The Rise of Christian Terrorism: Fear Based Religion

I admit that can be hard on the church from time to time, but this is in part because I believe that we have such a grave responsibility to bear peace and reconciliation to the world. In this way I tend to enjoy people like Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder, Brian McLaren or Tony Campolo, all of which tend to present their particular messages towards the church in order to help “straighten it out.”

This may be very presumptuous of these people to think they have enough clarity to speak to the church, but if so I can accept that. This post is directed at one part of the church that in all fairness makes it hard for me personally to even call “the church” at all.

Over the past few months I’ve seen enough stuff on the news, and read enough blogs about people who are reportedly Christians talking about faith that is fueled and formed by fear, scare tactics, violene and a merciless God. I have found an eye-opening and thoughtful critique on the subject, albeit somewhat angry and difficult to hear. The point is the world is listening to these flagrant Christians who seem more likely to get media attention than its more peaceful counterparts. I suppose their sensationalism does make it more interesting for the Television. I am writing to say, we the rest of the church, are aware and don’t approve of these groups at all.

Some of these Christians are now being referred to as “Christian Terrorists” and I wonder whether this is an accurate description of what’s going on.

A common understanding of terrorism is found over at the wikipedia article on the subject, which says,

“Terrorism refers to a strategy of using violence, or threat of violence targeted against non-combatants to generate fear, cause disruption, and ultimately, to bring about compliance with specific political, religious, ideological, and personal demands.[1] The targets of terrorist attacks typically are not the individuals who are killed, injured, or taken hostage, but rather the societies to which these individuals belong.”

The type of terrorism stated above covers terrorist groups that have attacked the United States, Israel, Lebanon, and England in recent history but may not include some “Christian terrorists.” I think we have to push further on this definition and state that any religion that is based on the rhetoric of fear, and utilizes scare tactics, hate messages, racism, along with using violence to spread their message forcibly on others are acting in a terrorist-type way.

From Wikipedia on Christian Terrorism,

In the United States, arson, firebombing and vandalism of abortion clinics, along with harassment of clinic employees and patrons have been cited as examples of terror tactics employed by anti-abortion extremists. Occasionally the perpetrators have been self-proclaimed Christians.

Eric Rudolph, for example, engaged in terrorist activities closely associated with Christian terrorism, such as the targeting of abortion clinics and the bombing of a gay nightclub; also, Rudolph had been suspected to be associated with the Christian Identity organization. However, Rudolph has himself denied such associations, writing that he “prefers Nietzsche to the Bible” and espouses an Atheistic philosophy.

Many abortion opponents blame these acts of violence on individuals who have little regard for human life and groups which are quite separate from the pro-life movement or any Christian church.

One of the main causes for this post was when I saw this video a while back about a fundamentalist group of people (who call themselves Christians) who send hate messages to its gay communities on their church’s website (known as the Westboro Baptist Church). And Nik, a friend of mine over at Scary Little Monkey, turned my attention to the fact that these so-called Christians were protesting soldiers funerals (see the video above). They attend soldiers funerals carrying signs about God killing soliders because of abortion and homosexuality in America. This group epitomizes terrorist rhetoric, but they are not the only group doing these kinds of hate-filled things.

Not only is what they’re doing hate-filled and insensitive, it drive blantantly against anything the Gospels have to do with. Don’t be fooled by these people, there is nothing Christ-like about this behaviour, and so to lump them into a critique against the whole church is short-sighted and unfair. Especially when their behavior goes as far as to bring emotional and physical violence upon others in the name of God.

Whether they are rightly called Christian terrorists may be debatable, but to an even more pressing question is whether the rest of the church should protest the fact that they’re calling themselves Christian at all.

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

16 thoughts on “The Rise of Christian Terrorism: Fear Based Religion”

  1. I started following the Westboro Baptist website when I was in undergrad, and I am still just as saddened about it now as I was then. I hate seeing the photos of five year old children holding hateful sign to passing cars. I know our God is the best judge of actions, and I know I am far from perfect, but I wonder if I will see these people in heaven, or if they are following a different Christ. Do their actions reflect the fruit of the Spirit, or are they merely fueling hate for a vengeful God they worship and that wants America to be “christian”…at least how they define it to be?

  2. This also makes it very difficult to associate oneself with a “Pro-life” worldview. There are instant judgments made, that being opposed to abortion means one is backward, ignorant, and hateful. Every time I hear people like these, I cringe. “There goes that much more credibility for Christianity.”

