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The Return of Christian Terrorism
Mark Jurgensmeyer
15 April 2010

“… terrorism has returned to America with a vengeance… When members of the Hutaree militia in Michigan and Ohio recently were arrested with plans to kill a random policeman and then plant Improvised Explosive Devices in the area where the funeral would be held to kill hundreds more, this was a terrorist plot of the sort that would impress Shi’ite militia and al Qaeda activists in Iraq. The Southern Poverty Law Center, founded by Morris Dees, which has closely watched the rise of right-wing extremism in this country for many decades, declares that threats and incidents of right-wing violence have risen 200% in this past year—unfortunately coinciding with the tenure of the first African-American president in US history…”

“… In 1994, [Rev Paul] Hill, a Presbyterian pastor at the extreme fringe of the anti-abortion activist movement, came armed to a clinic in Pensacola, Florida. He aimed at Dr. John Britton, who was entering the clinic along with his bodyguard, James Barrett. The shots killed both men and wounded Barrett’s wife, Joan. Hill immediately put down his weapon and was arrested; presenting an image of someone who knew that he would be arrested, convicted, and executed by the State of Florida for his actions, which he was in 2003. This would make Hill something of a Christian suicide attacker… Hill framed his actions as those of a Christian warrior engaged in sacred battle. “My eyes were opened to the enormous impact” such an event would have, he wrote, adding that “the effect would be incalculable.” Hill said that he opened his Bible and found sustenance in Psalms 91: “You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day.” Hill interpreted this as an affirmation that his act was biblically approved.

“One of the supporters that Paul Hill had written these words to was Rev. Michael Bray, a Lutheran pastor in Bowie, Maryland, who had served prison time for his conviction of fire-bombing abortion-related clinics on the Eastern seaboard. … [H]e provided a theological defense of this kind of violence from two different Christian perspectives…

“The more significant Christian position that Bray and Hill advanced is related to the End-Time theology of the Rapture as thought to be envisaged by the New Testament book of Revelation. These are ideas related, in turn, to Dominion Theology, the position that Christianity must reassert the dominion of God over all things, including secular politics and society. This point of view, articulated by such right-wing Protestant spokespersons as Rev. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, have been part of the ideology of the Christian Right since at least the 1980s and 1990s….

“The Christian anti-abortion movement is permeated with ideas from Dominion Theology. Randall Terry (founder of the militant anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue and a writer for the Dominion magazine Crosswinds) signed the magazine’s “Manifesto for the Christian Church,” which asserted that America should “function as a Christian nation.” The Manifesto said that America should therefore oppose “social moral evils” of secular society such as “abortion on demand, fornication, homosexuality, sexual entertainment, state usurpation of parental rights and God-given liberties, statist-collectivist theft from citizens through devaluation of their money and redistribution of their wealth, and evolutionism taught as a monopoly viewpoint in the public schools.”

“At the extreme right wing of Dominion Theology is a relatively obscure theological movement that Mike Bray found particularly appealing: Reconstruction Theology, whose exponents long to create a Christian theocratic state. Bray had studied their writings extensively and possessed a shelf of books written by Reconstruction authors. The convicted anti-abortion killer Paul Hill cited Reconstruction theologians in his own writings and once studied with a founder of the movement, Greg Bahnsen, at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.

“Leaders of the Reconstruction movement trace their ideas, which they sometimes called “theonomy,” to Cornelius Van Til, a twentieth-century Presbyterian professor of theology at Princeton Seminary who took seriously the sixteenth-century ideas of the Reformation theologian John Calvin regarding the necessity for presupposing the authority of God in all worldly matters. Followers of Van Til (including his former students Bahnsen and Rousas John Rushdoony, and Rushdoony’s son-in-law, Gary North) adopted this “presuppositionalism” as a doctrine, with all its implications for the role of religion in political life.

“Reconstruction writers regard the history of Protestant politics since the early years of the Reformation as having taken a bad turn, and they are especially unhappy with the Enlightenment formulation of church-state separation. They feel it necessary to “reconstruct” Christian society by turning to the Bible as the basis for a nation’s law and social order. To propagate these views, the Reconstructionists established the Institute for Christian Economics in Tyler, Texas, and the Chalcedon Foundation in Vallecito, California. They have published a journal and a steady stream of books and booklets on the theological justification for interjecting Christian ideas into economic, legal, and political life.

“According to the most prolific Reconstruction writer, Gary North, it is “the moral obligation of Christians to recapture every institution for Jesus Christ.” He feels this to be especially so in the United States, where secular law as construed by the Supreme Court and defended by liberal politicians is moving in what Rushdoony and others regard as a decidedly un-Christian direction; particularly in matters regarding abortion and homosexuality. What the Reconstructionists ultimately want, however, is more than the rejection of secularism. Like other theologians who utilize the biblical concept of “dominion,” they reason that Christians, as the new chosen people of God, are destined to dominate the world.

