Jimmy Swaggart and the hairy swamp monkey

Ferriday_trio_1Jimmy Swaggart has apologized, in the classic “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” style, for saying about gay men, “If one ever looks at me like that, I’m going to kill him and tell God he died.”

The Associated Press reported:

On Wednesday, Swaggart said he has jokingly used the expression “killing someone and telling God he died” thousands of times, about all sorts of people. He said the expression is figurative and not meant to harm.

“It’s a humorous statement that doesn’t mean anything. You can’t lie to God — it’s ridiculous,” Swaggart told The Associated Press. “If it’s an insult, I certainly didn’t think it was, but if they are offended, then I certainly offer an apology.”

Swaggart’s telling the truth about his history of overheated language. Swaggart recorded many teaching LPs in the early 1970s, including two that are still occasionally available through eBay: The Plague and The Ring of Fire.

On these records, Swaggart holds forth on Vietnam, the anti-war movement, movies, Madison Avenue, rock & roll and the prodigal ways of his cousin Jerry Lee Lewis. Two moments on The Ring of Fire stand out:

Swaggart on The Beatles

You boys and girls that have Beatle records at home, this is the most rotten, dirty, damnable, filthy, putrid filth that this nation or the world has ever known. And you parents that would allow this filth to be in your home, you ought to be taken out somewhere and horsewhipped, you hear me. And I mean it, my friend.

Swaggart on sex ed

I saw pictures the other day of what they’re wanting to show our kids. And I want to tell you, if I ever hear of one teacher that shows my boy that filth, I’m going to get in my car and go to that school and pull off my coat, and when I get through with him, his face is going to be rearranged.

But let’s get back to Swaggart’s words of this year. As Ted Olsen of Christianity Today’s Weblog wrote earlier this week, “One might think that someone who has publicly experienced brokenness in his sexuality might be a bit more careful in his words. In this line of thinking, wouldn’t the prostitute that Swaggart hired have been justified in killing him?”

One might think it indeed. But Swaggart’s national humiliation in the late 1980s hasn’t stopped him from offering his insights on “Spiritual Adultery” (“It’s a sobering thought to realize that most Christians don’t understand the Cross, and despite all their efforts otherwise, are consequently living in spiritual adultery”) and “Catholicism and Pedophilia” (“On this CD, we tell you why the problem is rampant in the Catholic Church. We also give you the Biblical cure”).

No writer has better captured Jimmy Swaggart than Steve Chapple did in the July/August 1986 issue of Mother Jones (alas, I cannot find it online). Remember, this is before Marvin Gorman’s son released the notorious photos of Swaggart entering and leaving a motel room with a prostitute. Chapple, author of Burning Desires and several other books, understood Swaggart’s conflicts with sex long before any other journalist. Chapple indulges some of the habits of judgment that normally earn a writer a place in our Creeping Fundamentalism category, but he does so with a flourish that makes him a pleasure to read.

Consider these paragraphs, and remember the strange days when Pat Robertson was running for president:

I talk to two well-dressed women in rayon blouses, high collars, full bras, severely pulled back hair, and the requisite long skirts. They refuse to give me their names. One is the ex-manager of a modeling agency. “Jimmy Swaggart tells it like it is,” she says. “Other ministers try to be proper. He feels the fire.”

We’re onto something here. Like so many things in the Jimmy Swaggart story, this is a case of having your cake and eating it too. Jimmy Lee gets to play the rock star and sing for the Lord at the same time. He is a minister of the Gospel yet is allowed to go cat-[expletive] with his Louisiana mouth.

“I hate — hate — those droning old mausoleum churches! They’d kill a dead man in a graveyard at midnight!” growled Jimmy Lee during last week’s television crusade.

Can you imagine a minister of the Unitarian/Episcopalian/Catholic/Reformed Jewish faith talking like that? And Swaggart stands apart too from the other major TV evangelists — Robert Schuller, Pat Robertson, Tammy and Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell — slimy, unctuous poseurs all, if we may be frank, so patently false they would cause a stuffed dog to bark out.

To the big media — Time, the networks, The New Republic,and so on — Jerry Falwell and now Pat Robertson, since Robertson is running for the Republican presidential nomination and has been discovered to have a former U.S. senator for a father, seem more appropriate targets of coverage than Jimmy Lee. This is partly because the U.S. media rarely understand anything west of Riverside Drive or east of La Cienega Boulevard and partly because these secular humanists have, shall we say, a distant relationship with Christ. Yet it’s Jimmy Lee the American people, God help us, really seem to juice for. Jimmy Lee is more than a marshaler of conservative votes and a denigrator of issues liberals hold dear.

