In a story on federal prosecutors seeking the death penalty against Dylann Roof, the New York Times introduces a compelling religion angle way up high.
Jesus even makes an appearance. But, surprise, this faith hook vanishes almost immediately. Strange how things like that happen.
The lede from the Times:
CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Rev. Sharon Risher often thinks these days about what she calls her “humanness”: the passing impulse to crave the execution of the white supremacist accused of killing her mother and eight other black churchgoers last year.
“My humanness is being broken, my humanness of wanting this man to be broken beyond punishment,” Ms. Risher said. “You can’t do that if you really say that you believe in the Bible and you believe in Jesus Christ. You can’t just waver.”
But after delays, the Federal District Court here will begin on Monday the long process of individually questioning prospective jurors for the capital trial of Dylann S. Roof, who is charged with 33 federal counts, including hate crimes, in the June 17, 2015, killings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Mr. Roof, whom a judge on Friday declared competent to stand trial, has offered, in exchange for a sentence of life in prison, to plead guilty. The government has refused to make such a plea agreement.
The 17-month path to Mr. Roof’s first death penalty trial — the state of South Carolina is also seeking his execution — has been marked by public demonstrations of forgiveness and reconciliation. But the federal government’s decision to pursue Mr. Roof’s execution is widely questioned, and it is in defiance of the wishes and recommendations of survivors of the attack, many family members of the dead and some Justice Department officials. Even South Carolina’s acrimonious debate about the display of the Confederate battle flag outside the State House was less divisive in this state, polling shows.
Like I said, Jesus makes only a cameo appearance in the Old Gray Lady's report.
As the story progresses, readers are left to decide for themselves exactly what it is that one can't do if "you really say that you believe in the Bible and you believe in Jesus Christ." Is craving an execution the spiritual problem? Or is Risher opposed to capital punishment itself? Can one forgive Roof yet still see the death penalty as just punishment if he's convicted?
Regrettably, the Times never attempts to explain what Risher means or elaborate on it. The piece never explores where followers of the Bible — those for and against the death penalty — stand on the capital case against Roof.
After making a grand entrance, religion becomes a sideshow in the Times' report.
The rest of the story focuses on legalities, politics and race, never delving into the intriguing question of where people of faith stand on the death penalty being pursued in a mass shooting at a church.
The final two paragraphs do offer another flash of a potential religion angle:
Ms. Risher knows about the divides. And as she anxiously waited for Mr. Roof’s trial to begin, she kept returning to the many flashes of doubt she has endured about her own beliefs about Mr. Roof’s fate.
“I just start talking to God,” she said. “Hell, I might start screaming at God. I just go there because I know I have to go there because I can’t hold onto that.”
But once again, the Times stops short, allowing holy ghosts to haunt the piece.