Nine members of a Christian militia group, Hutaree, were charged Monday with plotting to kill a police officer and slaughter scores more with homemade bombs. According to the indictment, the actions were done in hopes of igniting an uprising against the U.S. government.
News of this terror plot is likely to spark a great deal of discussion around the idea of domestic terrorism. But there are some things that are not likely to be part of that discourse. For example, we're not likely to hear experts discussing whether or not Christian doctrine teaches its followers to overthrow governments and kill people. And, although the Hutaree website quotes scripture passages that allude to battle and sacrificing lives for the greater cause, the Bible is not likely to become condemned for inspiring acts of terror.
Hutaree means "Christian Warrior," yet the American public is not likely to blame Christianity. And Homeland Security probably isn't going to single out all people with Christian names in the airport security line. The FBI most likely isn't going to start wire-tapping Churches and Christian homes, and it's unlikely that the whole world will be expecting every peace-loving Christian to apologize for actions they had nothing to do with -- just because it was done in their name.
Unfortunately, these rules do not apply to Muslims. When a Muslim commits a crime, the Quran goes on trial. For example, after the failed "Christmas bombing," a January Wall Street Journal piece highlighted the fact that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had studied at the San'a Institute for Arabic Language. "He knew how to read and write in Arabic because he had learned to read the Quran being a Muslim, but his speaking abilities were very limited," recalls Mohammed Al-Anisi, the institute's director. Abdulmutallab may have also studied French poetry as a student, but that probably wouldn't have been considered relevant to his crime. The study of the Quran and Arabic, on the other hand, seems to be.
If there's news of a Muslim terrorist, Islam becomes complicit in the crime. Yet few people are going to accuse Christianity of motivating the terrorism of the Hutaree militia. These Christian terrorists are considered violent criminals who've perverted a peaceful religion.
Muslim terrorists, on the other hand, are just following a violent, perverted religion. A Christian terrorist is considered violent in spite of his or her faith, whereas a Muslim is violent because of it. Some might claim that this assumption is because the Quran is full of violent passages while the Bible teaches only peace and love. But in a recent NPR piece, religion historian Philip Jenkins explained that in fact there is more violence in the Bible than in the Quran. "Much to my surprise, the Islamic scriptures in the Quran were actually far less bloody and less violent than those in the Bible," Jenkins said. He explained that violence in the Quran is largely defensive.
"By the standards of the time, which is the seventh century A.D., the laws of war that are laid down by the Quran are actually reasonably humane," says Jenkins. "Then we turn to the Bible, and we actually find something that is for many people a real surprise. There is a specific kind of warfare laid down in the Bible which we can only call genocide."
Are we now going to create a new brand of crime called "Christian terrorism"? Is the entire Christian community going to be put on the defensive, while media pundits begin the mantra: "Why aren't Christians condemning acts of terrorism?" Probably not. The question is: why should someone named Christopher need to condemn the acts of the Hutaree militia any more than someone named Mohammad does? And why should Mohammed be expected to condemn the acts of the "Christmas bomber" any more than Christopher?
As FBI agent Andrew Arena said, Hutaree is just "an example of radical and extremist fringe groups which can be found throughout our society." Their crimes are committed in spite of their religious affiliations -- not because of them.