Exquisitly sensitive journalists

Posted: Aug 28, 2002 12:00 AM
Whole lot of hate speech goin' on this summer, our press tutors say. The New York Times reported that former Southern Baptist Convention president Jerry Vines' critique of Islam is "hate speech against Muslims." The Times complained that pointing out the Koran's militaristic emphasis and questioning the holiness of Mohammed's life has "become a staple of conservative Christian political discourse." The Washington Post emphasized its "disgust" with "anti-Muslim bigotry." Other publications have chimed in. My, my. If the Times and its brethren insist that Christians should demur to Muslim sensitivities, are they consistent in protecting religion? Let's just pretend that an artist were insensitive enough to paint a portrait of Jesus' mother Mary using clumps of elephant dung and cutouts from pornographic magazines. If such a vile thing were to happen, wouldn't the ever-so-sensitive Times decry the perpetrator for not respecting Christian sensitivities? Not exactly. Here's how the Times described on Oct. 5, 1999, Chris Ofili's "The Holy Virgin Mary," exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum of Art: "witty ... attractive ... colorful and glowing. The first impression it makes, before you decipher the little (porn) cutouts, is that it's cheerful, even sweet." Another Times reporter pointed out that "While news reports have described his paintings as being splattered with dung, the clumps are actually carefully placed." Whew, that's a relief. Or say -- again, just as a theoretical possibility -- someone were to put on a play portraying Jesus as a homosexual. Major newspapers certainly would criticize someone who mocked Christian sensitivities in that manner, wouldn't they? Nope. The Washington Post in 1998 asked about the play, Terrance McNally's "Corpus Christi," "What's wrong with letting individuals decide what they want to see?" The Chicago Tribune praised an "earnest and heartfelt play that pleads for the acceptance of gay sexuality within the Christian mainstream" and stated that "those who are uncomfortable with -- or opposed to -- the linking of gay themes with the narrative of the synoptic Gospels would not want to attend this particular show." Contradiction watch, anyone? Why hasn't The New York Times noted that hatred of Christ and Christians is a staple of culturally liberal artists? Why didn't the Chicago Tribune point out that Jerry Vines' comments were no big deal because those uncomfortable with criticism of Islam would not want to attend a Southern Baptist conference? Why didn't The Washington Post indicate disgust with the "artistic" immersion of a cross in urine? I'm not pushing for such comments because I think we've had too much talk about "hate speech" generally. In this free country, all of us should be free to criticize political and religious views. Ministers should be free to criticize other religions, and artists and playwrights should be free as well. A free press supplies vinegar, not syrup. Christians should be salt, not sugar. I do point out inconsistencies. Newspapers that claim to be "objective" shouldn't be protective of one religion while declaring open season on another. Many secular liberal reporters are clearly hostile to Christianity; nothing new there, but I wish they would admit it, instead of pretending to be neutral. I also wish that journalists would study Christianity enough at least to know how Christians think. The Austin American-Statesman recently profiled Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, the two young missionaries freed late in 2001 from Taliban captivity. The newspaper was indignant about their desire to return to Afghanistan: "How dare these Americans endanger their own lives -- and those of innocents -- by tempting fate yet again, carrying Christianity to cultures that forbid it?" The two young women are daring because they do not believe in "fate." Instead, they trust a God who does what is best for all who believe in him. In this summer of exquisitely sensitive journalism, can we find a major newspaper that is sensitive to Christian understandings?