Many argue that taxes are too high, or that our government is to a large extent corrupt. That is why, as I have listened to reactions to the Montana Freemen and other extremist groups, I have heard some people sympathizing.
The Montana Freemen are racial extremists and are a part of the
many groups that make up the "Christian Identity" movement that
claims 20,000 followers, according to the Klanwatch Project of the
Southern Poverty Law Center. Others involved in the movement
include Aryan Nations, members of Christian Patriot groups, militia
leaders and members, and independent churches and communities from
coast to coast, such as the Church of Israel in Missouri and the
Laporte Church of Christ in Colorado.
Oklahoma City bombing tragedy drew the nation's attention to such
groups. But most of us do not hear much about their racial
extremism or misuse of the Bible to support their views. The
extremists' theological agenda, the least publicized, is perhaps
the most life-shaping.
Almost four years ago, I
opened a letter from Rodney Skurdal, a leader of the Montana
"I would like to
welcome you to Roundup," he wrote. "What I need to know before I
attend church, being that I was brought up as a Lutheran and
baptized as such, is what you will be teaching as to our race ... I
would be "honored" to attend a true church that finally teaches us
(Israel/white race/Adam) the truth as to who we really are and our
relationship with the other races, pursuant to the Word of God, the
I wrote back, "Let's have
coffee." We never did. Now he is incarcerated and awaiting trial
along with the other Montana Freemen.
"truth" of Christian Identity theology is centered on a two-seed
theory of the origins of humankind, and the migration of the "lost
tribes of Israel" to northwest Europe and the United States.
Identity adherents claim that Adam and Eve had sexual relations and
bore Abel (who was killed by Cain) and Seth whose descendants
constitute the white race, the "true Israel." But, Identity
adherents assert, Eve also had sexual relations with the serpent,
or Satan. Their offspring was Cain who, upon leaving the garden of
Eden, bore sinister offspring with inferior, pre-Adamic people.
Their descendants are the present-day Jews and people of color.
Some Identity groups believe that Cain's descendants, because of
their evil blood, must be completely
In short, Christian Identity
adherents claim that the Bible is God's revelation concerning the
races. This foundation informs their whole world view. Groups such
as the Montana Freemen, Kingdom Identity Ministries in Arkansas,
and Lord's Covenant Church of Arizona assert that only the first 10
articles of the U.S. Constitution are inspired by God and are
valid, and that these apply exclusively to "organic citizens' or
white "Christian" males. All others are 14th Amendment citizens
whose rights can be revoked at any time.
spreading of these perversions results in the creation of
communities gathering in the Northwest and throughout the country
in a kind of Noah's Ark fashion, heeding the urgent call to
preserve the white race.
This "gospel," let it
be known, is not the gospel proclaimed by the Apostle Paul: "For by
grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own
doing, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). God answered Paul's
prayer, "My grace is sufficient for you ..." : (2 Corinthians
12:9). God never said, "Your race is sufficient for you."
As Christians, as Lutherans, we have the unique
task of exposing the misuse of the Bible by those in the Christian
Identity movement for their cause of creating a white "Christian"
It isn't race, but forgiveness and
adoption that set us right with God: "God sent his Son ... in order
to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive
adoption as children" (Galatians 4:4-5).
we may share some of the social and political concerns of the
racial extremist groups, we can handle those issues more
responsibly when the "Christian Identity" theology is
I've found that it is not helpful,
however, to argue the interpretation of particular Biblical texts.
Be forewarned: You may not even get a word in edgewise with folks
from racial extremist groups. If you are white and disagree with
them, you are considered deceived and apathetic to the cause of the
What we must do is return again and
again to what is at the center of faith and life: the love and
mercy of God for all people revealed in the crucified one who
lives, Jesus Christ. With this focus, we can avoid arguing about
the "two-seed" theory and, hopefully, change the direction of
We, too, are "extremists," but in
a different way. We live claimed by, and are set free to witness
to, the extreme love and mercy of God for all.
Racial extremist groups rooted in "Christian Identity" theology
demonize their perceived enemies and call the white race to cleanse
the nation. We are called to defend our brothers and sisters
regardless of their race and to proclaim with compassion and
clarity that it is God, through Christ, who cleanses all sin and
ransoms "saints from every tribe and tongue and people and nation"
While, as a public minister, I
am called to "go public" with the above issues, this has not been
without risk. In February 1996, in response to my speaking out
against "Christian Identity," a $100 billion lien was placed
against me by the Montana Freemen and I was threatened with
Despite that, I was thankful for the
27-page lien's comprehensive explication of the Freemen's beliefs.
As odd as it seems, a danger we face related to racial extremist
groups is that we might not allow them to express their
convictions. The Montana Freemen and other groups are free to
believe that the white race is the true Israel. But because they
speak does not mean that they must be heeded or that their voices
will prevail. I hope, with a mighty hope, that theirs is not the
only voice out there.
Walters, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Roundup, Mont., speaks
and writes frequently about the misuse of Scripture by extremist
groups. A version of this article appeared in The Lutheran
magazine, the publication of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of