The details of the tragic massacre in Norway are shocking beyond words. At least 92 fatalities. Scores of young people gunned down in cold blood. Others seriously injured or missing. Body parts still to be recovered in the bombed out buildings. A nation traumatized and in mourning.
Were these horrific acts the result of an outside terrorist attack? No. Was this the work of Muslim extremists living in Norway? No again. Rather, the bomber and shooter was a native-born Norwegian, a blue-eyed and blond haired vegetable farmer, Anders Breivik, with no prior history of violence. And he has been described as a “right-wing, fundamentalist Christian.” But of course! How long will it be before ominous new warnings are sounded throughout America reminding us of the dangers of “right-wing, fundamentalist Christianity”?
In 2007, a New Jersey school came under criticism after staging a mock hostage drill in which the intruders were not radical Muslims or other, known terrorist groups. Instead, they were Christian fundamentalists dubbed the “New Crusaders.” As noted by JihadWatch in April, 2007, the intruders were described as “members of a right-wing fundamentalist group . . . who don’t believe in the separation of church and state.” And these fake gunmen were driven to attack the school because they were “seeking justice because the daughter of one [member] had been expelled for praying before class.”
Conservative Christians who learned of this drill were rightly outraged. Where, they asked, had any of their people committed such acts? Where were the 9/11-type massacres carried out by American, fundamentalist Christians? Where were the barbaric killings, carried out in our country in Jesus’ name, similar to the slaughter of school children in Beslan, Russia that had been carried out by Islamic, Chechnyan sympathizers? Obviously, they did not exist.
“But,” we were warned, “they could be coming soon. After all, these Christian groups use violent, warfare language, and they talk about a ‘Jesus revolution.’”
In other words, singing old hymns like “Onward Christian Soldiers” might lead to bloodshed, and those conservative Christians who feel their rights are being violated by the government might just put down their hymn books, pick up their rifles, and lay siege to the school building across the street. Right. Just like those who believe in the “war on poverty” also believe in killing poor people (or perhaps rich people?) and those who engage in the “culture wars” believe in slaughtering the people with whom they differ. Yet there are many who truly believe that conservative Christians will somehow turn violent in the name of the Lord.
In the summer of 2009, in my current home city of Charlotte, North Carolina, a local gay journalist warned about religious leaders (which included me) who were allegedly “preaching and teaching with violent and militant theology and rhetoric, painting the social conflict over LGBT equality as a ‘battle’ and a ‘war.’” He asked, “How thin of a line exists between violent word and thought, and violent action and deed? That’s a question answered plenty of times before, from Christian Crusades and Inquisitions of ages past to the modern day of radical Islamic terrorism. But, it is a question yet to be answered in Charlotte, N.C., where I believe there is a potentially dangerous and violent threat ramping up its efforts to counter the annual LGBT event, Pride Charlotte.”
And what was this “potentially dangerous and violent threat”? It was a group of 500 Christians who gathered to pray, worship, and share the gospel with attendees of the gay pride event, declaring that “God has a better way.” After the event (which I helped organize and which was as peaceful as could be imagined), a local lesbian activist told me that what we were doing was an act of “radical love.”
Yet the murderous acts of Anders Breivik in Norway will be seen as proof that conservative Christians in America might just turn violent too, as if the demented actions of an anti-Muslim, anti-multiculturalist Norwegian have anything to do with the spiritual, moral, and cultural aspirations of American Christ-followers who espouse the non-violent teachings and example of the Master himself.
Sadly, the atmosphere in our country has become so toxic that venerable ministries like Focus on the Family and the American Family Association have been branded as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, while People for the American Way sends out regular warnings about evangelical Christian leaders on its RightWingWatch website. And this will surely intensify in the days to come in the wake of the tragedy in Norway.
Let us, then, who call ourselves conservative Christians, redouble our efforts to expose the folly of these false charges, overcoming evil with good and hatred with love, thereby proving ourselves to be genuine followers of Jesus.
Michael Brown is host of the daily, syndicated talk radio show, The Line of Fire, and author of A Queer Thing Happened to America: And What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been.