‘Christian warrior’? Time to dig a bit …

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.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Well, at least it says “self-styled”.

  • Bob Smietana

    There’s an AP version of the story here.

  • Chris

    This man is reported to have “bipolar disorder”. That’s manic-depressive disease, a major psychosis, and one of the reasons the district attorney gave that made him a flight risk. When the disease is active, patients with this disorder have severe delusions and hallucinations. These often involve religion, but are idiosyncratic. Journalists need to ask many more questions about the activity of his bipolar disorder. It is likely to be as (or far more) pertinent to this case than Christianity.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    I agree.

    That makes it even more important to see if he actually is a Christian believer at all, someone linked to a Christian body of believers.

  • Bob Smietana

    TMATT:

    GetReligion seems to have an inconsistent editorial policy when it comes to religion and acts of violences.

    In posts here, here and here , journalists are chastised for not using labeling people accused of violent/terrorist acts as Muslims. The reasoning is that the people have Muslim sounding names or are from Muslim countries – so they must be Muslim.

    In this current post as well as posts about the Norway bomber, there’s a call for restraint and more reporting to make sure the perpetrater is really a Christian. Even though in both cases, the people arrested have self identified as Christians.

    Are there different rules when it comes to getting religion?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Bob,

    In the first post you link to, I question why the label “Muslim” was applied. And I pointed out that the suspect had a Christian name, not a Muslim one.

    I also pointed to mental illness as being something I suspected.

    So I’m afraid I don’t get your point.

  • Dale

    Bob:

    Read tmatt’s post:

    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.

    He isn’t criticizing the story for reporting the man’s claim to be a “Christian warrior”. He’s criticizing the story for not fully reporting that angle– does he have any connection to a Christian group? Does that group advocate or condone violence against Muslims? Of course, those same questions should be asked of a Muslim who is alleged to commit religiously motivated crimes and his connections to the Muslim community, especially when there’s substantial evidence that the person is floridly psychotic.

    Merely identifying someone as “Christian” or “Muslim” is not enough.

  • Tmatt

    What they said, Bob

  • Dave

    Bob, you have me baffled, too. It seems you are describing GR’s support for the same journalistic action — digging into a violent offender’s religious background — in different terms for different cases and accusing GR of hypocrisy for advocating the same thing in each case.

    Can you restate your complaint in plain language without using links?

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    Chris, while medical issues might explain the underlying disorder, the man’s cultural background explains the particular contexts in which his issues were expressed.

    In the case of Crawford, his burning down a mosque was justified in the context of a violent Christianity. Ergo, “Christan warrior.”

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    I think that Bob’s complaint is that the Get Religion posts relating to Muslims express curiosity as to whether the alleged criminals are Muslims and express unhappiness that the media didn’t report this and wonder why they don’t report this, in the particular case of Breivik when numerous links between the man and explicitly (if somewhat eccentrically) Christian identities and worldviews were established in the man’s own writings many of the Get Religion bloggers took care to downplay these statements as meaningless and to argue that Breivik wasn’t a Christian in any meaningful sense.

    Is it fair to ask if some Get Religion bloggers have a tendency to demand the immediate identification of prospective Muslims linked to terrorism and wonder why they’re not being identified promptly while disbelieving the identifications of Christians (of one kind or another) linked to terrorism and wondering why the identifications are being made at all? I wish it wasn’t.

  • Jeffrey

    Or more specifically, they assert that not identifying the person as Muslim us part of some larger agenda.

  • Chris

    Randy: Actually, if he were having active auditory hallucinations or delusions, his cultural background does nothing more than give “words” to his actions–which are in response to the hallucinations/delusions, not his culture.
    Someone with severe, psychotic untreated bipolar disorder responds in a stereotypic way, more related to the disease. For example–someone from a Christian culture might identify as a “Christian Warrior”, a person brought up a Muslim might identify as a “Muslim Warrior”, and someone from a secular humanist background identify as a “Secular Humanist Warrior”. If you look closely at all of them, their delusions will have a lot in common, and actually tell you more about psychosis than their cultural/religious background.

    Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia begin in the late teens and 20′s. Often, reports about the young, male, lone shooter/arsonist/bomber who has no accomplices, writes rambling internet manifestos, and yells a quasi religious/political slogan at the time of the act sounds more like someone with a psychosis than any worldview’s warrior.

    Politics, terrorism, and the role religion may have in them are fascinating subjects, but when a news report says that a violent person potentially has a major psychosis, journalists should spend more time focusing on that as a possible driver of the violent act.
    http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2011/01/11/jared_loughner_paranoid_schizophrenia_and_why

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    Chris, we’re writing from different perspectivews while agtreeing about the same thing.

    “Someone with severe, psychotic untreated bipolar disorder responds in a stereotypic way, more related to the disease. For example—someone from a Christian culture might identify as a “Christian Warrior”, a person brought up a Muslim might identify as a “Muslim Warrior”, and someone from a secular humanist background identify as a “Secular Humanist Warrior”. If you look closely at all of them, their delusions will have a lot in common, and actually tell you more about psychosis than their cultural/religious background.”

    That’s right. A psychosis that lent him a “warrior” identity had a specific manifestation: he was presumably from a Christian cultural background, as you point out, ergo a particular psychotic tendency towards violence and his background made him a “Christian warrior”. This works with other backgrounds, too.


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