“Not all Reconstruction thinkers have endorsed the  use of violence, especially the kind that Bray and Hill have justified. As Reconstruction author Gary North admitted, “there is a division in the theonomic camp” over violence, especially with regard to anti-abortion activities. Some months before Paul Hill killed Dr. Britton and his escort, Hill (apparently hoping for Gary North’s approval in advance) sent a letter to North along with a draft of an essay he had written justifying the possibility of such killings in part on theonomic grounds. North ultimately responded, but only after the murders had been committed. North regretted that he was too late to deter Hill from his “terrible direction” and chastised Hill in an open letter, published as a booklet, denouncing Hill’s views as “vigilante theology.” According to North, biblical law provides exceptions to the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex 20:13), but in terms similar to just-war doctrine: when one is authorized to do so by “a covenantal agent” in wartime, to defend one’s household, to execute a convicted criminal, to avenge the death of one’s kin, to save an entire nation, or to stop moral transgressors from bringing bloodguilt on an entire community.

“Hill, joined by Bray, responded to North’s letter. They argued that many of those conditions applied to the abortion situation in the United States. Writing from his prison cell in Starke, Florida, Paul Hill said that the biblical commandment against murder also “requires using the means necessary to defend against murder—including lethal force.” He went on to say that he regarded “the cutting edge of Satan’s current attack” to be “the abortionist’s knife,” and therefore his actions had ultimate theological significance.

“Bray, in his book, A Time to Kill, spoke to North’s concern about the authorization of violence by a legitimate authority or “a covenental agent,” as North put it. Bray raised the possibility of a “righteous rebellion.” Just as liberation theologians justify the use of unauthorized force for the sake of their vision of a moral order, Bray saw the legitimacy of using violence not only to resist what he regarded as murder—abortion—but also to help bring about the Christian political order envisioned by the radical dominion theology thinkers. In Bray’s mind, a little violence was a small price to pay for the possibility of fulfilling God’s law and establishing His kingdom on earth.”

‘Christian Warriors’: Who Are The Hutaree Militia And Where Did They Come From?
Chip Berlet
31 March 2010

“On Monday, the nine members of the Hutaree Militia were charged with, among other things, ‘seditious conspiracy’… The incident has raised concerns over domestic terrorism and left many confused about Christian apocalyptic belief, which requires some basic history to sort out.  The Hutaree [hoo-TAR-ee]—which means “Christian warrior” in the group’s secret language—were preparing “for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive.” They believed that “one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Antichrist. All Christians must know this and prepare, just as Christ commanded.” And they obliged by forming a citizens’ militia underground cell and arming themselves. Their plans, according federal officials, began in August 2008.

“… Some 20-40 percent of the population of the United States tell pollsters that the biblical prophecies about an End Times battle between Godly Christians and the evil forces of Satan predict actual future history. About 10-15 percent of our neighbors say they hope to see the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in their lifetime… Brenda E. Brasher notes that apocalypticism can be constructive or destructive, pointing to the sustaining “role of apocalyptic Christianity among African slaves brought to the United States,” and in the “anti-slavery abolition movements and the Civil Rights movement.” However, if the scapegoated “other” is “constructed as wholly evil, then the ramifications are really horrendous,” warns Brasher. “This is not a disagreement, but a struggle with evil incarnate, so there is no structure for a peaceful reconciliation” in which “people are cast in their roles as either enemy or friend and there is no such thing as middle ground,” Brasher explains, “In the battle with evil, can you really say you are neutral?”…

“I have a shelf of books published in the past 20 years in which right-wing fundamentalists warn of an impending apocalyptic battle pitting Godly Christians against sinful secular elites, those in favor of government social welfare programs, Muslims, New World Order internationalists seeking global cooperation, people working for peace, abortion providers, sinful homosexuals, and many more named scapegoats…

“Why are there so many angry people? The Tea Parties are part of a broad Patriot Movement in the United States cobbled together from several preexisting formations on the political right:

  • Economic libertarians who worry about big government collectivist tyranny.
  • Christian Right Conservatives who oppose liberal government social policies
  • Right-wing apocalyptic Christians who fear a Satanic New World Order
  • Nebulous conspiracy theorists who fear a secular New World Order
  • Nationalistic ultra-patriots concerned that US sovereignty is eroding.
  • Xenophobic anti-immigrant white nationalists who worry about preserving the “real” America.

“These grievances are interacting in a global economy often eager to accommodate corporate interests. And now we add in the fact that an economic downturn that has left millions unemployed or underemployed leaving the largely white, middle-class, Republican Tea Party activists scared that they may be kicked down the socioeconomic ladder next; the election of a “mixed-race” self-identified black man as president at a time when the demographics of the country reflect a growing percentage of people of color, all in the context of the unfinished conversation about race in America; and the disquiet among social conservatives who see abortion and gay rights through the lens of sin and immorality and anguish over the future of the family and traditional gender roles sometimes seen as mandated by God…”