Mar 29, 2012

The theology of the Hutaree

"Hutaree" is a made-up word. A neologism meaning, for the few people using the word of themselves and then, after a confrontation with police two years ago, for the media, "Christian Warrior."

What "Christian" means in that definition is less clear.

When the Hutaree is called a Christian militia, what does the "Christian" in that mean?

Not to say, even, that there's a normative definition of "Christian" and then question whether or not the Hutaree meet that standard. I'm not interesting in questions of whether or not the Hutaree were "real" Christians. The questions, rather, are these: given that they thought of themselves or think of themselves as Christian, what do they mean by the word? How did they understand that term and what that was and what it meant to be that? How did their faith, their theology, their understanding of God, the Bible and the gospel message, connect to being a militia in Southern Michigan in 2010?

Though there's been more than a little reporting on this Michigan group in the last two years, from the time they were in a standoff with authorities to this week, when they were acquitted of charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government, I'm still not sure of any of the details of the theology of the Hutaree.

There's been a smattering of talk about their religion as such, but for the most part, it seemed like just saying they're "religious" or references to specific Christian ideas wasn't meant to explain anything, but to say how weird they were.

And scary.

As if "Christian" were code for "fanatic."

The Washington Post's story about the acquittal, for example, mentions the Hutaree faith just once, after listing "bizarre beliefs" of Hutarre leader David Brian Stone. So:
"Stone was recorded saying he was willing to kill police and even their families ... He had bizarre beliefs: Stone suspected Germany and Singapore had aircraft stationed in Texas, and thousands of Canadian troops were poised to take over Michigan. He said the government put computer chips in a flu vaccine ... Stone is a Christian who was bracing for war against the Antichrist."

The implication seems to be that this "bracing for war" explains the other stuff -- the training exercises and guns and talk of "welcome to the revolution" and so on -- but there's no explanation of how, just the indication that the connection is to be made here, at the site of theology. 

On NPR at the time the nine Hutaree were arrested, there was this same indication without explanation. It was reported, "Prosecutors say David Stone Sr., Tina, his son Joshua and a handful of others were members of a small, violent Christian militia they called the Hutaree. And they wanted to go out in a blaze of gunfire and glory."

That was all that was said about the faith of the group. After that, the term is dropped entirely. How being Christian related, for them, to going out in gunfire and glory, isn't articulated. The connection is implied, between the one thing and the other, but not more than that.

To fair, maybe NPR just doesn't know, honestly, what "Christian" means in the phrase "violent Christian militia" to those who said they were that.

In an earlier report, NPR references some information from the (now defunct) website of the group about their religious beliefs, but then has to admit there are more questions than answers. "According to the group's Web site," NPR reported, "it is in training to do battle with the Antichrist. It isn't entirely clear how the federal government fits into that battle."

And: "The Web site, which also says members are 'preparing for the end times,' has video of people running through the woods in camouflage gear. They are firing assault rifles and wearing camouflage paint on their faces. The group says it came up with the term 'Hutaree,' which it says means Christian warrior."

This is something, but impressionistic. Mood is set, setting indicated, but beyond the clue they were apocalyptic, there's really very little there.

My guess, based on those couple of phrases, is that they are premillennial, meaning they have a metanarrative of human history that's pessimistic, a declension narrative, and that they're not dispensationalists, meaning, in this case specifically, that they're not expecting a rapture of any sort. It's also possible, though, that they're postmillennial, meaning they have an optimistic metanarrative of human history, believing freedom and Jesus will triumph, and think only that things are going through a bad spell. It's hard to tell.

It matters what their theology is, a) if such a group is to be understood beyond just being scary, and b) if the proximity between such a group and other groups is to be measured with any accuracy.

The most information available on Hutaree theology comes from the Detroit Free Press. In a story about the group's website, there's a little bit more information. A citation of John 15:13, about dying for friends, for example, was on the group's website, as was the quoted claim, "Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment," which I would guess should be read as a strained, anti-pacifist interpretation of the rather cryptic Luke 22:36. There's also mention of Jack Van Impe Ministries. Under "resources." So that would mean, should mean -- or anyway imply -- that the Hutaree are premillennial, not post-, and so pessimistic declensionists expecting the imminent end of human history in an eschatological fulfillment of prophecy, and so on.

Except Van Impe teaches that preparing for that end means accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and telling other people why they should do the same. He believes in the pre-tribulation rapture, which means he doesn't think Christians are going to face the Antichrist, in the Michigan woods with guns or anywhere else.

Whatever the connection is between the Hutaree theology and Van Impe's, it's not that. The link from one website to another tells us something, I suppose, but maybe not what we want it to.

There's a little bit more and better info from the Free Press' religion reporter, Niraj Warikoo. He reports they were considered by other militias to be more of a religious cult, emphasized their belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, that "Christ is our king of kings and top general," and claimed "One day, as prophecy says, there will be an Anti-Christ" and at that time, "The Hutaree will one day see its enemy and meet him on the battlefield." They considered themselves a "Colonial Christian Republic," too, though that mostly just adds to what we don't know, since how they were "Colonial" and what they understood that to mean is not explained anywhere that I could find.

Warikoo does report, though, the one bit of info on the Hutaree's religious views which seems to explain at least a little bit of what they were and how they developed. There was, for them, a kind of slippery slope, so the views they started with became, eventually, something else. He quotes Stone's ex-wife, who offers the insight:

"It started out as a Christian thing ... You go to church. You pray. You take care of your family. I think David started to take it a little too far. He dragged a lot of people with him. When he got carried away, when he went from handguns to big guns, I was done."

 I'm still unclear of all but the sketchiest details of the theology of the Hutaree. There's a bit about their end times views, and a sense of militant, military metaphors they used, and an indication that what "Christian" meant for them morphed, over time, evolved or, maybe more accurately, contorted. In the end, though, this seems like the clearest sense we have of who they were, how they were "Christian": "It started out as a Christian thing."