We are, of course, living in the post-Anders Behring Breivik world, a world in which journalists will — for valid reasons — be digging into the faith connections of anyone who launches any kind of violent attack on Islamic institutions or who attacks anyone who is somehow related to the growth of Islam in the West.
Let me stress this again: Journalists should be looking for the facts about this subject, they should be probing for any connections between acts of violence and Christian organizations and networks (or groups that are Jewish, atheist or simply anti-religious). This is a valid subject for journalistic digging.
This brings us to the following Religious News Service update about an attack on a mosque in Oregon. I cannot find a working URL for this story in Google News or on the RNS site (if you find one, let me know), so I will simply share the key parts of this short story.
Needless to say, the phrase “Christian warrior” made it into the headline.
Federal officials have charged a self-styled Christian warrior with a hate crime for allegedly setting fire to an Oregon mosque last year.
Cody J. Crawford, 24, was charged with setting fire outside the Salman Alfarisis Islamic Center in Corvallis, Ore., last November after a man who attended the mosque was charged in a plot to detonate a bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in downtown Portland. …
Assistant U.S. Attorney William “Bud” Fitzgerald said Crawford suffers from “a pattern of bipolarity and alcohol addiction.” Crawford’s court-appointed lawyer, Bryan Lessley, said he intends “to spend awhile trying to get to the bottom of that.”
A federal search warrant affidavit recalled rants Crawford made about Muslims and descriptions of himself as a Christian warrior during two unrelated contacts with police last December.
“You look like Obama. You are a Muslim like him. Jihad goes both ways, Christians can jihad too,” he told an officer in McMinnville, Ore., on Dec. 14. …
It’s important to note that neither conservative Christianity (especially Protestantism) nor traditional Islam have anything positive to say about the abuse of alcohol. However, local authorities believe that this self-proclaimed “Christian warrior” has a history of alcohol addiction, as well as abuse. Odds are good that this man is not a Bible-thumping Baptist or some other kind of evangelical or fundamentalist.
Should reporters mention this man’s rants about being a “Christian warrior”? Of course they should. The question, however, is whether they should stop there or dig deeper. Otherwise, many readers could be confused.
This is kind of like a news organization reporting that an anti-abortion activist attacked a clinic, without digging deeper to find out if this violent activist is flying solo or is linked to any congregation or organization. It also helps to know if the attacker (as has often been the case) is a loner BECAUSE he has been tossed out a church or pro-life group due to his insistence that violence is justifiable.
In other words, it’s crucial to know if a religious believer is linked to his or her claimed religious tradition in any meaningful way. Do they practice this faith that they claim? Are they linked to specific religious community or have they been sheltered by one? Are they, in other words, believers or heretics?
To cut to the chase: Is this self-proclaimed “Christian warrior” a church of one?
These are the same questions — obviously — that should be asked when reporters deal with acts of violence by those who are claiming to be Muslims or members of any other faith. As I wrote after the Norway bloodshed:
… (What) are journalists looking for? I would say they are seeking the exact kinds of facts and leads that they would be seeking if this person was alleged to be a radical Muslim. We need to know what he has said, what he has read, what sanctuaries he has chosen and the religious leaders who have guided him.
Also, follow the money. … To what religious causes has he made donations? Is he a contributing member of a specific congregation in a specific denomination? Were the contributions accepted or rejected?
In Oregon, let’s start with one basic question: Where did Crawford go to church? Have police investigated this? Has this “Christian warrior” been worshiping with others who support his actions? Are there any other “Christian warriors” out there?
Find those facts — if they exist — and journalists would have a deeper and more accurate story.