Norway's Killer, 'Christian Fundamentalism,' and the Media

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By Ed Stetzer, CP Guest Columnist
July 24, 2011|10:34 am

The phrase "Christian fundamentalist" is all over the news. Anders Behring Breivik (the Norwegian mass murderer) appears to be one, according to many news sources, but particularly The Atlantic. Fair enough-- he very well may identify himself that way, but I'd like to know why that term has now been so readily embraced.

Before getting to that, let me say that this is a tragedy of enormous proportion. A nation is grieving. My discussion of labeling and terminology should not distract us from that. Please pray with me for the families of the victims.

Yet, there are concerns here-- and I think they point to a growing perception among the media and elsewhere that "Christian fundamentalists" are a looming threat. Many are beginning to notice and comment on the "fundamentalist" connection.

The Atlantic headline shouts, "The Christian Extremist Suspect in Norway's Massacre" and later gives he reason why under this heading:

Religious views: According to the BBC, Breivik has a Facebook and Twitter account that he set up a mere few days ago on July 17, where he identifies himself as a Christian and a conservative. There are several reports of his anti-Muslim views. In a post in Norwegian in an online forum on December 2009, a user named Anders Behring Breivik claims there is not one country where Muslims have peacefully lived with non-Muslims, stating that instead it has had "catastrophic consequences" for non-Muslims.

The folks at GetReligion have a helpful critique of this article, which would relate to many other such stories. And, they also point out the URL tells the story: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2011/07/christian-fundamentalist-charged-death-toll-norway-soars-past-90/40321/

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Breivik also, others report, has posted on what others have called "Christian fundamentalist" websites. Furthermore, he has been identified by the police as a fundamentalist. The Washington Post explained:

"What we know is that he is right wing and he is Christian fundamentalist," deputy police chief Roger Andresen said Saturday morning at a televised news conference. "We have not been able to link him up to an anti-Islamic group." He said that the suspect had not been arrested before, and that police were unsure if he had acted alone.

So, as of now, one officer said Breivik was a fundamentalist without saying why, Breivik posted some hateful comments on some websites, and Breivik listed "Christian" and "conservative" on his Facebook profile. Thus, it seems that now he is a "Christian fundamentalist" in much of the media.

My concern is that this narrative has quickly caught on because, for many, some have been expecting such a thing from these "crazy Christian fundamentalists." As such, you can expect more articles and commentaries like the one from Frank Schaeffer, comparing "Christian fundamentalists" to the Taliban.

Some might say (and with some justification) that this is how Muslims feel (see Salon.com for more on that). And, there are some Christian fundamentalists that do indeed live and act in intolerant ways. Yet, the quick embrace of this label by many drives me to ask, "What is going on here?"

Now, he may well identify himself somewhere as a "Christian fundamentalist," but the facts are simply not there to "announce" such that at this point. He may well be a "Christian fundamentalist," but right now that label may have more to do with some preconceived notions, rather than the firm evidence. Thankfully, some have been more responsible, but the idea that Breivik is a "Christian fundamentalist" is coming over my television (via CNN) as I write this. If evidence turns up showing "Christian fundamentalism," it will show that the police knew more than we know right now-- but so far, it seems a stretch to attach that label definitively at this point.

I know some Christian fundamentalists (and Wikipedia has a helpful entry), but I have never met one that sounds anything like Breivik. Perhaps "fundamentalist" means something else in Norway, but I don't know any "Christian fundamentalist" that has connections to Freemasonry, watches True Blood on HBO, and thinks the church should return "back" to Roman Catholicism.

Adapted from Ed Stetzer's weblog at www.edstetzer.com. Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Ed is Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Ed blogs daily at EdStetzer.com.
 

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