WASHINGTON — A former
conservative Congressman and ordained Baptist minister says extremists like
Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church and members of a Christian militia group
arrested in Michigan for plotting to wage civil war against the United States
are giving Christians a bad name and should be repudiated.
J.C. Watts, a former
four-term Congressman from Oklahoma and the first black Republican elected to
the House of Representatives since Reconstruction, said in a newspaper column
that “depraved people” like Phelps and nine members of the self-named “Hutaree”
militia charged with seditious conspiracy and other crimes help feed “a growing
and troubling anti-Christian bigotry” that is sweeping across the nation.
Along with battles like “Merry
Christmas” becoming politically incorrect and negative portrayals of Christians
on television and in movies, Watts, now a business consultant
who left Congress in 2002, said Christianity now has to contend with “nut
cases hijacking the name ‘Christian’ while committing atrocities in the name of
Watts, a former youth
minister and associate pastor at Sunnylane
Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla., said every Christian in
America should be “outraged” by both the self-described “Christian” militia
group and the independent Baptist congregation from Topeka, Kan., notorious for
picketing funerals of American soldiers with placards bearing messages like “God
“Christians cannot allow the
lines to be blurred, which is what the secularists want,” said Watts, who spoke
last August at the New Baptist Covenant Midwest Regional meeting in Norman,
Okla. “Christians should denounce such groups because what these people are
doing does not reconcile with true Christianity or biblical principles.”
On April 7 Baptist Press,
the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service, carried a story
repudiating Westboro Baptist Church. The article made it clear the small
congregation — composed mostly of members of the pastor’s extended family — is
not affiliated in any way with the SBC.
American Baptist Churches
USA updated their webpage with a “news
flash“ denouncing Westboro Baptist Church’s tactics and pointing out it
is not an American Baptist church.
Media in Michigan,
meanwhile, reported that David Brian Stone, 45, ringleader of the group accused
of plotting to kill police officers, had attended Thornhill Baptist Church, a
congregation in Hudson, Mich., affiliated
with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Elton Spurgeon, pastor of
Thornhill Baptist Church, told
the Detroit News that Stone had attended infrequently for about eight years.
Stone’s 21-year-old son, Joshua, who is also named in a federal indictment
unsealed March 29, had recently gotten married
in the church, but Spurgeon did not officiate.
Both Spurgeon and his wife, Donna, said they did not condone the group’s
activities and had no clue about what was going on. They said they knew the
family owned guns and wore camouflage but thought they were hunters.
Donna Spurgeon said
she recently had lunch with Joshua Stone, who described himself as “second-in-command”
to his father, but she did not know what he was talking about and thought it
the Hutaree (pronounced hu-TAR-ay), the name that Stone picked for the group,
planned to kill an unspecified law-enforcement official and then ambush other
officers by using homemade bombs to attack the funeral motorcade. They then
would retreat to a staging area defended by booby traps. They hoped the attacks
and retaliation would become a catalyst for other militia groups to engage in a
more widespread uprising against the government.
Authorities don’t know what
the word Hutaree means. They suspect it is a made-up word with no meaning
except reference to the group.
A Hutaree website defines
the term as “Christian warrior.”
“We believe that one day, as
prophecy says, there will be an Anti-Christ,” the website proclaims. “All
Christians must know this and prepare, just as Christ commanded.”
“Jesus wanted us to be ready
to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment,” it continues.
“We, the Hutaree, are prepared to defend all those who belong to Christ and
save those who aren’t. We will still spread the word, and fight to keep it, up
to the time of the great coming.”
The pastor of Thornhill
Baptist Church said the group didn’t get its religious views from him. But Chip
Berlet of Political
Research Associates, a liberal think tank that focuses on the political
and Christian right, said
the notion that the end times are an imminent historical event is fairly common
for a large segment of American Christianity.
Popularized beginning in
1970 by Hal Lindsey, whose book The Late Great Planet Earth has sold over 19
million copies, Berlet said about 30 percent to 40 percent of Americans believe
the end is near and they watch for signs of the times for Christ’s Second
Such a conception of the
Second Coming provides the theological basis for the Left Behind series of
books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, which have sold 70 million copies in the
LeAnn Snow Flesher, a
professor at the American Baptist Seminary of the West, countered in a 2006
book that the Left Behind novels “perpetuate a massive misunderstanding of the
nature of scripture and how scripture should be studied” and “create and
support a separatist worldview in which all who disagree are deemed ‘the enemy.’“
She said the book of
Revelation, frequently quoted as Bible prophecy, does not contain a call to
arms or contain any examples of human combat. In fact, she says the book’s
fundamental message is non-violent resistance to evil and faith in the power of
suffering love as revealed through the cross of Christ.
The Southern Poverty Law
Center (SPLC), which has been investigating the Hutaree since 2009, said the 1990s saw
the rise of several anti-government paramilitary groups, but they moderated
after the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City’s federal building, which killed 168.
With the election of
America’s first black president, the group said
the movement is back and this time, fueled by a concurrent influx of non-Anglo
immigrants to the United States, is more racialized.
In a report
released in March, the SPLC documented 512 anti-government “Patriot” groups,
which include armed militias, operating by the end of 2009. That represents a
244 percent increase over the previous year’s count of 149. The number of armed
militia groups rose from 42 in 2008 to 127 in 2009.
The SPLC documented
a total of 75 domestic terrorism plots between the Oklahoma City bombing in
1995 and 2009. The majority of those plots were concocted by individuals with
extreme anti-government views.