It is crass to use a tragedy to buttress a political point, but it is a common tendency among politicians and theologians alike. While the numerical decline in the SBC can hardly be classified as a tragedy compared to events in Norway, the way that everyone has used the statistics to make their point is an example of this tendency. “Numbers are down so we have to seek new ways to relate to the culture.” “Numbers are down so we have to go back to the traditional ways.” When something bad occurs, we often want to use it make our point. The greater the tragedy, the more tawdry the instinct to make hay from it.
It did not take long after Norway’s unspeakable tragedy last week for some politicians and theologians to marshal the facts to make their political or religious enemies look bad. There seems to have been a concerted attempt to lay this crime at the feet of “Christian Fundamentalism”. Ed Stetzer wrote an article that shows the fundamental flaw in the attempt to identify this man with Christianity and fundamentalism and to present this as a broader indictment on conservatives, the Tea Party and evangelicalism. There are already calls in the press for a crackdown on “right-wing extremism” and “islamophobia.” It is interesting that the same press which has constantly told us that attack after attack by Muslim extremists is actually a diversion from the true Islam – “a religion of peace” – now jumps quickly to paint this tragedy as part and parcel of conservative politics and evangelical faith.
The left-wing media outlets in Europe and the US were very quick to label Anders Behring Breivik as a Christian, though there is little evidence that faith was a motivating factor for what happened. In a video he uploaded to Youtube a few hours before the attacks, he displays anger against Marxism, political correctness and Islam, but gives almost no mention to Christianity, other than as a cultural norm in Europe. The evidence of his Christianity largely flows from his self-identification on Facebook as a Christian and a conservative, according to the Atlantic. There is little in his writings that reveal a religious motivation for his actions. But that has not stopped the media from painting this as an act of religious hate. Stetzer provided a link to an article by “Get Religion” – a site that tries to help the media understand the workings of religion. The article includes this sardonic explanation of the evidence for Breivik’s “Christian Fundamentalism.”
In this lengthy listing (49 pages) of writings the alleged shooter posted to a message board, there’s a paragraph or two devoted to his religious views. We learn that he’s a Protestant (of his own “free will”) who wishes that the Church of Norway would just convert back to Rome, he dislikes priests who wear jeans and support Palestinians, and that he thinks the modern church is dying. We know from other evidence that he is a Free Mason.
Meanwhile, the deputy police chief announced that the shooter was a “Christian fundamentalist” but no one has reported either the evidence for the claim or how the police determined that. Whatever the case, he may be the only Freemason, Rome-leaning, Protestant fundamentalist in the world.
It seems likely that it was prejudice and bias, not facts or evidence, that led to Breivik being branded a “Christian Fundamentalist.” He is a man of evil who did a despicable thing, but his faith had little or nothing to do with it. And there is absolutely no evidence that he is a fundamentalist in whatever faith he has. But that has not stopped politicians and media from branding him. Those few conservative Christians left in Europe will pay the price for this prejudicial assignation.
A New Low from Frank Schaeffer
A particularly vile bit of political opportunism appeared in print within hours of the tragedy. In an article likely to be nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Jumping to Unwarranted Conclusions, Frank Schaeffer wrote, “Christian Jihad? Why We Should Worry About Right-Wing Terror Attacks Like Norway’s in the US.” The article is more about Schaeffer’s disdain for the conservatism of his youth than about anything that happened in Norway. He levels accusations without evidence, makes blatantly false comparisons and engages in exactly the kind of inflated rhetoric for which he chides conservatives.
In 2009, Brievik made this statement.
“Today’s Protestant church is a joke. Priests in jeans who march for Palestine and churches that look like minimalist shopping centres. I am a supporter of an indirect collective conversion of the Protestant church back to the Catholic.”
It is one of his only references to religion in his writings. But from this evidence, Schaeffer makes the following conclusion:
It seems Anders Behring Breivik longed for a “pure” and ultra conservative religion. He was a man of religious conviction, no liberals with their jeans need apply! Liberals beware.
That is a rather large camel to swallow from straining at a small gnat. Because two years ago he made a statement of disgust against the church, Schaeffer deduces that his motivation was the desire for a “pure and ultraconservative religion.” From this wisp of evidence, Schaeffer then makes this ominous deduction.
Norway is just a first taste of what will happen here on a larger scale.
He goes on to tie “religious right extremists” in the US, the Tea Party, the “debt-ceiling fiasco”, and the pro-life movement to Norway’s mass murderer. It seems that each paragraph grows a little more shrill and a little more extreme.
(T)he terror unleashed on Norway – and the terror now unleashed by the Tea Party through Congress as it holds our economy hostage to extremist “economic” theories that want to destroy our ability to function — is the sort of white, Christian; far right terror America can expect more of.
And then, this.
Call this the ultimate “Tea Party” type “answer” to secularism, modernity, and above all our hated government. Call this the Christian Brotherhood. From far right congress people, to far right gun-toting terror in Norway and here at home, our own Western version of the Taliban is on the rise.
Here’s the only problem. There is no evidence that ties Breivik to any of the groups around whose neck Schaeffer wants to hang this tragedy. Shaeffer doesn’t need evidence. His prejudicial disdain for conservative Christianity is all he needs to make wild accusations such as these. The evidence is that Breivik was an angry anti-Muslim who was motivated more by hate than by religion. There is no evidence that religion motivated him. To try to link Breivik to conservative Christianity is a lie based on bias and has little validity.
This kind of tawdry article says more about the author than it does about the topic.
