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Extra Form블러그Norway's Killer, "Christian Fundamentalism," and the Media
ShareThisSaturday July 23, 2011   ~   19 Comments

The phrase "Christian fundamentalist" is all over the news today. 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:

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 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.

Posted on July 23, 2011 at 8:06 PM   ~   19 Comments

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By Brad Brisco on July 23, 2011 9:07 PM
Thanks for taking the time to post this Ed!

By Ron Archer on July 23, 2011 9:13 PM
Ed, Glad you're addressing this. I posted earlier that IMO he's neither Christian or Fundamentalist. But, like you, I fear the international liberal media will take up that drum beat and deafen the world to the truth with it. Thanks!

By Morgan Trotter on July 23, 2011 9:13 PM
Good blog. Thanks for the info. It seems we're quick to make the same kind of leap with Muslims....

By Jonathan McIntosh on July 23, 2011 9:23 PM
Keller dealt with this days after 9/11 when people were asking if religious fundamentalism was to blame for the terrorist attacks.

His answer:
"The right answer is--it all depends on what your 'Fundamental' is. Let me give you two examples. First there is the Khymer Rouge, a Marxist movement that did not believe in God or any transcendent moral absolutes of any sort. Yet it was one of the most genocidal regimes in history. The second example is the Amish, who are an extremely conservative religious sect. They even refuse to wear modern western dress. They are by modern standards very patriarchal. They believe the Bible very literally and believe it is the absolute truth. If the Amish are such absolutists in their beliefs, why aren't we afraid of Amish terrorists?

The answer has to do with what the Amish "Fundamental" is. It is the same fundamental that all Christians share. Only Christianity (of the major religions) tells us that God came to earth and that when he did, he came not with a sword in his hand but with nails in his hands. He came not to accrue power, not to be served, but to serve and give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). And not only that, Jesus Christ did not pay the price of sin and die just for "good" people who were wisely following him, but also for people who were rejecting him and abandoning him. If that is the fundamental at the heart of your faith, at the heart of your self-identity, and at the heart of your relationship with God--then it will make you (like Jesus) want to 'win' people to God by serving them, not conquering them. "For not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums, but deeds of love and mercy the heavn'ly kingdom comes." (Ernest W. Shurtleff, "Lead On O King Eternal", 1888). If you believe very strongly in the absolute truth of the gospel of the cross and grace of God, it will only serve to drain you of superiority and self-righteousness."

By Todd Stone on July 23, 2011 9:31 PM
ummm......I like true blood, should I be worried?

By Greg Carey on July 23, 2011 9:39 PM
This doesn't fit the profile of the guy in Oslo, but I've had plenty of Christian fundamentalists tell me that Islam is evil, that Muslims cannot be trusted (literally, compared to poisonous snakes#, and by implication that the United States should discriminate against Muslims.

Those are dangerous views. And while I'm sure they're not unique to conservative Christians, I hear them most often from that group -- and it's their leaders who promote those views #e.g., Franklin Graham).

By Christiane on July 23, 2011 9:59 PM
Might be a good idea for everyone to pay attention to the Norwegian government's information about the terrorist.

The Norwegian authorities are likely to be straight with everyone and show a fairness that is a part of their national integrity.

Right now, you've got people baiting the 'right-wing' Christians in this country with comments that are not based on solid facts;
and, what's worse, you've got the 'right-wing' Christians reacting defensively in ways that do not show the dignity of the Christian way when persecuted.

I suggest people settle down as we learn more about the terrorist, from the Norwegian authorities. Then, comments can be made based on something solid.

Want to 'react' now, Christians?
Good. Call for prayer for the people of Norway, for the families of the victims, for the injured, and don't forget to pray for the terrorist who is responsible for so much suffering, that he may turn away from evil and towards Our Lord in repentence.

Yes, we need to hear the voices of all Christians now speak out with calls for prayer and also with dignity as befits the followers of Our Lord's way.

By Larry on July 23, 2011 10:32 PM
Some countries would refer to someone who we would call "conservative" in their interpretation of the Bible as a "fundementalist".

By Ed Stetzer on July 23, 2011 10:46 PM

Helpful... thanks.


There are bad fundamentalists-- but that does not excuse the leaps of logic here.


If you watch True Blood, I am pretty sure that you are not a fundamentalist.


I agree... hence my comment about praying. But, that does not mean there are not other issues to address here.



