Political style question for tense times: What do you call people killed in church on Easter?

I have been covering the religion beat, to one degree or another, for 40 years and I have never heard “Easter worshippers” used as a replacement for the word “Christians.”

Is this a reference to people who worship ON Easter or, well, people who worship Easter?

As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I am well aware that Christians around the world — due to the much-covered clash between the Gregorian calendar and the older Julian calendar — usually celebrate Christianity’s most important holy day (called “Pascha” in the East) at different times. (For the ancient churches of the East, today is the Monday of Holy week this year.)

All that aside, there is no reason to substitute an awkward term like “Easter worshippers” for the word “Christian,” when referring to the victims in the horrible Easter morning bombings in Sri Lanka.

So I was surprised to see this oh-so-Twitter firestorm erupt yesterday. Here is the top of a key D.C. Beltway report. The pro-forma headline at The Hill states: “Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity'.” And here is the overture:

Former President Barack Obama on Easter Sunday condemned a series of explosions at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka as "an attack on humanity."

"The attacks on tourists and Easter worshippers in Sri Lanka are an attack on humanity," Obama tweeted on Easter Sunday. "On a day devoted to love, redemption, and renewal, we pray for the victims and stand with the people of Sri Lanka."

As you would expect, “Christians” pounced and this quickly became a story in “conservative” media.

What caused this bizarre mini-train wreck? I can think of two reasons — one based on journalistic caution and the other based on Donald Trump-era cynicism.

Let’s start with the closest thing to logic that I can come up with, if one is seeking a non-political reason for this switch. To bluntly state the point: The terrorists attacked churches AND hotels, so one could make a case that Christians were not the only people attacked.

Now, yes, that still doesn’t explain “Easter worshippers” in the tweets by politicos. But it might explain why journalists at USA Today produced a Sri Lanka massacre story that never used the word “Christian” until the 15th paragraph. Here is the “Christian” lite overture:

A string of bombings at churches, luxury hotels and other sites on Easter Sunday killed at least 290 people, including "several" Americans, in an attack on the South Asian island of Sri Lanka.

A police spokesman said more than 500 people were injured.

The attacks were carried out by seven suicide bombers from a domestic militant group named National Thowfeek Jamaath, a government official said Monday. All of the bombers were Sri Lankan citizens, but authorities suspect foreign links, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said at a news conference.

Earlier, Ariyananda Welianga, a government forensic crime investigator, said an analysis of the attackers’ body parts made clear that they were suicide bombers, according to the Associated Press. He said most of the attacks were carried out by a single bomber, with two at Colombo’s Shangri-La Hotel.

Finally, way, way down in the news report there is this:

The majority are Sinhalese, mostly Buddhist. The minority Tamil are Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Christians, targeted in Sunday's attacks, have a lower profile than some of the other factions.

A few lines later, USA Today did quote Pope Francis — who called the victims “Christians.”

Meanwhile, The New York Times used some cautious language in one of its main stories — but not in the blunt headline, which stated: “Sri Lanka Bomb Attacks Targeting Christians Kill Hundreds.”

The Washington Post coverage used the word “Christian” early and often and, frankly, added appropriate context linked to Easter. Here’s that overture:

Across Sri Lanka on Sunday morning, travelers and worshipers settled in at tables for Easter breakfast and into pews at churches on the country’s east and west coasts, where they had come to celebrate a holy resurrection.

Then the explosions began.

Between 8:45 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, in three cities, suicide bombers at three luxury hotels and three Christian churches detonated explosive devices. Five hours later, two more explosions were reported near the capital city of Colombo, one at a low-budget inn and the other at a residential housing complex.

At least 290 people died in the attacks, and more than 500 were injured — turning Christianity’s most joyous day to one of mass carnage. Sanctuaries were hit by shrapnel and left without roofs. Photos show blood-spattered walls, splintered wooden pews and bodies.

So what’s up with the “Easter worshippers” lingo?

On Twitter, several insiders stressed that the word “Christian” was certainly appropriate, when writing news reports about persecution and terror. For example:

But the POLITICAL context of this hubbub is best seen by comparing this Hillary Clinton tweet about Sri Lanka with her spot-on, blunt commentary on the hellish massacre of Muslims during worship services in New Zealand.

Here is a flashback:

Then there is this, concerning the larger massacre in Sri Lanka:

What themes are missing in the second tweet that were — with good cause — included in the first?

Thinking like a cynic — which is a common way of thinking in DC right now — one can only assume that the Christians in Sri Lanka have the wrong allies. Perhaps the caution in using this particular C-word, right now, was linked to tweets such as this:


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