Today the Washington Post brought in Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield for an online chat on the topic of, “What role does Christianity play in the murder of the openly gay mayoral candidate in Mississippi?”

Notice that the Post didn’t even ask if Christianity did play a role in the killing — which would have been weird enough. No, for the Post, that question was settled; the only one worth asking is the nature of the role.

Were you aware that there was a Christian angle to the shocking murder? No? Because guess what: there isn’t. The Washington Post is making it up, in a “when did you stop beating your wife” kind of way.

On March 2, the Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger reported that people close to the dead man, Marco McMillian, and the accused murderer, Lawrence Reed, say the two were friend, possibly lovers, and had a fight. Excerpts:

Friends of Reed told Memphis television station WPTY that the two recently had met at a Clarksdale bar and became close. Then, sometime either late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, McMillian made sexual advances on Reed, the friends said, adding that Reed is straight.

The so-called “gay panic” defense. That’s not what McMillian’s friends say:

Friends of McMillian, however, say the two men were romantically involved and quarreled immediately before the slaying.

“They were having an affair,” said 18-year-old Carlos Jones. “They got to tussling.”

There is no evidence — none — that Christianity had anything to do with this hideous killing, which, whether it was “gay panic” or a lover’s quarrel gone badly wrong, was apparently a crime of passion. But that wasn’t good enough for the Washington Post, which fanned the flames of anti-religious bigotry by desperately searching for a faith angle.

A reader in the chat pointed out to Hirschfield that we don’t know Reed’s religious beliefs, if he had any at all, and whether or not they played a role in his alleged murder of McMillian. Hirschfield conceded the point, but added:

The one thing we can say, independant [sic] of knowing Reed’s mind, is that were he subjected to a great deal of homophobic teaching, it may have shaped his understanding of what is fair to do to gay people.  Again, that is not always the case, but there is enough evidence for that ocurring [sic] that we need to be very careful about the language we use to describe those who may think of as sinful or “other”.

Got that? Simply living in the vicinity of the Christian religion can turn you into a stone-cold murderer. I read that in the Washington Post online.

When a Jewish person is arrested for killing someone, will the Post invite Father F.X. O’Finnerty in to discuss the role Judaism played in the killing? Even in the absence of any evidence to suggest that the murder suspect practiced Judaism, or that Jewish teaching had a thing to do with the killing? Because if they did such a thing, it would be blatantly, disgustingly anti-Semitic. It would also be an act of grotesque civic irresponsibility so vile and provocative you’d have to wonder what the newspaper’s ultimate goal was.

Do not doubt that the Washington Post knows exactly what its doing. And it’s proud of it. There will be a lot more of this kind of thing. We live in interesting times.

UPDATE: A reader who agrees with the basic thrust of this post points out that the Post‘s introduction was more nuanced than its headline. Here’s how the intro reads:

Last week, an openly gay mayoral candidate was beaten, set on fire and dumped near a river in Mississippi. The incident has sparked a public debate about whether or not Christians, by not supporting homosexuals, play a role in this type of anti-gay violence.

Point taken, but I believe that this is a distinction without a difference. There has been no public debate about this. The Washington Post wishes to start one, because it wants to smear traditional Christians and their beliefs as dangerous and a civic threat.