    But then I wonder, too: who defines what counts as “hateful” speech? Is it denouncing someone as worthless and evil? Is it saying that someone’s actions are wrong, whether they like to admit so or not? Is it advocating any moral standard that’s not popular with the culture at large? For example, I think we can all get on board and say that the Westboro folks are engaging in “hate speech,” as well as condemning any form of violence (already, though, we are imposing on them a standard that is not universally held). But what about someone saying they believe homosexual practice is wrong? Or abortion? If holding (and voicing, something of a requirement if we are to maintain freedom of expression) an unpopular belief is in itself hateful, that would seem to sound the death-knell for any authentic Christianity–that is, a faith that by definition breaks with any purely human status quo.

  3. Oops, that came out wrong. I meant that we can probably all agree both on condemning violence, and that the Westboro folks’ speech is hateful (even if not legally defined “hate speech”).

  4. Love must be for sissys. Its just way to easy to ignore Luke 6:35
    But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
    I wonder what the opposite of Terrorism is? Is it “Loveism?”

    When Luke writes “do good to them without expecting to get anything back” is this stragey of “Loveism” our strategy of changing society and culture? It sounds a whole lot better then making people afraid.

    I want to follow Lukes instructions. But I don’t know how. I know I can do things little things like let people merge in front of me on the freeway when I know that they drove on the shoulder of the road to get by all the other cars instead of waiting like everyone else.

    I know this sounds silly but how do I actively do good to the people who picket funerals, block women from clinics etc. Do I bring them warm drinks on cold days? Bring them sharpies to make the signs of hate? It doesn’t seem enough to try not to judge them but that I should be more active in doing good toward them. In actually show love to them. How do I do this without enabling them etc? How do I show them how I think a real follower of Christ acts. Forgive the long ramble. This is what makes my head spin.

    /Steve

  5. Wess, I think you’re absolutely right when you say that “whether the rest of the church should protest the fact that they’re calling themselves Christian at all” is an important question.

    I don’t think the answer to the question is at all obvious. For one thing, how is “the rest of the church” to speak? If it speaks the wrong way, it may do more harm than good. Should it speak through the Pope, and through the National Council of Churches of Christ? Those who are critical of Christianity have already discounted the Vatican and the NCCC, so that may not do much good.

    Should it speak, then, through demonstrations in front of places like the Westboro Baptist Church? That would likely only add to the public impression of the church as a habitat for quarrelers, especially as it will almost certainly provoke counter-demonstrations. Should it speak through letters to the editor, which seldom make any impression on anyone at all? Through individual acts of witness? — and, if so, what sort of witness?

    Steve speaks of acts of kindness. I am reminded of Kathryn Watterson’s book, Not By the Sword, about the Nebraska Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan who was disarmed and converted to Judaism in just such a way.

    Much like you, Wess, I make a distinction between “christians” (people who are followers of some “christian” subculture that has little to do with the teachings of the Gospels) and “followers of Christ”. I make that distinction in public when it seems appropriate, but I don’t make a career out of going out of my way to make it. I sense that making a career out of going out of my way to make the distinction would likely not be consistent with the teachings of the Gospels.

    I feel that the more important thing is to live one’s own fidelity to the teachings of the Gospels, as best one can. This puts me in agreement with Steve, I believe.

  6. I sometimes wonder if progressive-type Christians have gotten themselves into a box with the commitment to “inclusiveness.” I remember a few years back a Methodist official called for revoking President Bush’s membership in the UMC, on the grounds that he was violating various Methodist standards of behavior. This led me and a couple other bloggers into a discussion of excommunication and when it’s appropriate. Then the official herself came across us and said, “I didn’t mean excommunicate him! I would never turn anyone away from the communion table!” So I wondered, what does withdrawing his membership mean — he doesn’t get the church newsletter any more? That’s discipline for you!

    I understand why, after all the violence of the Reformation, some Christians are reluctant to say anyone who claims the name of Christian is not the real thing. But it does mean that they’ve kind of lost the theological language to condemn people who are promoting a warped version of the faith. I wonder if one of the challenges for the church today isn’t to reclaim the idea of “heresy” from its associations with burning people at the stake and whatnot.

    Speaking of which, in case you didn’t know the SBC threw out the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church a long time ago. His congregation basically consists of himself and his extended family. Many in the media, however, seem not to realize this, so he comes across as just another Baptist minister.

  7. @ Scott – I know what you’re saying about associating with prolifers. Funny thing is I’ve had conversations who are prochoice people who say “hey I am not anti-life because I am pro-choice.” The other hole in this argument is that these prolifers are usually for supporting the war and the death pentalty. Go figure.

    And you are also correct, it’s not hateful to hold a view point. I certainly don’t mind people who have a point-of-view one way or the other concerning these things, but it’s when it becomes an agent for marking people as in or out based on these things that I think we start down this other road.

