The antidote to radicalisation


It is critical to a church's ability to keep itself healthy over the long haul that its leaders answer to someone. Transparency should be sought in economic, educational and managerial matters. Living in a country with freedoms is a privilege, but also a responsibility, writes FriKirkenET's former chairman, Lars Bo Olesen, in this chronicle.

By Lars Bo Olesen, former chairman of FriKirkenET

In these times, politicians are almost lining up to voice their views on the pervasive radicalisation and what needs to be done to stop the problem. There is a problem, no doubt about it. But radicalisation and its sectarian core are neither a new phenomenon nor something that only takes place in religious settings. Throughout all times there have been people and environments who, in the name of God or a good idea, have vomited themselves into knowing judges over anyone who did not follow their specific version of the truth.

Attempts by politicians to stem recent outbreaks of Muslim radicalisation are certainly well-intentioned, but also encumbered with haste. Is it possible to restrict the constitutionally guaranteed rights of one group to freedom of expression and religion, for example, without restricting the rights of another?
Quick and ill-thought-out legislation on this point will be like shooting with spreader hail. With a lack of precision in the political intervention, I am sincerely concerned about the consequences and the restriction it will place on the freedom of belief and religion in our society.

That said, as leaders in church and religious settings, we must also take our share of responsibility. Living in a country of freedoms is a privilege, but also a responsibility. The diverse association life and the high degree of self-determination offer opportunities, but these opportunities must be managed in a responsible and respectful manner.

In the free church world, we can neither wash our hands nor close our eyes and hope that radicalisation does not hit us. It's too late. There are several examples of small free-church groups being radicalized and developing sectarian tendencies. When these environments are led by a charismatic personality with a craving for power and affirmation, sectarian environments develop which close in on themselves and which demand a high degree of loyalty and subordination.
The leader develops into a kind of messiah, an intermediary between God and people with answers to all questions. The individual's right to, and need to think for themselves and be critical is annulled. Those who mate fairly are rewarded, but in a way so they feel they're in debt. Those who are unsure, show reluctance or ask questions are met by sanctions, punishment and humiliation.

How do we create an environment in which radicalisation becomes cramped and where the few who spoil it for the many find it harder to develop the unhealthy and extreme traits?
The challenge is that we have not automatically spoken into a community association or church when we see signs of radicalisation. You can live your own life if that's what you want. It is a democratic right of liberty.
In FriKirkenNet we have therefore stressed over the years the importance of no leader standing alone in the ministry. We have pointed out that being accountable to someone, often one-two accredited pastors from other free churches, is critical to a church's ability to keep itself healthy over the long haul.

As the leader and leadership of a free church, one should show the humility associated with accountability, and one should strive for transparency in both financial, doctrinal and managerial matters. If it is enforced, power-hungry leaders, radicalisation and the development of sectarian tendencies will be cramped.

In both ideological and religious settings, signs of radicalisation must be spoken of and the bull taken by the horns much earlier. Once the environment has become radicalised and has closed in on itself, it is often too late. By then, everyone outside has been demonized, and any resistance will just rally the group even more.
We need to put an end to the fear of meddling and engage in dialogue - including with groups which seem to have a high degree of success. Success, in biblical terms, is not good in itself. If the success and results are achieved on the basis of wrong motives and through the abuse of fellow human beings, then it is evil and undesirable. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:2:... if I have all faith, that I may move mountains, but have no love, I am nothing.

That's why it's so important to have people close to you. Someone who can encourage but also put into words the shadow sides we all have before they develop into an unhealthy or outright harmful behavior.

We cannot afford, as a society or as free churches, to close our eyes or simply distance ourselves from anything that is different. It is important that those of us who think we are 'normal' do not develop an us-and-them culture and thus become part of the problem.
That is why I would urge all of us to maintain a humble approach to life and to ourselves, so that we can approach each other without prejudice and at a much earlier stage closer to each other and to those environments that are different from the norm we know. Who knows - in the long run it might help create a more colourful and balanced church life and society.

Signs of a radicalized/sectarian environment

  • A strong and charismatic leader who cannot be contradicted, criticized or questioned without serious consequences. The individual's own will is subordinated to the leader.
  • A strong feeling of having been given something very special, something no one else has seen or understood.
  • A distinctly “us” and “them” mentality. All opposition from the outside is seen as confirmation of the group's importance.
  • Autonomy. No transparency in financial and management matters and no oversight. Any suggestion of problems from an outsider will be met with denial.
  • An isolated environment. Contact with other family and interests outside the group is restricted or stopped altogether. The group will be very protective and loyal to each other.

Read more about sectarianism, radicalization and unhealthy leadership: