These Victims Are People, Too
What hate crimes have wrought.
arlier this year, I was on a flight from New York to Dallas, and found myself sitting next to an older couple who sported 9/11-related pins on their clothing. They were Southern Baptists returning home from working in Manhattan as part of a 9/11 relief effort. As a New Yorker, I thanked them for what they'd given to our city, and they could hardly have been more gracious.
Before long, though, they were asking questions about my personal life I found intrusive and unwelcome. They wanted to know about my relationship with God. The pair were witnessing to me, which as Evangelicals is a duty of faith. I hastened to assure them that I was a believing Christian, but that didn't dissuade the two, who wanted to be sure I was the right kind of Christian. Not wanting to tell the kindly couple that I was a mackerel-snapping papist — I never would have heard the end of that — I simply took the pamphlet they offered me, smiled, thanked them and returned to my book. And that was the end of it. They were good country people who had done my city a charitable turn, and there was no point in my making a scene.
You are asking: Rod, why didn't you strangle them and stuff their bodies in the overhead bin?
Good question. After all, this couple was advocating an exclusivist brand of Christianity, one that cannot be comfortably reconciled with my own beliefs. Their beliefs are also held by such well-known enemies of humanity as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. They may even have been Republicans. Clearly, had I murdered these people, and had been tried by a jury of my peers — that is, journalists — I would have gone scot-free, provided my attorney had kept hidden from the jury the fact that I am neither a sexual or racial minority, a Muslim, or a member of any certified victim class requiring them to suspend normal standards of ethical judgment.
I reach this conclusion based on the deafening media silence around the savage murder of Mary Stachowicz, the middle-aged Chicago churchgoer allegedly killed by coworker Nicholas Gutierrez, a 19-year-old homosexual who reportedly snapped when the Catholic woman told him he should quit sleeping with men. According to Chicago police, Gutierrez confessed to killing Stachowicz in his apartment after arguing with her about his lifestyle. According to Chicago authorities, Gutierrez confessed that he set upon Stachowicz when she asked — are you ready for this? — "Why do you [have sex with] boys instead of girls?"
Obviously, this woman was a Nazi. As a state's attorney told the Chicago Tribune, "He got upset with her. The defendant punched and kicked and stabbed the victim until he was tired. He then placed a plastic garbage bag over her head and strangled her."
He reportedly then jammed her body into a crawlspace under his floor. A 19-year-old man allegedly did this to a 51-year-old woman, who came to visit him after receiving communion at a nearby Catholic Church, not because of anything she did to him, but of what she supposedly said to him. He didn't say, "Ma'am, my private life is none of your business, now please leave," or even, "Begone, bigot!" — both of which are understandable and defensible responses. No, he allegedly tortured the poor thing to death.
Where have we heard of this sort of thing before? Why, when three redneck men killed Matthew Shepard a few years ago, after the homosexual young man propositioned them in a bar. Understandably, the men found Shepard's words offensive. They should have told him to get lost. Instead, they tortured and killed him.
There is no moral difference between these acts. Both were heinous, and both deserve publicity. Yet the American media made Matthew Shepard an overnight cause célèbre, and have so far said very little about Mary Stachowicz — just as the media said very little about Jesse Dirkhising, the 13-year-old Arkansas boy raped, tortured, and strangled by homosexuals in 1999. Andrew Sullivan, who is probably the most articulate gay-rights advocate in journalism, explained in a 2001 New Republic article how stark the media bias was in these cases.
"In the month after Shepard's murder, Nexis recorded 3,007 stories about his death," Sullivan wrote. Sullivan continued:
In the month after Dirkhising's murder, Nexis recorded 46 stories about his. In all of last year, only one article about Dirkhising appeared in a major mainstream newspaper. The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times ignored the incident completely. In the same period, The New York Times published 45 stories about Shepard, and The Washington Post published 28. The discrepancy isn't just real. It's staggering.
"What we are seeing, I fear, is a logical consequence of the culture that hate-crimes rhetoric promotes," Sullivan wrote. "Some deaths — if they affect a politically protected class — are worth more than others. Other deaths, those that do not fit a politically correct profile, are left to oblivion."
We are seeing the same dynamic at work in the media silence over Mary Stachowicz's sensational murder. One cannot help wondering if the upright citizens who report the news don't privately share the view of gay blogger James Wagner, who said of Stachowicz's strangling:
The woman who did such great evil is dead, but unfortunately the evil and the church and the society which creates it is not, and it will continue to destroy Nicholas Gutierrez and many others. I shake, safely sitting here at home, fully understanding, and fully familiar with, the horrible impact her words must have had for a man already so terribly damaged by his society, and his own mother.
I believe many, and probably most, journalists share the unspoken assumption that Christians bring such trouble on themselves. Paul Marshall, who tracks religious persecution for Freedom House, told me recently that the Western media routinely omit anti-Christian motivation in acts of sectarian violence overseas.
In just the past week, you could observe this dynamic at work in reporting on two widely reported stories. In Nigeria, Muslims angry over a line in a newspaper article destroyed churches, beat and maimed Christians, and even murdered some of them. Yet in many of the press accounts, there was no mention of who started the violence (Muslims), and who the victims were (Christians). Typical of the nonjudgmental approach was a report I heard Monday from CNN correspondent Nancy Curnow, who mentioned "religious violence between Muslims and Christians."
Similarly, consider the headline on a report from Monday's New York Times reflecting on the murder in Lebanon of a Christian medical missionary, an Evangelical Protestant who was murdered last week in her clinic by an unidentified assassin. The Times headline read: "Killing Underscores Enmity of Evangelists and Muslims." But the enmity unmistakably goes only one way. The dead Bonnie Witherall's husband and colleagues proclaimed their love for the people of southern Lebanon, even after the murder. "Whoever did this crime, I forgive them," Garry Witherall said at her memorial service. "It's not easy. It took everything I have, but I can forgive these people because God has forgiven me."
The missionaries, on the other hand, had been denounced by local Islamic leaders, in part because, as one Muslim magazine quoted by the Times put it, "They destroy the fighting spirit of the children, especially of the Palestinian youth, by teaching them not to fight the Jews, for the Palestinians to forgive the Jews and leave them Jerusalem."
Obviously, this story is so tangled that the only thing for a self-respecting journalist to do is declare moral equivalence, and be done with it. What rot.
Admittedly, this kind of thing is an old story, and even a stale staple of conservative journalism. But as long as it keeps happening, it has to be pointed out. The media don't tell us what to believe, but they do set the terms of public discussion. The narrative model that insists Christians can never be victims of bigotry, violent or otherwise, will ultimately have consequences beyond merely angering pious readers and viewers.
In Canada, Christians are having their freedom of speech and worship taken away by hate-speech laws designed to protect homosexuals from having their feelings hurt. Meanwhile, incidents like the radical feminist trashing of Montreal's Roman Catholic cathedral a couple of years ago (they even threw condoms and soiled tampons at the altar, and burned crosses on the cathedral steps) not only merited little comment in Canada's press, it didn't move the Canadian authorities to file anything stronger than minor trespassing charges. Prosecutors said the event didn't trigger the country's hate-crimes law.
This didn't come from nowhere. And one trembles to think of where it's going. This is why we have to talk about Mary Stachowicz.