Sunday, July 24, 2011

Anders Breivik - a wake up call to the church

Tributes to the dead in Oslo.
As I am writing this the BBC News Channel is still showing blanket coverage of yesterday’s bombing and shootings in Norway. I think its come time for me to reflect on this and what we can learn from its religious elements. Anders Behring Breivik self identified as a Christian. It doesn’t mean that he was (just as “muslim” terrorists may not really be Muslims). There is no evidence that he attended a church, but he did frequent online fundamentalist Christian web sites and online communities.

The question we have to ask though is: how can someone with Anders Breivik’s views identify with Christianity?

There are two issues which I believe attract this sort of identification:

  1. There is a close similarity between christian fundamentalism and the libertarian, conspiracy, truth movement. I have written about this previously and you can find this article here: People looking to give credence to these sort of ideas may find this in some types of church or some online communities.
  2. The right wing “tea party” type political agenda is seeping over here from the USA and evangelical Christianity is a handy conduit for it because of the connections so many Christian groups here have with the USA (and the increasing funding they get from over there too). Christian TV channels don't help either as they all promote that kind of agenda. You only have to look at comment threads on some of the British conservative political blogs to see the amount of disenchantment there is with mainstream conservatism and the desire for a move to the right. Most worryingly, during my lifetime being an evangelical Christian has become synonymous with voting Conservative. As a result being even more right wing is no longer anathema in fundamentalist Christian circles. As we saw during the last election, when a Christian TV channel ran a debate between the BNP and the Christian Party, it was hard to tell the parties positions apart on many subjects and support for the BNP was rationalised by Christians on single issues (the BNP is against abortion and against Islam). Its easy for people with those right wing views to be attracted to Christian Fundamentalism which is strong on rhetoric against Islam, immigration and homosexuality.

So who is to blame? I am sorry to say that the blame has to be laid at the door of the mainstream churches and moderate evangelicals. The former have become so tied up in accepting fundamentalism as an alternative “faith expression” that they can’t be openly critical of it, and the latter are so in awe of fundamentalists church growth abilities that they have become untouchable.  Anything is permissable as long as it can be described as "just the lunatic fringe”.

I am not sure what the answer is, but evangelicals and fundamentalists are desperate to be part of something significant. Can the mainstream churches or the moderate evangelical churches (like the Free Kirk or the Baptists) provide a platform for them, or like the grand old duke of York, march them up to the top of the hill and march them down again? I don’t know, but the mainstream churches and evangelical leaders in Britain need to take a long hard look at themselves and ask why they have not been openly critical of fundamentalism.

(Is this not exactly what we say about moderate Muslims and extremism?).