No sooner had the media identified the Norwegian terrorist as "a right-wing fundamentalist Christian" than Christian fundamentalists began denying he was a real Christian.
Andres Behring Breivik did not see himself as a religious Christian but favored the idea of a Christian Europe as a unifying political template to combat multiculturalism and Islam, Matthew Schmalz says. (Photo: Johannes Grødem)
The New York Times quoted a Norwegian police official, Roger Andresen, who said, "What we know is that he is right wing and a Christian fundamentalist."
The Times cited Andres Behring Breivik's manifesto, "2083: A European Declaration of Independence," reportedly saying that European Christian civilization was being destroyed.
Breivik apparently loathed immigrants, Muslims and Marxists. His answer to protecting Europe was something akin to the medieval crusades.
Cable TV news programs showed images of crusaders with red crosses, reinforcing the link between Breivik and Christianity.
The Christian Post countered this emerging message with an article headline that questioned whether Breivik was a Christian.
Larry Keffer, head of the Biblical Research Center, told The Christian Post that Breivik wasn't necessarily a Christian because he said he was, noting that many Norwegians think of their nation as a Christian nation, yet they lack a genuine conversion to Christianity.
"A true Christian would not go and ... shoot people in a camp or blow up buildings," said Keffer. "That's not what a Christian does. So just because a man claims to be a Christian, or even believes that he is a Christian, does not necessarily make him so."
Keffer said, "The Bible says that 'you know them by their fruit.'"
Writing on the Washington Post's "On Faith Page," Mathew Schmalz, associate professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross, insightfully noted that Breivik identified himself as a "cultural Christian."
According to Schmalz, Breivik did not see himself as a religious Christian, one with a personal relationship with Christ. Instead Breivik favored the idea of Christendom, a Christian Europe as a unifying political template to combat multiculturalism and Islam.
"The Christian history that Breivik seeks to re-enact is not the passion of Jesus Christ, but the narrative of the Crusades," wrote Schmalz. "Breivik's vision is a Christianity without Christ."
From very different theological hilltops, Schmalz and Keffer offer clarifying words about the nature of Christianity.
Christianity without Christ is doctrine without the practice of love for neighbor. Or as James wrote, "So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:17).
Or as Jesus said, "But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others" (Luke 11:42).
While most Christians rightly shudder at the identification of Breivik as a Christian, one wonders why more American Christians don't shudder at the political advocacy of Christian leaders who side with the political ideology of Ayn Rand, rather than the moral theology of Jesus.
Too many conservative Christian leaders favor the economic survival of the fittest, rather than defend the human rights of the most vulnerable members of society. They advocate for radical individualism, instead of work for the common good.
One ought not confuse what these conservative American Christians do with what Breivik did. Nor should one think that these conservative American Christians lack a personal relationship with Jesus.
However, what they do does cause great harm to the most vulnerable members of our society. And they have without a doubt refused to let Jesus' moral vision get in the way of their political agenda.
An example of conservative Christians being more conservative than Christian appears in the rush of the Christian Right to sign the "Cut, Cap and Balance" pledge of conservative politicians. That pledge is devoid of stated moral reflection.
Conservative Christian leaders argue for this radical and unrealistic answer to the debt ceiling problem in political terms, not moral terms.
Because they don't have a moral argument to support their ideological position. The Bible simply isn't on their side.
These Christians act as cultural Christians determined to protect the wealthy and corporations from tax justice, rather than to defend the fatherless, the widow and the stranger in the land.
As EthicsDaily.com has long argued, the biblical witness calls for people of faith to side with the poor, ill and vulnerable, not the rich and powerful. See here, here and here.
Many conservative Christians too often are more conservative than Christian – just as many Southern Baptists are more Southern than Baptist. They side with culture over authentic Christianity.
Cultural Christianity – Christendom, Christian America, crusading militarism – all represent manifestations of Christian faith that have lost their way because they have set aside the teachings of Jesus for competing ideologies.
The media's identification of the Norwegian terrorist as a Christian sharpens debate about the nature of Christianity.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.