This latest post written by Kyle Huffman for the course Religion and Politics in a Global Context Fall 2014. Please take the time to read this post on Christian Extremism in America. Kyle is an excellent critical thinker, a great student, and a fine human being.
Kyle is 22 years old and a senior at King University.
Kyle Is from Charleston, WV.
He is majoring in Youth Ministry with minors in Bible and Religion and Leadership.
Kyle participates as a leader in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes program at King.
His interests are music, hunting, fishing, and football.
What comes to mind when one hears the word “terrorism”? Is it strictly under the umbrella of Islam? Do the violent images only come from the region of the Middle East? Of course not. But many Americans have the wrong notion that Muslims have the corner on violent extremism and terrorism.
But this viewpoint is naive.
Is it possible to conceive the idea that there are terrorists and militant extremists in other religions, even Christianity? In fact, there are several different types of extremists and fundamentalists within Christianity and within the borders of the United States. It becomes important, as a student of religion to dive into this topic and try to gain a better understanding of good ole homegrown, American Christian terrorism.
Before we begin to study this phenomenon, we must look at the difference between religious extremists and moderates in any religion. Extremism, opposed to being moderate, is exists outside of mainstream public opinion. Extremism can appear in religion, politics, and economics, and it can appear anywhere around the globe. We are looking at more religious and political extremism, and one example of this would be terrorism.
Extremists generally seek radical change and often use militant tactics to achieve their goals. This is what can give birth to terrorists and their violent actions. Simply put, terrorism is “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” Not all extremism, though, exists in the form of terrorism.
Economist Ronald Wintrobe offers several points that he believes some extremists have in common, and this will help us define an extremist:
1. Extremists are against any compromise with other side.
2. Extremists are entirely sure of their position.
3. They advocate and sometimes use violence to achieve their ends.
4. Usually they are nationalistic.
5. They are intolerant or dissent of any other group.
6. And they demonize the other side.
In other words, in nearly all circumstances, extremists are not prepared to change, no matter the reasoning or circumstances.
Moderates, on the other hand, are much more balanced and accepting of differing views and opinions.
Moderates generally do not participate in violence as a means to reach their political or religious goals. They tend to make an effort to see both sides of an issue, usually due to the lack of an agenda. With that being said, they normally do not challenge the mainstream ideas of society with much intensity. Moderates can be found in the middle of most political issues and offer a medium or “norm” for society. In terms of religion, moderates are known for questioning and rational reasoning–even centuries-old doctrines and ideas.
As we look into learning more about Christian extremism, we have to ask: what are the fundamental beliefs and actions of these groups? Christian extremists primarily operate out of the Christian Scriptures, the Bible, and in particular, the Old Testament. They tend to take single passages or verses to prop up their actions. Many believe that what they do reflects directly what God commands. They think that a great deal of world’s problems are a result of God punishing the world for violating their belief system. Almost every Christian fundamentalist group’s credo can be summed up in this: they believe they are right, others are not, and those who are wrong need to change, and if they don’t change, the “sinners” must be eliminated.
A good example of this is the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. According to their own website, godhatesfags.com, this group operates from their literalist interpretation of Leviticus 20:23: “Do not live according to the customs of the people I am driving out before you. It is because they do these shameful things that I detest them.” The adherents of Westboro Baptists utilize this Scripture and other verses like it as a means of justification to be hateful towards homosexuals.
The Westboro Baptists are not a violent group, but they operate out of hatred, ignorance, and shame. This group is known for picketing military funerals, an action that has been brought to the Supreme Court and other levels of the judicial system several different times all in the name of freedom of expression. These groups continue to protest and stir up controversy in the homosexual community and American Islamic community by holding signs that say “God hates fags” and by publicly burning the Quran. In 1995, the Westboro Baptist Church building was bombed by an IED clearly demonstrating some disapproval from the public of this group’s actions.
Another strong force within Christian extremism is known as the Christian Identity. The main creed of this Christian extremist group is the push for a racially interpreted Scripture and society. In other words, these individuals are white supremacists and they back up their hatred of others with their interpretation of Scripture. Many of these people believe that British whites are the direct descendents of the nation of Israel. This movement, which rose in popularity in the 1980’s, have had ties to acts of violence such as a number of murders in the early 1990’s.
Like extremists from around the world, they are willing to use violence in the name of God to accomplish their goals.
But are Christian identity groups in America showing violence, one might ask? Most of these groups are not actively and consistently performing violent acts although many are prepared to do so. Many are very militant, having capabilities, weapons, and bases ready for mobilization and action. However, there have been several smaller instances of violence including several acts of assault, one account of murder, and a few accounts of terrorist threats by a Pennsylvania based white supremacy group known as the Keystone State Skinheads. This group is constantly looked on by the government because of their former acts of violence and their militaristic facilities that seemed primed for action.
In the past, there have been instances of violence in the United States, primarily by members of Ku Klux Klan white supremacy group. The logo of this group was to “reestablish protestant Christian values in America by any means possible.” Especially after the Civil War, this group became very violent with lynchings, murders, beatings, arson, and much, much more. The long and hateful history of the KKK is infused with violence and murder.
The public opinion of this group might not be exactly what you think. Obviously, these groups tend to have a negative public opinion due to the nature of their activities and history. Even though much of the United States would consider itself to be Christian (83%- ABC News July 2014), most would likely disagree with a large percentage of what these groups are doing.
However, most Americans are uninformed about the various militant extremist groups that currently exist in the United States. Of the more outspoken or public groups, the Westboro Baptists have developed quite an infamous public opinion. While this group has a generally nonviolent creed, they continue to encourage and endorse hatred.
The first step in dealing with Christian Identity groups is to become educated that they exist and are prevalent in the United States.
Is Islam the only religion that harbors terrorists and militant extremists? Not at all. Every religion has its fundamentalists–even Christianity. And it is incumbent upon us to know this fact and know what separates the militants from the moderates. Lives depend on this difference in interpretation.