This past weekend’s National Religious Liberty Conference in Iowa has been getting national news coverage for the completely unhinged anti-gay statements of its organizer, Colorado pastor Kevin Swanson, including his warning that God will judge America because Dumbledore from the “Harry Potter” series is a “homosexual” and his truly remarkable recommendation of what to do if your gay child invites you to their wedding.
These diatribes against homosexuality at the summit, which was attended by three Republican presidential candidates, went hand-in-hand with calls to roll back women’s rights to use contraceptives, with both birth control access and gay rights seen as threats to the family and liberty.
As we noted before the summit, a number of speakers had ties to the “biblical patriarchy” or Quiverfull movement, which rejects birth control as part of a vision in which Christian families return to traditional gender roles in order to bear and raise as many children as possible. Although the Quiverfull movement is often dismissed as a fringe ideology espoused by people like the Duggar family, some of its anti-contraception ideology has worked its way into more “mainstream” right-wing advocacy.
Swanson said as much in his closing speech at the Iowa conference, claiming that while the Quiverfull movement has experienced more “persecution” than anyone in the history of America, its ideas are now taking hold in the wider Religious Right.
“It’s interesting, some of the greatest preachers in America are effectively saying contraception was a problem from the beginning,” he said, specifically citing Southern Baptist theologian Al Mohler and well-known pastor John MacArthur. “And they’re joining ranks with a fair number of those who used to be in the full quiver movement, who, by the way, have received so much persecution. I have never seen anybody receive such persecution, at least in this country, as the full quiver folks. And they didn’t always have their theology right, but now major theologians in America are saying, ‘I think we had a problem in these areas.’’
Conservatives are beginning to realize, Swanson said, that the wide availability and use of contraception is what led to marriage equality throughout the country.
“Why homosexual marriage?” he asked. “Well, 50 years of Playboy and Penthouse, pornography, illegitimate divorces and contraception.”
Elsewhere in his speech, Swanson seemed to equate hormonal contraceptives with abortion-causing drugs (a key part of the Right’s current anti-birth control strategy), claiming that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, who secured a grant that led to the development of the birth control pill, was responsible for the “murder” of “billions of little babies thanks to the technology she developed in the 1960s.”
He seemed to make the same argument when he blasted the “tens of millions of sometimes Christian women” who use “abortifacients” that create a “hazardous condition” in “that birth canal up into that womb” — an apparent reference to hormonal birth control rather than to abortion-causing drugs.
“If they have created a hazardous condition, exactly what the lex talionis brings out,” he said, “then God most certainly knows that somehow a snake pit’s been put in that womb.”
This is in line with statements that Swanson has made in the past. In 2013, after filming an interview for an anti-contraception documentary — copies of which were distributed at last week's summit — Swanson claimed that women on the pill have turned their wombs into “graveyards for lots and lots of little babies.”
Extreme as he is, even Swanson isn’t on board with the full Quiverfull agenda, writing in a blog post last year that although he agrees with the principle of men being the head of the family, he wouldn’t go as far as stopping women from taking college classes, going on mission trips or holding elected office.
But the Quiverfull ideology’s rejection of birth control as a social ill and its conflation of birth control and abortion isn’t just taking hold among extreme activists like Swanson — it’s increasingly becoming the norm in the wider Religious Right.