart said.
Homosexual-rights groups said such language encourages violence against gays. Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called on opponents of gay marriage, including the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land, to denounce anti-gay violence and specifically repudiate Swaggart's comment.
Foreman's call came on the heels of a third "Battle for Marriage" simulcast to rally support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the United States. Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was among speakers at the event originating at First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark. Land called the debate over gay marriage a "fork in the road," which depending on the outcome could lead to the "quick, rapid demise of our civilization," according to Baptist Press.
Other speakers included Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Dobson cautioned supporters of the amendment to be civil in their debate with the other side. "We can't introduce them to Christ if we're calling them names," he said. "That's not our purpose. We are not hateful people, but we profoundly disagree with their agenda and their theology."
In his comments blasting gay marriage, Swaggart continued: "In case anybody doesn't know, God calls it an abomination. It's an abomination. It's an abomination."
"I'm not knocking the poor homosexual," Swaggart said. "They need salvation just like anybody else. I'm knocking our pitiful, pathetic lawmakers. And I thank God that President Bush has stated we need a constitutional amendment stating that marriage is between a man and a woman."
Swaggart said he was using the word kill casually as a figure of speech. "I've said it about other people, including other preachers," he told the Louisiana newspaper. He said it would take a stretch of imagination to view it as encouraging violence against gays and lesbians.
Laura Montgomery Rutt, director of communications for the ecumenical gay-rights group Soulforce, said Swaggart's quote is typical of "spiritual violence, misinformation and hate speech" perpetuated by many religious leaders against gays. She called on religious right leaders to condemn any comments "that may incite violence and use religion as a tool to perpetuate fear rather than a tool for unity love and respect for all God's children."
Swaggart was once one of America's leading televangelists before losing credibility after it was revealed in 1987 that he regularly visited a prostitute. That prompted a famous tearful televised confession of sin.
He was defrocked by the Assemblies of God for refusing to submit to a recommendation that he abstain from preaching for a year and enter a rehabilitation program. He returned to the pulpit as an independent minister, decreasing his airtime and devoting attention to international ministries.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.