The arrest last week of members of the Christianist Hutaree militia from Michigan has served to remind us that terrorism comes in many forms, including Christian ones. There is zeal for the faith and then there is zeal for the faith -- when zeal turns to coercion and violence, then it becomes dangerous. We've watched this happen inside Islam, but this potential is also present in Christianity.
I know of no better interpreter of this potentiality for religiously inspired violence than Dr. Mark Juergensmeyer, a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara and author of the important work -- Terror in the Mind of God 3rd ed., (University of California Press). He has written an important essay for Religion Dispatches that describes the roots and expressions of Christian rooted terrorist activity, focusing specifically on the anti-abortionist activities of Scott Roeder, recently convicted of killing George Tiller, and precursors -- Paul Hill (a Presbyterian pastor) and Michael Bray (a Lutheran pastor). One was convicted for killing a doctor who provided abortions, the other was convicted for firebombing abortion clinics. Both Hill and Bray claimed that they were acting as agents of God, and Roeder took inspiration from them.
The question then is this -- what is the ideological foundation for these activities? What Mark (I've spent time with Mark, so I have some sense of who he is as a person and as a scholar) does in this article is provide some important background to these groups, many of which claim support from or connection with Dominionist or Reconstructionist theology. This movement, which traces its roots through Rousas Rushdoony to Cornelius Van Til and then back to John Calvin, seeks a merger of church and state -- as a precursor to the return of Christ. Now, most Reconstructionists don't justify terrorist acts, but some on the fringe have pushed in that direction. The question then concerns where this is going.
What is important, in my mind, is that we understand that terrorism and extremism is not limited to Islam, but can be rooted in all religious traditions. Andrew Sullivan speaks of Christianists as parallels to Islamists. This is a militant form of religion that believes so strongly in its cause that it will use violence to achieve its aims.
I recommend a close reading of Mark's article and his book.
Note: the picture comes from the Religion Dispatches article.