I would make the following points about this tragedy.
1) We need to be careful not to engage in that which we condemn.
When Daniel Wu is accused of sexual assault, it is all too easy for me to say, “See, those Democrats have no morals.” Even if Wu is guilty, he does not represent all Democrats. I think Schaeffer is wrong to infer from one nut in Norway that all Christians are dangerous. I should not infer from one (alleged) sexual assault that all democrats are immoral. I cannot engage in the behavior that I condemn in others.
2) People just don’t understand what Fundamentalism is.
I know that the term “fundamentalism” has some nasty connotations today, but in its basic application it simply means one who holds to the fundamentals of the Christian faith – the authority of God’s Word, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the blood atonement, salvation through Christ alone, the return of Christ to judge the world (sans millennial details at this place). By this classic definition, I am a fundamentalist and so are about 97% of the folks that wander by this site.
There is another connotation of fundamentalism – the “independent, fundamental, King James Only, legalistic, separatistic” brand of Christianity. Few Southern Baptists today actually fit in this category, thought the term is bandied about in debate at times.
I’ll be honest – these fundamentalist groups annoy me. I have trouble maintaining civility when King James Onlyists start in with their circular arguments. And the legalistic self-righteousness and divisiveness of some groups in that movement is offensive. But I have yet to meet an independent fundamental Baptist who was organizing a terror cell. Christian fundamentalists are not terrorists. They may be annoying, but are seldom violent.
What the press calls fundamentalism is really not fundamentalism. It is extremism, and a perversion of faith. I don’t know if the major media outlets are ignorant or willfully deceptive, but they seem unable to distinguish Christian fundamentalism from white supremacist or other political extremist groups. They are certainly violent, but they do not adhere to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
In fact, I suspect that it is not that they cannot see the difference, but that they do not want to. They want to create a continuum between conservative Christian belief and extremist political action. They do not make the distinction because they don’t want to.
The only place where religious fervor has exhibited violence is in the outlying areas of the anti-abortion movement. But there are only small fractions of the pro-life movement that has embraced any form of violence. I’ve never met a conservative Christian who advocates violence against abortion doctors, but I know they do exist. But this is in no way a systemic or widespread phenomenon – certainly not like the liberal elements of the press like to portray it.
For all the flak they take, Fox News’ coverage (at least the part I read) did not join into the anti-Christian-fundamentalist rhetoric of the major left-wing news outlets.
3) Breivik did evil, but that does not mean that everyone who agrees with him will do the same evil.
Here’s where I might get killed in this discussion. As I watched Breivik’s cultural analysis in the video above, I found myself agreeing with him at certain points. I am not saying that I agree with everything he says, but I do think that the political agenda of many in Islam in Europe and the United States is anything but peaceful and harmless. I agree with his disdain for political correctness and its chilling effects on free speech. But just because I agree with this man at some points does not mean that I condone his actions.
That is the root of Shaeffer’s tactic – to say that if two people or groups agree on a political point, that they must share a violent agenda. But if I agree with a few points made by this evil man, that does not mean I agree with all he says, that I approve of his approach, or that I condone his violence.
While I share some of his disdain for liberalism and some of his concern about the spread is Islam in the western world, I condemn his violence. More than that, his response shows a basic lack of understanding of what Christianity is all about. The Early Church grew in a hostile environment, under a government that was hostile and evil. But Paul did not organize a political movement nor did he take up arms against the government. He fought the evil with the greatest weapon he had – the gospel of Jesus Christ which transforms lives.
The job of the church is not first and foremost to straighten out the world’s politics, but to make disciples of all nations. So, even if I see some of the same problems that Breivik saw, I am fundamentally opposed to his solution, to his actions. Christians are called to live in hostile environments for the glory of God. Whether Europe or America, our response is to be the church and to do the work of the church, regardless of what is going on politically. I will vote and I will speak, but the most important work I do is preach God’s Word and lead a church to serve God in Sioux City.
It is a product of weak logic and false comparisons to attempt to link everyone who shares a particular political view to a common approach. Most pro-lifers eschew all violence, even if a minuscule number embrace it. While many conservatives view the government suspiciously, we do not seek to use violence to overthrow it. It is simply lazy journalism and dishonest argument to try to make the comparisons that liberal media outlets and Frank Shaeffer have made.
4) We must be unequivocal in our condemnation of evil.
Even as we clarify the willful or ignorant deceit of the mainline news organizations on this, we must be clear in our denunciation of the acts of this man. God is the author of life and it is an act of hubris and blasphemy to take that right on myself.
Abortion is a most heinous act of evil – the killing of a baby in its mother’s womb. I will not vote for a politician whose morals are so corrupt that he or she believes that such an act is warranted. I will speak against them and vote against them and pray that America sees the evil of that act. But if any man or women who uses violence against an abortionist is as evil as the abortionist.
I have often wondered why Muslim leaders are not more clear in their condemnation of violence and terrorism carried on by Muslims. If someone who names the name of Christ (even if his views are skewed and he does not represent the faith) carries out an act of violence, we must be unequivocal in our condemnation of that act.
Anders Breivik was wrong, evil, sinful. No matter what his political views and his grievances, there is no justification for this act of evil. I do not believe he was a Christian or that religion played any significant role in his actions, but we must make it clear that violence is wrong even if it is in the pursuit of that which I believe.
What has happened should not surprise us. Evil was done and people used that evil to advance their own agendas. It isn’t right, but it isn’t rare either. But our response must be reasoned, seasoned with grace and delivered with kindness.