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Was Wisconsin shooter a ‘Christian terrorist’?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Members of the community meet for a candlight vigil at Cathedral Square in Milwaukee after a shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis., on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012 (Credit: Overpass Light Brigrade via Facebook)

One of America’s most prominent theologians is claiming that Wade Michael Page was a “Christian terrorist.” Mark Juergensmeyer is a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, author or editor of 20 books, and past president of the American Academy of Religion.  After the tragedy in Wisconsin, he labeled the shooting “an act of Christian terrorism.”

Why?  According to Juergensmeyer, “It is fair to call Page a Christian terrorist since the evidence indicates that he thought he was defending the purity of white Christian society against the evils of multiculturalism that allow non-white non-Christians an equal role in American society.”  He admits that “there is no evidence that Page was a pious Christian,” but claims that “if the hard-talking, swaggering al Qaeda militants can be called Muslim terrorists, certainly Page can be called a Christian terrorist.”

I disagree with Juergensmeyer, for two reasons.  However, his assertion says something important about our culture.

First, I can find no evidence for Page’s connection with Christianity.  He was clearly a white supremacist and neo-Nazi; some in these groups identify themselves as Christian while many others do not.  The FBI so far has described this tragedy as a case of “domestic terrorism,” not “Christian terrorism.”

Second, even if Page were to claim that his actions were “Christian,” he would be categorically wrong.  Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:44).  When his disciples wanted to take up arms in his defense, he warned them that “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).  Tragically, some through the centuries have claimed the mantle of Christianity for their crimes.  The God who made and loves us all grieves for every victim of such hate.

But Juergensmeyer’s claim that Page was a “Christian terrorist” is nonetheless important.  By his logic, a person is “Christian” if he or she claims to be.  Unfortunately, most Americans seem to agree.  According to a recent Gallup poll, 78 percent of Americans consider themselves “Christians.” However, less than half say they have a saving relationship with God through Christ.

The numbers indicate that most Americans will be shocked when they hear Jesus say to them, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23).  Here’s why: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Doesn’t every person you know deserve to know how to spend eternity in heaven?