The Scary Religious Ideology Behind Michele Bachmann's Anti-Gay Crusade

People who don't like LGBT people often cite a range of reasons for their disdain. Take GOP presidential contender Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and her husband, Marcus. Gay people are "barbarians," Marcus Bachmann told a radio interviewer for a Christian program last year. LGBT people practice "sexual anarchy," Michele Bachmann told a conference of Minnesota educators in 2004, and could wind up recruiting 8-year-old boys to their way of life if openly gay teachers are permitted in the classroom.

And then there's the Bible, which calls for the death penalty for men who have sex with each other. While Bachmann has never made that call herself, her religious views appear to be heavily influenced by a theological strain known as Christian Reconstructionism, which in matters of sexuality and gender relations places great emphasis on the draconian law of the Old Testament Book of Leviticus.

Writing for Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner this week exposed the Reconstructionist roots of the law school Bachmann attended at Oral Roberts University. The language and theory of Christian Reconstructionism turns up frequently in Bachmann's speeches.

In the 1970s, as Posner tells it, Oral Roberts University, founded by the famous Pentecostal faith healer, wanted to launch a law school, but at that time, no real model existed for such a school of jurisprudence designed to serve an evangelical student body. Roberts brought in Harvard Law School graduate Herb Titus, a student of the work of John Rousas Rushdoony, the father of Christian Reconstructionism, to build the law school's program.

Titus would go on to become the 1996 presidential candidate for Howard Phillips’ Constitution Party (then called the U.S. Taxpayers Party). Despite its secular-sounding name, the party's mission was, according to Posner, “restor[ing] American jurisprudence to its biblical foundations and limit[ing] the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries.”

That merging of ideas and sensibilities -- the expressive Pentacostal with the stern and austere Reconstructionist -- was truly radical at the time. To the liberal mind, all Christian evangelism tends to look the same. But it wasn’t until politics mandated a union of convenience that one would find the likes of Herb Titus, or, for that matter, the fundamentalist Baptist Jerry Falwell and the charismatic dominionist Pat Robertson, playing on the same team.

The logic in bringing Titus to ORU was likely this: Pentacostalism, though rooted in Christian theology, has more emphasis on the spiritual expression of the divine through the human body than on codification. Yes, the mores are conservative and gender-bound, but Pentacostalism is about the visceral experience of the power of that conservative, male God as a transformative force. Christian Reconstructionism is based on a text, the Institutes of Biblical Law, that reads like one long legal and philosophical argument for the law of the ancient Hebrew Bible.

If you listen closely to the rhetoric of both Michele and Marcus Bachmann, particularly on the subject of “homosexuality,” you find the Reconstructionist worldview in their word choices. Marcus Bachmann’s use of the term “barbaric” to describe gay people comes from the Reconstructionist notion that societies that permit practices -- especially sexual practices -- that are proscribed by the Bible are inherently pagan. John Rushdoony did not allow for the absence of religion or a secular society: whatever law governed a society, he writes in Institutes of Biblical Law, constituted its “religion.” Because homosexuality was practiced in pre-Christian, non-Jewish societies, those who practice it today are inherently “pagan.” For images of such pagan societies, Rushdoony turns to those cultures that truly had barbaric practices, such as the Romans.

Michele Bachmann’s assertion that LGBT people have fallen into “sexual anarchy” also echoes Rushdoony, who writes of homosexuality as an act of “sexual chaos,” included in a list that includes bestiality, incest and “general depradation.” Worse than that, Rushdoony asserts, homosexuality is a corrupt “theology,” because, he writes, it promotes “war against God.” When Michele Bachmann told attendees of the 2004 National Education Conference that to use the the word “gay” to describe homosexuality is “part of Satan,” she’s invoking the story of that ultimate war against God -- that waged by Lucifer, the fallen angel.

Her sense of urgency about pushing gay culture to the margins, as evidenced in her comments about the dangers of allowing gay teachers near children, is expressed in sterner terms by Rushdoony, who writes, “Because of the extensive control by homosexuals over fashions and publications, the mind and appearance of Western countries have been radically infected by the parasitic homosexual culture.” That culture, in Rushdoony’s terms -- and the minds of many evangelicals who have been influenced by his writings -- is waging and actual spiritual war on God -- just as Lucifer did.

As the week unfolded for Bachmann, scrutiny turned to the Christian counseling business of her husband, Marcus, who holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Union Graduate Institute, and a master’s degree in education and counseling from Rev. Pat Robertson’s Regent University, and his practice of “ex-gay” or so-called “reparative” therapy: a discredited practice whereby counselors work with clients to turn them from gay to straight. (Pat Robertson’s dominionist theology is also informed by Christian Reconstructionism.) Marcus Bachmann at first denied that his counseling practice employed such therapy, but then admitted to it when John Becker of the LGBT-rights group Truth Wins Out proved as much with his undercover investigation. At the same time, the Nation published an expose by Mariah Blake based on the story of a young man who says that, when he was a teenager, his parents took him to Bachmann’s clinic for just such “therapy.”

Marcus Bachmann obviously knew that exposure of his practice’s use of “ex-gay” therapy would play badly for him, and it does not seem to form the bulk of his practice. So, why take the risk? Well, if you live to please a stern and unforgiving God, and believe that war is being made against that God by gay people as they practice their gayness, you might think yourself a hero for taking the chance.

A long section of Bachmann’s remarks to that conference are devoted to detailing the many ways in which gay culture has become mainstreamed, evincing strong echoes of Rushdoony’s complaint against the “infection” of Western culture with “homosexual” ways.

In her talk to the National Education Conference, Michele Bachmann, who has long been a critic of public schools, complained of the attention given the murder of Matthew Shepard, who was killed in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998, for being gay. She compared Shepard's murder to that of a 13-year-old boy, Jesse Dirkhising, who was sexually abused and murdered in 1999 by two adult male pedophiles -- friends of his parents -- who were also lovers. Bachmann complained that the Dirkhising case had not received the same level of attention as the Shepard lynching “because Jesse did not serve the purpose of those sympathetic to homosexuality.”

In Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law, he asserts that other anti-gay psychological theories are mistaken in their assumption that homosexuality is a form of immaturity and arrested development. No way, he claims, “deliberate and mature warfare against God marks the homosexual.”

“God’s penalty is death,” he continues, “and a godly order will enforce it.”

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