16.08.11 11:57 Age: 202 days

Reflections on the tragedy in Norway


Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. Photo: Nikos Kosmidis/WCC

As the world's attention turns toward the tenth anniversary of 11 September 2001, WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit ponders what we may learn from more recent acts of terror in his homeland.

Reflections by Olav Fykse Tveit *


I was on summer holiday during the second half of July, spending time with family, former colleagues and other friends in my native Norway. As it happens, my travels took me into Oslo on 22 July. As I was leaving the city, I heard the terrible news of the many murders in the capital and at the Utøya Island youth camp.


Like many Norwegians, I was acquainted with some of the victims and their distraught families. One of those killed on Utøya was the son of a Norwegian official who had visited me only months before in the Geneva offices of the World Council of Churches. Like many Norwegians, I am still struggling to realize that this actually happened.


The man who has confessed to causing this carnage insists that he acted in defence of “Christian culture”. He has adopted an attitude that diverse “civilizations” must inevitably “clash”. He is criminally mistaken.


In a united pastoral response to the tragedy of 22 July, the churches of Norway have exhibited how to embody a genuinely Christian culture and act in line with truly Christian values. They work in cooperation and empathy with representatives of other faiths. The people of Norway are demonstrating that a nonviolent response to violence is the strongest, most courageous response possible.


An image that comes to me again and again is that of the Christian pastor and the Muslim imam standing side by side at the funeral of one of the young victims of violence. This picture has been broadcast and published internationally. It has become a nearly iconic symbol of the determination to build a sustainable, caring, open society – together. Many people from a variety of nations have told me they were profoundly encouraged by all the people of Norway, of whatever background, for their positive, communal response to terror despite the pain it inflicts.


As churches, we are committed to work together for just peace. That means striving for open societies where people of all groups are treated as individual human beings with their duties and rights, and where unjust and sinful behaviour is condemned. We must consult our consciences – about what we say, and what we do not say – and continue in dialogue with our neighbours.


In times like these, we are called to reflect on the impact of the most fundamental Christian value: the command to love our neighbour. We see how much this is necessary in times of pain and death. We see how much we need the mutual embrace of love and respect amongst us all. We see how much the command to love is needed when we address honestly the profound challenges implied by changes in immigration patterns and an increasingly multi-religious society.


For all of us, the human catastrophe of 22 July serves as a dire warning.


(*) The Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit is the general secretary of the World Council of Churches and a minister ordained in the Church of Norway.