I don’t know if I was more shocked by the article itself, or by where it appeared. Though I have heard the argument that gay advocates vastly overstate the prevalence of hate crimes in order to support a far-reaching political agenda, who would have thought that such a coldly skeptical demolition of their case could have appeared in the ultra-liberal New York Times? But there it was, under a front-page headline: “A Move to Face ‘Persecution’ Facing Gays Worldwide,” with “persecution” framed in quotes. And the opening paragraphs followed this same theme, with various atrocities recorded, but always in scornful terms which cast doubt on the reality of the victimization: We read of people gathering to support “what they call gay martyrs,” or marching in support of “the gays they are told are suffering” in countries around the world. Although specific crimes are described, there is a powerful suggestion that these are so ludicrously overstated that they may not be real. The bulk of the article focused instead on the balanced and moderate opinions of objective experts who denounced the ballyhoo about hate crimes and urged that anti-gay sentiment be understood in the context of traditional social attitudes. As one distinguished think-tank authority remarked, “There are local forces, local interests, so it’s not subsumable under one kind of conspiracy against gays.” If the audience being agitated by these wild charges of anti-gay persecution were a little more sophisticated, they would realize that this sort of violence goes on all the time, and there really is no need to get so excited. The worst possible course of action would be to pass ill-considered emergency legislation to force the federal government to protect potential victims of persecution, a policy which could only make things worse. Many might feel that the whole article was astonishingly callous to the well-documented sufferings of the victims of hate crimes across the world, but it was refreshing to find such a wildly atypical piece in the Times. Clearly, the editors are willing to expose humbug and posturing from whatever part of the political spectrum it comes.

Yes, of course, I am joking—well, partly. The article in question was indeed printed on the front page of the Times, on November 9, 1998, under the byline of Laurie Goodstein, and all the quotes did appear exactly as worded, except that in each instance, I have changed the name of the minority group being subjected to torture and murder: It was originally Christians, not gays. Once we realize that, we can comprehend the whole mystery of how a paper like the Times might have discovered a category of hate crime which it is prepared to tolerate, or at least to cover as if the persecutors required equal time with the victims. In this instance, the crimes are only of interest in demonstrating how powerful right-wing pressure groups use such apparently trivial issues to mobilize support among the ignorant faithful, and to galvanize Christians to become politically active. So much for the voiceless Christian victims, those inconceivably poor Africans, Asians, and Arabs who self-evidently fall into the category of “torturees,” Graham Greene’s classic term for those who can be maimed and killed with impunity. We can almost hear the newspaper’s sneer: If not for political advantage, why else would American Christians care about such people?

The Times would never have treated any other ethnic, social, or religious group as dismissively as the persecuted Christians of Sudan and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or China. Goodstein even rejects the concept of anti-Christian persecution. After all, as “experts say” (those famous experts again), “what outsiders often label Christian persecution is often a complex brew of racial, economic, political, tribal and religious rivalries.” Now, I have tried diligently, but I cannot decipher how that description cannot equally be applied to any other form of hatred or discrimination, most conspicuously, to antisemitism. Nor can I discover why the fact of being such a “complex brew” should mean that observers should take less account of it. Let me test this against an imaginary news story:

Though the mob destroyed the synagogue and killed several believers at prayer, authorities explained that the event should not be viewed too seriously, as the perpetrators were motivated by a complex brew of ancient rivalries and emotions.

No, it doesn’t read too convincingly, does it? Or at least, it would not in the context of any group besides Christians, who, as we are explicitly told by the Times, are still in the doghouse “over the indifference or even complicity of some Christians in the Holocaust and in genocidal wars in Rwanda and Bosnia.” Nevertheless, “Christians are seeing themselves as the victims and martyrs of the moment.” I especially admire the phrase “of the moment,” with its implications of a faddish cause du jour. The nerve of those people, whining just because a few hundred thousand of their fellow believers are beaten, beheaded, raped, and tortured each year.

We have to be precise about our terms here. All religiously motivated attacks on Jews are hate crimes evoking Kristallnacht and the holocaust; all attacks on homosexuals are manifestations of pervasive hatred arid bigotry, requiring massive public re-education; the notion of “anti-Christian persecution” is, however, a “misguided oversimplification,” however blatant the element of religious bigotry. In fact, even to express concern about this last kind of organized terrorism is in itself a form of hate crime, chiefly directed against Muslims. I hope that’s all clear.

Incidentally, all due credit should go to Goodstein for her rhetorical talents. Anyone else writing such a story might have been tempted to lead with one or two of the straightforward and well-documented recent instances of humble Christian believers executed or murdered for their faith, but this might have run the risk of arousing sympathy for the victims. (For many such instances, read the heart-rending case studies in Their

Blood Cries Out by Paul Marshall and Lela Gilbert or in Nina Shea’s In the Lion’s Den.) Instead, Goodstein chose to quote former sufferers now on the lecture circuit, with the implication that their spectacular accounts were overadorned in order to appeal to the gangs of ignorant yahoos she imagines filling churches across America. It takes a serious professional journalist to achieve that level of distortion without actually misstating a single fact.

It is regrettably possible that some readers disgusted by the New York Times story might be tempted to see it as a manifestation of a specifically Jewish prejudice against Christianity, and a tendency to minimize Christian sufferings. (Compare the astonishing scene in Spielberg’s emetic production of Schindler’s List, in which the horrific war-time experience of the Polish Catholic people is reduced to the one obscene moment in which a Christian girl derides Jews en route to death camps.) But the Times itself has historically led the field in raising the issue of anti-Christian persecution, and its chief warrior in this campaign has consistently been Jewish columnist A.M. Rosenthal. With his deep sensitivity to antisemitic rhetoric, Rosenthal is not prepared to let any similar slanders pass when they happen to be directed against any other group, and he is thus the first to complain when Muslim extremists denounce Christians or Bahais for poisoning wells and subverting society. (An equally exemplary role has been played by another Jewish writer, the Hudson Institute’s Michael Horowitz.) Just as the whole anti-persecution campaign is not anti-Muslim in content, neither do its detractors come from any one religious or political tradition.

Goodstein’s offensive article might be dismissed as an isolated manifestation of anti-religious bigotry, but it is much more significant than that. When one of the nation’s leading newspapers is prepared to give such prominence to such an unabashed partisan tirade against any manifestation of Christian political activism, it suggests either a remarkable ignorance about the realities of that tradition or outright terror at the prospect of the slightest religious involvement in conservative politics (as opposed to liberal or radical campaigns). Goodstein’s article may be the best argument I have read for the view that Christianity remains the one unacceptable religious tradition in the otherwise limitless tolerance of the United States. And her article has affected me profoundly: If I was not concerned before about the necessity to organize politically to support persecuted Christians worldwide, I am now fully converted to this view. It takes a rare journalist to transform one’s opinion so completely with a single piece of writing.