When Christianity Turns Violent
The Hutaree militants arrested this week believe Christian warriors can hasten the coming of the end times through violence. Religion professor Brenda Brasher explains the group’s unique theology.
The arrest this past weekend of nine members of the Michigan-based Hutaree, a group of self-proclaimed “Christian warriors,” thrust the issue of religious violence once more into the spotlight.
To millions who consider religion a valuable cultural resource that provides moral guidance and insight, it is profoundly disturbing when people draw upon cherished texts and ideals to advocate violent acts.
If they as godly warriors can provoke this final battle, then they possess a strong motivation to launch violent attacks that could spark the Tribulation to occur.
To others, such as cultural critic Christopher Hitchens, it is simply what one should expect from fervent believers. World history proves that religion, Hitchens argues, is inherently violent.
Over the past decade, concern over the potential of religion to provoke violence has centered on Islam; but the Hutaree remind us that Christianity, along with practically every other religion in the world, has spawned violent groups. This happens even though, as conflict-resolution expert Marc Gopin notes, there is a commitment to peace in the classical texts of every religion, and support for peace is present in the writings and speeches of present-day religious leaders and theologians from every faith.
• Mary M. Chapman: The Militiaman Next Door • Samuel P. Jacobs: Why Militias Love Michigan The Hutaree turned their backs on these teachings because they believe violent human actions can hasten the coming of the end times. Their core beliefs revolve around what they expect to be a final, great battle, known as the Tribulation, at the conclusion of human history, when they believe an Antichrist will attempt to take over the world.
According to their Web site, the Hutaree prepare and engage in military training because they anticipate the coming of the Antichrist, and are committed to “…defend all those who belong to Christ and save all those who aren’t.”
As Michael Barkun observed at Religion Dispatches, this belief makes them distinctive, for unlike most conservative, apocalyptic Protestants, the Hutaree do not anticipate believers being raptured, or removed from Earth by heavenly forces before the battle begins. Instead, they expect to remain on Earth through the Tribulation and “meet [the Antichrist] on the battlefield” at the end of time.
In online videos, the Hutaree demonstrate their training. Members wear combat fatigues that have badges emblazoned with a red cross against a green background on each shoulder. In hats and carrying rifles and other light arms, they creep and crawl through the countryside, play-act at discovering fallen comrades, and hunt for an enemy that is never shown while ominous music plays in the background.
For those wanting to do something similar in their area, the Hutaree offers the Colonial Christian Republic. This organization provides guidance for how to establish a Christian militia in your own community, and allows groups to link themselves to the Hutaree movement.
Like other Christian militia groups such as the Missouri-based Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord, the Hutaree consider the federal government and its employees to be representatives of the Antichrist and thus potential targets for assault.
Within an apocalyptic-millennarian scenario, such violence is holy. In the Tribulation, the ultimate battle between absolute good and absolute evil, the greatest sin is refusing to fight absolute evil.
For those holding these beliefs, the main curb to violent action rests in their understanding of how the Tribulation begins. If it is something that can only be started by God, then one must wait for God to act before launching any militant response. Most conservative evangelical Protestants follow this scenario, and expect the end to come at God’s volition rather than their own.
But there are those who believe that humans have a role to play in the Tribulation. If they as Godly warriors can provoke this final battle, then they possess a strong motivation to launch violent attacks that could spark the Tribulation to occur.
According to the indictment issued by the U.S. District Court against the Hutaree nine, the sect planned to engage in acts of violence against law-enforcement officials involving guns and IEDs because they believed “that this engagement would then serve as a catalyst for a more widespread uprising against the government.”
If this charge accurately reflects Hutaree beliefs, then it would not be surprising to find that the Hutaree were not only practicing military maneuvers, but readily preparing to carry them out. In fact, given then strength of their faith, not doing so would have been the true oddity.
Dr. Brenda Brasher is a sociologist and author of several books including the award-winning Godly Women: Fundamentalism and Female Power , and Give Me That Online Religion . She was editor in chief of Routledge's Encyclopedia of Fundamentalism, and serves as series editor for the Equinox Press Millennialism and Society series. A former Fulbright scholar in Ukraine, Dr. Brasher has taught at the University of Aberdeen, and Tulane University. She now resides in Uptown New Orleans.