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Media alarm over Wedgwood tragedyseen as far less than other ‘hate cr


FORT WORTH, Tex. (BP)–Does the failure of news media and national leaders to label the murders at Wedgwood Baptist Church a “hate crime” represent a double standard? In the weeks after the mid-September tragedy, a variety of observers have raised the issue.
One of the sharpest criticisms appeared in the New York Post. Columnist Rod Dreher noted the outcry that greeted previous attacks at a Los Angeles Jewish center and the murders of a homosexual student, Matthew Shepherd, in Wyoming and an African American man, James Byrd, in Texas.
When gunman John Ashbrook targeted Christians in the Fort Worth church’s sanctuary, it was a hate crime, Dreher wrote.
“The number of Christians killed this year alone by fanatic gunmen greatly exceeds the number of abortion providers or gays murdered by right-wing haters,” Dreher noted. “But one waits in vain for the federal task force or blue-ribbon government panel looking into the root cause of these bloody pogroms.
“To so many media figures, Christians — specifically evangelicals, orthodox Catholics and others who believe in traditional Judeo-Christian moral teaching — are not victims, but victimizers,” he added. “They are so used to casting Southern Baptists and fellow travelers as buffoons and bigots that they find it hard to imagine them as anything but.”
Echoing those sentiments, well-known pastor Jerry Falwell told the Los Angeles Times there was an absence of outrage over the religious aspects of Wedgwood and slayings of Christian students in Littleton, Colorado last April.
“We have, whether intentional or not, built up a reservoir of hostility toward people of faith, particularly evangelical people,” Falwell said.
However, not all the news is ominous. A report in the Internet newsletter Religion Today Oct. 12 quoted members of Wedgwood as saying God has turned evil into good. That was a promise made by pastor Al Meredith at the memorial service for seven victims.
The report cited several positive developments since the Wedgwood shootings in Texas:
— Although Christian preaching is illegal in Saudi Arabia, it permitted a broadcast of the memorial service because one of the victims’ families lives and works there. Thirty-five people in Buddhist-dominated Japan accepted Christ after watching a telecast of that service.
— Meredith has spoken frequently about the hope Jesus provides despite sorrow. He has appeared on many television programs, including “Larry King Live,” where he presented the gospel.
— Meredith has prayed with various political leaders, including President Bill Clinton, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr. In addition, his church has received more than 20,000 e-mails, 5,000 cards and $60,000 in donations from around the world.
“We feel like we’ve been chosen, and count it a blessing,” Meredith’s daughter, Becky, told Religion Today. “Here we are at ground zero and we have the opportunity now to have such a testimony for Christ. The trial has ended up in blessings.”
Still, many question why the murders didn’t generate more of a national outcry.
Robert Knight of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., questioned why Attorney General Janet Reno didn’t take forceful action after the Sept. 15 slayings.
“She dispatched a civil-rights team of investigators to Texas in the James Byrd case, as well she should have,” he told the New York Post. “But has she dispatched a team of investigators to find out what happened in Fort Worth?”
In a report issued nearly two weeks after the shootings, Time magazine also raised the question of whether evangelicals are a new hate-crime target.
Many evangelical leaders see committed Christians as the latest victims of the sort of hate crimes perpetrated on blacks, women and homosexuals, the magazine said.
Time said some suspect that they are a minority in a secularized America where evangelical Christians are being martyred for their beliefs.
Among those quoted was Toby McKeehan, a member of the popular band, dc Talk. He and fellow band members recently released “Jesus Freaks,” a history of martyrs aimed at teenage readers.
“I think that people are gonna have to count the cost of pursuing their faith in God,” McKeehan told Time. “Something we thought was [just] history — people being killed because they had faith, people being martyred — is suddenly happening before our very eyes.”
Robert E. Reccord, president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board, told the magazine when Christians stand for absolute truth as found in Scripture, it creates tension with a society that wants to get rid of absolutes.
While that has usually meant through legal battles, Reccord said “you can see where somebody [like Ashbrook] with emotional problems could express it as anger.”
William Forstchen, a professor of history at Montreat College in Montreat, N.C., also questioned whether shooting Christians has become a “politically correct” crime.
A columnist for the Asheville (N.C.) Tribune, he analyzed copies of newspapers for several previous months and noticed that other, less serious attacks generated more front-page news coverage than the Fort Worth incident.
“You might recall the so-called bombing incident at an abortion clinic back early in the spring here in Asheville,” he wrote, “a bomb that was not much more than an oversized firecracker and no one was hurt. I read about that one while I was in Germany leading a student tour and came home to a pile of glaring headlines.
“Seven Christians are murdered in a church … that’s a no news item for most of the media. You see, it just doesn’t fit the profile of what they want. If it had been a white gunman mowing down a church filled with another ethnic group … that would be news for years to come.”
In a recent radio program, Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson commented on how Ashbrook shouted profane epithets and mocked Christian beliefs when he entered the sanctuary. Yet, most reporters insisted on calling his motives a mystery, he said.
This is no minor oversight, said Colson on his “BreakPoint” commentary, questioning whether the crime would have been explained away as the actions of a madman if Ashbrook had shot up a gay bar or abortion clinic.
But don’t expect the media to concentrate on crimes against Christians, Colson said.
“Part of the answer is that our elites view Christians as oppressors — of gays, of women, of anyone who rejects Judeo-Christian morality,” he said. “The idea that Christians themselves are oppressed seems to be of no real concern.”
However, there is a danger to such views, Colson said. He warned that if one group can be singled out without consequences, then no one in society is safe.