Christianity on trial?

Posted: Jun 05, 2003 12:00 AM

The sole sound in the hushed Asheville, N.C., courtroom on June 2 was Eric Rudolph's leg shackles dragging on the floor as he shuffled in. The navy blue bullet-resistant vest against his orange jumpsuit displayed the official desire to protect his life even though, in his misapplied ardor to protect unborn children, he allegedly took the life of a police officer in Alabama and harmed others, as well.

At the arraignment, Rudolph responded with a polite, "Yes, Your Honor," to the judge's question about whether he needed a lawyer. He'll need several lawyers, because he will stand trial in Alabama and Georgia for bombings there. But Christianity, according to The Washington Post, might also need legal representation, or at least public relations help. "Is Terrorism Tied to Christian Sect?" a Post June 2 headline asked, and a prominently displayed photo depicted a metal cross at the entrance to a possible Rudolph hangout in the North Carolina mountains.

The lead paragraph of the story asked, "Is he a Christian terrorist?" Following paragraphs quoted a political science professor at Syracuse University saying the answer is yes and Idaho State University sociology professor James Aho offering an aha, gotcha: Christians who protest the juxtaposition of "Christian" and "terrorist" may understand "how Muslims feel" when they hear the term "Islamic terrorism."

It's fine to understand feelings, but facts are also important. The Post did not point out that leading American pastors have universally condemned bombing of abortion businesses, but many leading Islamic clerics in the Middle East have refused to condemn the murder by Muslims of innocent civilians. Nor did it note that the Quran (in contrast to a document of similar length, the New Testament) has only a few statements promoting peace but over 100 advocating warfare. (Example: "Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you (9:123)).

The New York Times also needs some theological education. That newspaper began its five-article coverage during the first four days of June by quoting one North Carolina woman as saying, "Rudolph's a Christian and I'm a Christian, and he dedicated his life to fighting abortion. Those are our values." Why, of all the possible quotations to be used, did the Times choose that one, and why did a later article report on "extremist Christian" groups?

(Earth to New York Times editor: No one is a Christian because of ethnicity or location or opposition to abortion. Christianity is a matter of belief in the Christ shown in the New Testament, and nothing in the New Testament justifies the killing of innocent people by individuals. Besides, would you write about "liberal extremists" and highlight a quotation from an ignorant person who supported the alleged killer of a pro-life leader by saying, "He's a liberal, and I'm a liberal"?)

Many other newspapers, such as USA Today, did not display such ignorance. The Los Angeles Times, on its toes after editor John Carroll's wake-up call (WORLD, June 7), ran six Rudolph-related articles during the first three days of June. None of them suggested a Christian/terrorism connection. Carroll had complained in a May 22 memo to Times section editors that he was "concerned about the perception -- and the occasional reality -- that the Times is a liberal, ‘politically correct' newspaper."

Carroll also wrote, "We may happen to live in a political atmosphere that is suffused with liberal values (and is unreflective of the nation as a whole), but we are not going to push a liberal agenda in the news pages of the Times." That's a great declaration of intent, and one its East Coast brethren should agree to as well.

As it is, The Washington Post will occasionally offer corrections of misspellings -- my recent favorite is, "The last name of National Spelling Bee winner Sai R. Gunturi was misspelled ..." -- but not misthinkings.