Just as in the days after the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11, people across the globe are pondering the meaning of terror in the wake of attacks in Norway. Central among the questions being asked this time are what roles religion, in particular the Christian faith, and Islamophobia played in the mass killings.
The Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran pastor and general secretary of the World Council of Churches, had just left Oslo when right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik launched his violent assault.
Tveit issued a statement in the aftermath in which he asked for prayers from across the globe: "Let us all stay together for a world of justice and peace, without hate and revenge, but with the values of democracy, caring for the dignity and the human rights of every person. We are all created in the image of God."
That's just the kind of response that Breivik would see as weak.
As is now well known, Breivik wrote a 1,500 page manifesto in which he explains that his motive for the attack was to start a conflict between Christians and Muslims that would drive Muslims from Europe. He wrote in that manifesto of his anger with Christian churches that sought interfaith relationships with the Muslim community:
...pastors are the most fervent pleaders for the rights of Islam. Muslims in Europe are for them a substitute for the disappearing parish members. Separate Christian institutions, whose reason of existence is being questioned, find a new legitimacy in the fact that Islam in its turn is also opening separate schools, charities and even political parties. Islam has become a sister religion regularly praised as a religion of peace.
The New York Times noted today that Breivik closely followed right-wing U.S. bloggers:
His manifesto, which denounced Norwegian politicians as failing to defend the country from Islamic influence, quoted Robert Spencer, who operates the Jihad Watch Web site, 64 times, and cited other Western writers who shared his view that Muslim immigrants pose a grave danger to Western culture.
Jihad Watch routinely attacks U.S. church bodies, including the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (a member of the World Council of Churches). A 2007 post includes an article from Mark Tooley, the executive director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a right-wing political group:
At its recent convention in Chicago, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) honored the National Council of Churches' top interfaith official with its "Interfaith Unity Award." Undoubtedly, the award was well deserved! The NCC, like most of the Religious Left, defends or accommodates radical Islam, even as it denounces "fundamentalist" Christianity and condemns Israel. Despite the Religious Left's support for liberal social causes like same-sex unions and abortion rights, it prefers the supporters of Islamic "Sharia" law to Christians or Jews who might sometimes vote Republican.
One prominent U.S. blogger asks today: Are right-wing bloggers to blame for the Norway massacre?
He concludes that Breivik has to be held personally responsible for his actions but also notes: "Nevertheless, we would be foolish to discount the climate created by the torrent of invective and incitement emanating from America's right."
Is Christianity to blame? After all, Breivik self-indentifies as a conservative Christian and many conservative Christian groups have helped fan the flames of Islamophobia. It is worth noting that the websites of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and the American Family Association -- all strong anti-Muslim voices in the U.S. -- have been silent on the tragedy in Norway. You can bet if a Muslim had been responsible for attacks their websites would be full of statements condemning Islam as a violent religion.
But no, Christianity is not to blame. At the same time, we cannot ignore that the fringes of the religious right in the United States have created an atmosphere of intolerance and fear directed at Muslims.
The National Council of Churches has not been silent about what happened in Norway. The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon issued a statement this weekend in which he said, "The member communions of the National Council of Churches join persons of faith and good will all over the world in offering our prayers and support to the people of Norway."
In a time of profound grief, those prayers speak to the true nature of the Christian faith and the core of the peaceful and reconciling tradition shared by Christians, Jews and Muslims across the globe. The shared responsibility of all good people of faith is to continue to work for peace in a world torn apart by war.