July-August 2020 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, a vocal Christian nationalist opponent of LGBTQ rights, died May 29 at age 85.

Sheldon founded a group called the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) in 1984. Although the organization initially focused its activity in California, where Sheldon lived for several years, it soon expanded its activities nationwide.

Sheldon was among the most extreme anti-LGBTQ leaders to emerge in the 1980s. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which considered TVC a hate group, wrote of him, “His anti-LGBT rhetoric – calling homosexuality a ‘deathstyle;’ claiming child molestation is the real ‘homosexual agenda;’ suggesting AIDS victims should be forced into leper-like colonies – pushed TVC to the forefront of the battle against equal rights in the 1990s.”

Although Sheldon was known primarily for attacking gay rights, he did occasionally venture into other Christian nationalist themes. In a fund-raising letter from 2008, he asserted that secular humanists were taking over the country and blasted the Supreme Court for endorsing the “perverted doctrine of ‘separation of church and state.’” In later years, he also took to attacking Islam.

Sheldon was never as prominent as other Religious Right leaders, and his star dimmed even further in 2005 when it was revealed he had helped controversial lobbyist Jack Abramoff expand the reach of legal gambling in the United States.

Sheldon was unapologetic about the affair, remarking, “Politics makes strange bedfellows. The devil had that money long enough. It was about time we got our hands on it.”

In 2007, Sheldon formed a side project called the Christian Seniors Association, a group that claimed it would “protect” Social Security. In fact, the organization, headed by Jim Lafferty, the husband of Sheldon’s daughter Andrea, was simply funneling donations to TVC to do its anti-LGBTQ work.

A mailing from the group was designed to look like a government document, with “U.S. Taxpayer Census” written across the envelope. It even included a “Census Document” number and warnings stating, “Do Not Tamper. Reply Within 5 days.”

As his heath declined, Sheldon turned TVC over to Andrea Sheldon. But the two disagreed about how to run the organization, lawsuits were filed and TVC went into decline. It now appears to be much diminished or perhaps non-existent. The most recent financial figures available are from 2017; the group no longer has a website, and its Twitter account has not been updated since 2016.

At the height of its influence, TVC claimed to represent 44,000 churches, but that figure was always disputed.