Jimmy Lee lives movies like Poltergiest and The Exorcist. Jimmy Lee has beaten back the Devil/Bear/Beast in the middle of the night. Jimmy Lee Swaggart understands the hairy swamp monkey of fear and desire that is the American subconscious, because Jimmy Lee feels the fire.

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  • http://www.wildfaith.com Darrell Grizzle

    From what I have read on the internet about this story, it is possible that Canada may press charges against the TV stations that carried his program in Canada, for violating their hate speech laws. I don’t think they would have any jurisdiction over Swaggart himself, and I can’t see the USA extraditing him to Canada to face such charges.

    It’s obvious from reading Swaggart’s “apology” that it was even less sincere than Dan Rather’s apology earlier this week.

    As a gay Christian (one of them liberal Episcopalians) I am not angered or outraged by Swaggart’s remarks, only saddened. I remember going to a Jimmy Swaggart crusade in the 1980′s, when his audience filled up the huge Omni stadium in Atlanta. Now, looking at his TV show, it looks like he has trouble filling up his own TV studio.


  • http://www.wildfaith.com Darrell Grizzle

    Here’s another excellent line from Christianity Today’s weblog story on Swaggart:

    “Homophobia might be a word thrown about too carelessly by the left, but remarks like Swaggart’s are why the word exists in the first place.”

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    For those who follow Joe’s welcome TrackBack: Anyone who thinks I feel any sympathy for Jimmy Swaggart’s bizarre comments has not understood my post. One needn’t respond to hysterical language with hysterical language to make a point. I prefer to use humor and irony.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/weblog.htm Joe Perez

    Hi Doug. I don’t think your post is sympathetic to Swaggart, just not particularly effective or clear in its criticism. That’s why I called it “vaguely dismissive” and “wishy-washy.” But my real beef isn’t so much with the language of this post, as with the sick theology (implicit in your commentary, explicit in Olsen’s commentary) which underlies the tepid, lukewarm response.

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    Please elaborate, Joe, on my sick theology. I’d like to be sure you’re reaching this conclusion based on what I actually believe.

    Regarding what I took to be your implication that I sympathized with Swaggart’s remarks, I think I understated the case. I quote from your post:

    {The vile theology of heterosexist supremacy may have lost favor among the majority of thinking people in America today, but its dangerous ideology still holds sway in journalistic backwaters such as Christianity Today and GetReligion. Let’s be blunt and plain: For these religionists, no comment is so vile, prejudiced or stupid as to be automatically justified with two little magic words: “Biblically speaking…”}

    I didn’t use the phrase “‘Biblically speaking,” and I didn’t quote it from my friend Ted Olsen’s post. I made no effort to justify Swaggart’s remarks. I suppose it was your use of the catch-all phrases “For these religionists” and “automatically justified” that threw me.

  • http://benedictionblogson.com Bene Diction

    A complaint(s) was received by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (a self-regulatory group) about Swaggarts remarks.

    The show aired on Omni One (Rogers cable-based in Toronto, Ontario).

    The station runs on Rogers Cable and I think ExpressVu in parts of Ontario and Quebe.


    Omni One is required by the CBSC to respond to the complaintant, the station issued a public apology.


    I haven’t seen anything about the CRTC or law enforcement becoming involved, the remarks probably fall under Canadian federal and provincial hate speech law.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/weblog.htm Joe Perez

    Sure Doug. The sick theology to which I refer is the position of heterosexism, or “heterosexual supremacy” as I sometimes call it, which includes a belief in the innate superiority of heterosexuality over homosexuality, and typically includes as its inevitable correlates moralistic denunciations of homosexual sex as “intrinsically disordered,” etc. In short, it is the position of the orthodox Roman Catholic institution and most of conservative Christianity. This position is explicit in Olsen’s remarks, which morally equate Swaggart’s ugly remarks with the lovemaking of all homosexual persons, and implicit in your own views, in my opinion. True, you did not use the term “Biblically speaking,” however given what I know of your various conservative-leaning writings on this blog over the past several months, I would find it incredible to believe that I have erred in pegging your position. Your post specifically quoted Olsen’s approvingly, and Olsen’s post morally equated Swaggart’s comments and gay sex acts. You may disagree with my theological assessment of your beliefs, but do you deny belief in the sinfulness of all homosexual acts, or the disordered nature of the homosexual orientation? If so, that would be a pleasant surprise, and I will be most eager to apologize for my misunderstanding.

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    Dear Joe,

    My assumption has always been that it’s possible to cite an article without agreeing with everything in the article (much less without agreeing with your reading of that article).

