The New York Times’ sloppiness when reporting on Christianity is proverbial, but perhaps none of its prior errors equals its claim this week that the apostle Saint Paul commanded Christians to kill the homosexuals among them.
With remarkable insouciance, NYT writers Jeremy W. Peters and Lizette Alvarez blithely make reference to “a Bible verse from Romans that calls for the execution of gays,” meaning Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans 1:18-32.
As anyone who has ever read the New Testament knows, Saint Paul never permits that Christians should commit any violence whatsoever against homosexuals, but the Times editors apparently thought that fact-checking with the original text was superfluous or that readers were too ignorant to check for themselves.
The Times report, titled “After Orlando, a Political Divide on Gay Rights Still Stands,” follows on the fatal shooting of 49 people in the Pulse nightclub by a 29-year-old Muslim who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. In the wake of the attack, many have tried to compare Christian beliefs regarding the morality of homosexuality with those of Islam, in an apparent attempt to make Christians guilty by association.
The biblical passage in question actually speaks of God’s anger toward sinners who reject God despite the abundance of evidence for his existence in creation. It says that those who failed to honor God “became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.”
Saint Paul continues: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves.”
“For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error,” he wrote.
The passage ends with a list of the sort of behavior that displeased God:
They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.
Last week Republican Congressman read this passage aloud to his colleagues, incurring the wrath of gay rights advocates who called on Republicans to condemn the “vile and dangerous remarks” contained in the biblical text.
“At a time when LGBT people face staggering rates of discrimination, harassment and violence, Representative Allen’s comments spread hate that does real harm,” Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President said in a statement.
Wishing to censor the Bible as “hate speech,” however, would establish a dangerous precedent for religious liberty in America, a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles, especially when the text in question condemns a whole series of actions that few manage to avoid.
The New York Times, which prides itself on its careful reporting, has a history of blunders when addressing Christianity.
In 2006, journalist Terry Mattingly wrote a column titled “Reporters, Crow’s Ears and Karma Light Nuns,” which documented a series of factual errors made by journalists when reporting on religion, beginning with the front-page gaffe by Ian Fisher, who referred to Pope John Paul’s metal staff as a “crow’s ear,” instead of the correct term of “crozier.”
In fairness, the New York Times isn’t the only group that has sought to implicate Christian teaching on homosexuality in the Orlando massacre.
The Catholic bishop of Saint Petersburg, Fla, similarly blamed Catholic disapproval of homosexual acts for the brutal Orlando slaughter.
In a blogpost, Bishop Robert Lynch said that Catholicism “targets” and “often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people.” The seed of contempt, he said, turns into hatred, “which can ultimately lead to violence.” Unless this attitude changes, he states, “we can expect more Orlandos.”