By Susan Isaacs on July 24, 2011 4:18 AM
Thank you for posting this. the suspect's been called "Christian fundamentalist" ALL over the news. I wanted to call my Norwegian friend to see if it was a political party name in Norway. His Christianity may be no deeper than the kind of box you check when asked a religious affiliation, for hospital intake, online dating, etc .. I read he was into freemasonry. I don't see the news pointing him out as a "right-winged fundamentalist bricklayer." It rankles me. ANyway you should post this on beliefnet or patheos and some of the other sites. Good stuff. Thank you for posting this. Immediate fb post and tweet.

By Thomas Rake on July 24, 2011 6:02 AM
Just a short comment from a norwegian....

The expression "Christian fundamentalist" is not used much by media here in Norway. Reading this blog is the fist time I read something that focus on this expression (I have only read besides norwegian media).

You also say that the police says he is a "Christian fundamentalist" and not saying why. That is not true. I have seen a press conference with the Deputy Police Chief and the Chief of Staff in Oslo and they clearly say that they use this specific expression because the suspect himself uses it about himself.

I guess the use of the term is a bigger issue in the US, but just wanted to give some info from the norwegian side of it.

PS: Thanks for prayer and compassion!

By Steve Grcevich on July 24, 2011 1:41 PM
Maybe the folks at the New York Times, The Atlantic, other mainstream media outlets and a few folks within the government view Christianity as a threat to the dominance of their values and world view in our culture?

Maybe we should take the media's behavior as an acknowledgment of the potential power of our faith?

By Asbjorn Kvalbein on July 24, 2011 3:01 PM
Your concern is very important. The vice police chief said Christian fundamentalist too soon. The terrorist ABB left a 1500 pages document on internet just hours before he did is government building bombing. In this he says that "to call me religious is a lie". He has never been an active member of a church. He says that he prayed for the first time this summer for strength to what he planned, but does that make him a Christian? He says that he is a Christian in the meaning that he is not a muslim, he says he is conservative in the political sense of the word. He is a lone ranger with no contact with his father since he was 15, he is now 32. Please help the truth to be known among those who say Christian fundamentalists are worse than muslim fundamentalists.

By A Soldier's Mother on July 25, 2011 12:50 AM
I think the point here isn't the religion, so much as the action and, perhaps even more important, the reaction after the fact. Whether people of the same religion dance and celebrate the attack or whether the nation as a whole condemns it and is horrified by it.

By david bunker on July 25, 2011 8:23 AM
As an Evangelical Christian (a Fundamentalist??) who has been involved in the news/media world, it comes as no surprise that terms and the process of "naming" can be so ripe with misreading or outright error. However, I find the same oversite replete within the realm of Christian reporting be it a magazine like Word or in a book by people like John Hagee or Christian radio like Wildman’s Family Life Radio out of Missouri. We Christians become everything from bothered to outraged when our monikers are stereotyped & yet, as someone who must slug it out daily in the world of Christian media, we misname and malign continually. So this is a human propensity & one that no group or social enclave seems to rise above. This makes me angered and bothered when those outside improperly use phrases like Fundamentalism but it grieves me even more when I see and hear my Christian brothers and sisters malign and demonize "the other” Pick your other from gays to Democrats, the list of those to "disown and out" are growing daily in Christian circles so I find this fear of the Norway massacre to be more than likely repeated and the phrases used by the media will once again be a bit off if not incorrect. However, simultaneously the Christians so bothered will run off at the mouth with rhetoric that is equally appalling and misinformed. We need to repent before we get outraged in my estimation.

By Christiane on July 25, 2011 10:09 AM
The young people who survived the attack on the island are speaking out now . . . they are saying that the killer will not destroy what they believe in politically.

The camp was a meeting place for young people who are interested in the Labor movement in Norway. The killer's web-site (alleged) shows that he was very 'anti' worker's movements.

Perhaps his motivation for killing the young people at that camp was a right-wing extremist political one.
I know, conjecture about motive is premature at this early time, but I AM concerned for the public perception of Christian conservatism when so many have proudly and openly aligned themselves with politics tending towards extremism. In our own country, the conservative drum is out not to just curb but to destroy labor unions and labor protections.
Even child labor laws in the state of Maine are under attack by the current governor.

The marriage of any Christian people with political extremism is NOT a wholesome one. And it is no answer to the evil in our world.

By prbriney on July 25, 2011 1:38 PM
Thanks Ed. Rod Martin recommended your article. I wrote four pieces since Saturday on related topics.

By prbriney on July 25, 2011 1:39 PM
Thanks Ed. Rod Martin recommended your article. I wrote four pieces since Saturday on related topics.

By Dave on July 25, 2011 3:58 PM
This is a deeply concerning trend when the media leap to conclusions and the Atlantic's approach is a half-step from the wildly inaccurate and inflammatory nonsense from Frank Schaeffer. Thanks for highlighting the link.

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