    Gay people’s lovemaking and Swaggart’s outburst are two very different activities, of course, and I have not compared the two. I did not quote Ted’s comparison of the two. I did not consider the point important. Nor do I believe that comparing the two was my friend Ted’s main point, but otherwise I’ll let Ted defend his own work.

    I think it’s a fair assumption that most readers will understand I’m quoting what specific sentences I consider important, and I needn’t spell out, like a kindergarten teacher, what specific points I affirm or reject in everything I link to. I would find that tedious, and I expect many readers would find it still more tedious.

    Having said that, I readily affirm the position of the church throughout history: Sex apart from the covenant of marriage is sinful. The church teaches this regardless of people’s orientation — so, for instance, heterosexual fornication and heterosexual adultery are sinful.

    I have never used the language of “intrinsically disordered” regarding homosexual orientation. The church’s teaching primarily concerns what behavior is sinful. Much as the “intrinsically disordered” question concerns you, it is not of concern to me.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/weblog.htm Joe Perez

    Doug: Presumably you also hold that marriage should also be limited to one man and one woman, no? Interesting how that belief is deemed not worthy of mentioning in this particular context! Interesting that while you choose not to use the language of “intrinsic disorder,” you uphold the very teleological premises on which the disordered teaching is based (i.e., man and women are oriented towards heterosexual marriage, and therefore sex outside that context including homosexual sex is disordered and therefore sinful). If so, then taking your comments on homosexual sex as a whole, I think it’s clear (to my mind anyways) that I did not error in forming the judgment based on your posts that you are an advocate of a heterosexist ideology. I’m not quite sure why you resist the label. Own your heterosexual supremacy: from your theological standpoint, it’s a virtue. Thanks for the clarification (I think).

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/weblog.htm Joe Perez

    Doug or other interested folks, for clarification on my use of the term “heterosexism” and “heterosexual supremacy” in relation to conservative Christian theology, see http://gayspirituality.typepad.com/blog/2004/09/what_is_heteros.html

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    Dear Joe,

    My primary objection is not to being called a heterosexist, though I typically do not choose pejorative words to describe my beliefs.

    My objection is to your false accusation that Ted Olsen and I in any way sought to “automatically justify” Jimmy Swaggart’s remarks, a point you haven’t seen fit to address, other than by changing the subject to heterosexist supremacy.

    We were both being critical of the man, albeit not critical enough to satisfy you. I’m done with this. You’re welcome to have the final word if you wish.

  • http://www.wildfaith.com Darrell Grizzle

    I would like to add another term to the debate: “Homosexist Isolationism.”

    Definition: An inability to engage in dialogue or civil discourse with anyone outside of one’s homosexist ghetto.

    Primary symptom: An immediate, uncritical dismissal of heterosexuals’ viewpoints by labeling them “sick” or “vile” (or some other pejorative).

    Having discovered this disorder, I will now begin writing a scholarly article on the topic, utilizing relevant quotes from such luminaries as Jacque Lacan, Ken Wilber, and Andy Warhol. I expect the article will be published in The Journal of Postmodern Bullsh*t.


    (queer tongue firmly in cheek)

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/weblog.htm Joe Perez

    Doug: You are right that you and Olsen were both being critical of Swaggart, though not enough to satisfy me. However, I maintain that my initial claim about Olsen’s remarks is not a false accusation.

    I said of such remarks that they “find moral equivalence between the bigot and the target of bigotry, and therein offer an unintentional support or justification for the hatred.” Apparently you disagree with this analysis, or you misunderstand it. Imagine that there is a sniper attacking pedestrians who eat shellfish or wear their hair long, and Olsen had remarked that the sniper’s acts were “Biblically speaking,” just as sinful as the acts of the pedestrians. Such comments are offensive and, yes, based on a sick theology.

    With Olsen, prefacing his comments with “Biblically speaking” does indeed allow him wide latitude to use Swaggart’s remarks to attack homosexuals, by drawing a moral equivalence between Swaggart’s hate and acts of lovemaking by homosexual persons. I own that you did not use the phrase, so while I stand behind everything I said about Olsen, I admit to having drawn your remarks into the fire too quickly. That’s not to say that I am wrong about my analysis of your heterosexist position, but that I would have written the original blog differently and more generously in hindsight.

    Darrell: Looking forward to reading your article, though I think the territory has been well covered. If the Journal of Postmodern Bull**it turns you down, try GetReligion.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/weblog.htm Joe Perez

    I have edited my original post in two locations (so indicated) in response to Doug’s concerns. I did *not* change my claims about Olsen’s remarks, which I stand behind fully.

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