The murderous rampage last week at a Texas Baptist church exemplified the rising hostility toward Christians in America and abroad--and an inexplicable reluctance to recognize the shooting as a religious hate crime, national evangelical leaders said.
From Jerry Falwell to Pat Robertson, James Dobson and D. James Kennedy, leaders of the Christian right uniformly decried last week what they called a double standard in treating Christian victims of violence.
The recent shooting at a Granada Hills, Calif., Jewish community center and last year's murders of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and James Byrd Jr. in Texas were rightly labeled as hate crimes against Jews, gays and blacks, respectively, the leaders said.
But no such declaration has been made, they said, in the case of Wedgwood Baptist Church, where Larry Gene Ashbrook reportedly screamed anti-Christian expletives as he killed seven churchgoers.
Nor, religious leaders say, were anti-Christian motives highlighted in the attacks on a high school prayer circle in West Paducah, Ky., in 1997 or this year at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where the majority of victims were born-again Christians--including Cassie Bernall, who became a symbol of martyrdom when she was killed after reportedly affirming her faith in God.
"There is a total absence of outrage over the killings at the Baptist church and in Colorado, as far as the religious aspect is concerned," televangelist Falwell said. "We have, whether intentional or not, built up a reservoir of hostility toward people of faith, particularly evangelical people."
Evangelical leaders say Christians are suffering unparalleled persecution worldwide. Now, they argue, the attacks are taking place in America.
"It would seem that killing Christians is on a far lower level of seriousness than anyone else being killed," said Kennedy. "Is that where we've come to as a Christian nation?"