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Norway's church leaders condemn violent rampage

Issue: "Face-off," Aug. 13, 2011

Norwegian pastor Olav Fykse Tveit offered a one-word assessment of Anders Behring Breivik's claim that Christianity motivated his gruesome massacre of 76 people in Norway on July 22: "blasphemous."

Breivik surrendered to police after committing a horrific two-part rampage-detonating explosives in government buildings in Oslo that killed eight then opening fire on terrified youth at a summer camp on the nearby Utoya Island, killing at least 68, including many teenagers.

In a rambling 1,500-word manifesto, Breivik wrote that he was trying to save "European Christendom" from an Islamic takeover by Muslim immigrants. The attacks targeted offices of the ruling Labor Party, which is sympathetic to broadened immigration policies, and youth at an annual Labor Party camp for hundreds of promising young leaders.

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Norwegian police described Breivik as a "Christian fundamentalist," but despite a self-designation as a "Christian" on Facebook, the killer bore no resemblance to orthodox Christianity: Promoting "assassinations and the use of weapons of mass destruction," Breivik embraced a jihadist mentality toward Muslims and expressed disdain for the Protestant church.

Political parties that advocate tougher immigration laws in Nordic nations condemned Breivik's rampage. And church leaders like Pastor Tveit, a Lutheran minister and general secretary of the World Council of Churches, condemned Breivik's "abuse" of religion to execute the worst attack on Norway since World War II.

Norwegian churches held nightly prayer services and vigils for grieving citizens in a country considered one of the least religious in Europe: Though some 90 percent of Norwegians retain church membership-mostly in the Lutheran, official state church-less than 4 percent attend services on Sundays, according to Operation World.

In a 2007 interview with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Magnar Maeland, a Baptist pastor and former general secretary of the Norwegian Baptist Union (NBU), said many Norwegians were satisfied with traditionalism: "But for us evangelicals, we say it's not a question of tradition. You need to know Christ." Baptist churches have grown since then, though the numbers are still small in a country of 4.8 million people: By 2009, about 5,000 Norwegians belonged to 83 Baptist churches.

Baptists around the world sent post-attack condolences to the NBU. In a note posted online, members of the Swedish Baptist Union expressed particular sympathy for the loss of so many youth, and quoted Jeremiah 31: "A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children . . . because they are no more."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the political beat and other topics as national editor for WORLD Magazine. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


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