Local religious leaders joined the chorus of critics against the faith-based militia Hutaree Monday as nine members of the group were indicted in federal court after an alleged plot to kill local law enforcement officers and revolt against the U.S. government.
Biblical references to the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ and an apocalyptic "end of days" battle against the Antichrist appear frequently on the Web site of the Lenawee County militia group federal investigators are scrutinizing.
Christian ministers from United Methodist, Catholic, and nondenominational churches suggested that the group is misinterpreting biblical scripture and the teachings of Jesus Christ.
The Rev. James Bacik, pastor of Toledo's Corpus Christi University Parish, said at least one Bible verse on their Web site was taken "totally out of context." A line from John 15:13 appears on each page of the group's site: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
The scripture "has nothing to do with violence or using weapons or anything and could hardly justify what they were trying to do," Father Bacik said, adding that he was alarmed that the group seemed to embrace the idea of the Christian savior as a soldier or fighter.
"The image of Jesus as the warrior is from [the Book of] Revelation, and has to be interpreted in light of the thrust of the whole Bible," he said. It "has to be seen in the context of nonviolence and turning the other cheek."
The Hutaree's doctrine online alludes to the end of the world: "When the time comes for those without enough faith, they will fall to the anti-Christ's doctrine. And it will make perfect sense to the whole world; even the elect."
An online video depicts men armed with rifles dressed in camouflage and an arm patch with the Hutaree insignia of a red and brown cross flanked by diagonal brown stripes. The gunmen are seen shooting from behind a car and practicing military maneuvers in a wooded area.
The forum at Hutaree.com - which since Sunday has been flooded with messages criticizing the militia - includes conversations about how to strengthen one's faith in Jesus, lamentations about the economic crisis, and instructions on how to build a homemade water purifier.
Private threads allow discussions about weapons, emergency alerts, and local threats, "such as government operations against us," the site reads.
In one public post on the site's forum, dated December, 2008, a user dubbed q-ball shares a prayer written for the militia that includes: "make a place in heaven for my enemies, so that they might see your truth."
According to the federal indictment, the militia leader was David Brian Stone, Sr., who often used "RD" as a nickname for militia business. In one post dated February, 2009, user "RD-Merzonik" said: "None of us really want to fight and possibly die, but with GOD and JESUS on our side, whats to fear? So let's make sure our soul's are ready for war BEFORE we get into this mess!"
The Rev. Steve Miller, pastor of the nondenominational Maumee Valley Church in Springfield Township, said the militia's interpretation of the Bible suggests they are "abusing the text."
"I wouldn't even call it 'misinterpreting,'•" he said. "It's a common control thing that every religion suffers from: people abusing their teachings. When you just make up stuff as you go along, you can take any religious material and warp it to your own ends."
The Rev. Cedric Brock, pastor of Mount Nebo Missionary Baptist Church in central Toledo, said he will encourage his congregation to pray for those indicted "that they really get Jesus in their life and they really recognize some evil thoughts that they have." He said he recoiled at the group's reference to laying down their own lives, because the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ has already done so.
"Jesus is love," Pastor Brock said. "Especially during this Easter season when we recall the death and resurrection of our lord and savior Jesus Christ. This is the time we celebrate that he laid down his life so that we wouldn't do things of this nature, not a time that we have hate."
The Rev. Tony Scott, pastor of the Church on Strayer in Maumee, said the group wrongly puts special emphasis on one verse from the Bible. "All scripture is interrelated and connected. You can't just pull a verse out. You have to look at the overall theme of the Bible," he said. "You can't just extrapolate out some passage of scripture to back up an ideology that you have."
The Rev. Karen Shepler, pastor of Monroe Street United Methodist Church in central Toledo, said ideology on the Hutaree Web site represents a fundamentalist mentality.
"These people are folks that look for absolute truth and they don't allow any wiggle room in the scripture at all. They're zealots, just like there were in Jesus' time," she said. "They are people that only see things one way. And the danger in Christianity is there are no real truths. The Bible raises questions, even in itself."
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