  8. @ Steve I understand your point, I am not really sure what love (in terms of doing good) would mean in this instance. But I wonder if love always is interpreted in this manner. I guess I think love allows for “doing good” in a way that involves sometimes slapping the wrist of a child getting ready to touch a hot burner on a stove. I wonder if we would not do better to love the people being protested at these funerals by standing in front of those holding up signs, or by getting more people to show up at those funerals holding signs that point to the real Christ. Is there a way to do good by them, that corrects them? While defending those being hurt by their actions? I hope so.

  9. @ Marshall, thanks for the comment. I am with you, It could be the wrong idea to have counter-protests as I just suggested in the previous comment but I can’t help but feel like we shouldn’t allow these people to have the last word.

    To follow Christ then, for me at least, will include flipping the tables over on this group in one way or another (so I write a blog post – maybe if I lived closer I would do more).

  10. @ Camassia – thanks for giving a little more history about the WBC I knew they weren’t apart of the SBC but didn’t know why.

    I agree that we should be able to point out heresy today, and I am not afraid to say this group appears to be a heretical group. But it is harder today because there isn’t a unified voice within the church like there used to be. I guess maybe by making a stance on something like this we could create some unity within the church of people who say “we are not okay with this.”

    Furthermore removing membership, for groups that use membership like the UMC, is making a very public statement about what is acceptable to this group of believers. Just by saying, “this person is no longer a member,” they make at least their own denomination take a stance on something. This is the UMC trying to have a unified voice over an issue, so I commend them for that.

    It also typically means that person cannot vote or have leadership within that church group, this is also a very serious issue.

    So I the SBC kicking the WBC out of their conference is a way of saying “this is heresy,” now if only the rest of the church would be more vocal about these kinds of things.

  11. I’m going to go out on an unpopular limb here, and question whether the statement “I am not anti-life because I am pro-choice” says anything at all beyond “don’t judge me or my politics.” It seems rather like wordplay avoiding the question. I know, since I’ve said pretty much the same thing before. It skirts the issue entirely. But then, abortion isn’t really the issue under consideration here…

    I agree completely that a great number of so-called pro-lifers hold an utterly incoherent worldview when considered in its entirety. I think often the pro-life movement turns into a smoke screen, so that people don’t have to deal with any other horrors around them: war and oppression, the death penalty, violence of all kinds, extreme poverty, the state of the environment… Theirs is a short-sighted, self-serving political stance designed to shield them from their complicity in all of these other rather major issues. And it shows: their shallow brush-offs of economic and racial injustice as root causes of rising abortions ring as hollow as their opponents’ statement discussed above. What is needed is a holistic ethic which values and seeks to protect life at all of its stages and in all of its forms.

    An article by Alasdair MacIntyre sketches a vision for such an ethic, and issues a painful challenge to all of us young idealistic progressive types. Check it out here:
    http://ethicscenter.nd.edu/archives/macintyre.shtml

    I think it’s also important, as another commenter pointed out, that we are able to say something of a “who’s in or out” with regard to true Christianity. That isn’t a violent or “terrorist” position to take, and indeed the Church has been taking it since the Apostles faced down heresies in the book of Acts. The breaking of Communion is a very serious rupture, but it is necessary at times to maintain the Church (although, to be sure, the associations with burnings and hangings do need to be undone). There is such a thing as doctrinal orthodoxy, and as truly preaching and living the Gospel; those who stain the name and pollute the body of Christ with heresy, and refuse correction, well deserve to be excommunicated–as unpopular and unpleasant a notion that is. Otherwise, Christianity becomes just another social club with some vague sense of spirituality and a picture of happy anglo-Jesus on the wall.

    I know, that’s one big unhappy limb I’m on, and perhaps a great big can of worms opened, as well.

  12. Very thought provoking post as well as series of comments.

    I agree with Steve about remembering what we are taught about doing good to our “enemies”. I am also reminded of one of my “TOP 10!” verses in the Bible from Galatians . When lead by the Spirit, this is how we behave. What we say or do to others who behave this way is, hopefully, in keeping with these “results” of the Spirit in our lives. Maybe it is bringing them coffee or having placards and information to provide a different perspective. Or maybe it’s both?
    Important thoughts you raise!

  13. I am a born again Christian if there is truly such a thing. The Lord made it simple. It’s not rocket science. Love God, love one another, Keep his commandments, and witness for him when the occasion demands. There is no hate involved anywhere. Justice is his in the end. Unfortunately, we must live by societies rules also. So love your enemies it will drive them nuts. It is form of Christian terrorism.

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