(Updated) Saturday, CNN Headline News ran a repeat of Glenn Beck’s March 27 show, which showed footage of some of the images that ran behind Elton John during his elaborate 60th birthday bash at Madison Square Garden that included a burning church. This is the same man who said that religion promotes hatred and “it’s not very compassionate.” Beck discussed the very tolerant and “compassionate” concert:
On Sunday, he performed -- it`s the lord`s day -- at Madison Square Garden with this image running behind him. Yes, that would be a burning church. Now, I know you`re at home thinking, "Gee, Glenn, isn`t Elton John the guy who said he`d ban all religion because it turns people into hateful lemmings?" Yes, same guy.
Beck discussed the images with Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, who called the act a “hate crime.”
BECK: Tell me about the burning of the church on stage.
LAFFERTY: Well, you know, that`s against the law in America. That is a hate crime, a so-called hate crime. And, you know, although they want to use this upcoming hate crime law to silence pastors and Christians, but Elton doesn`t get it.
BECK: Hang on. There has got to be an attorney out there that says, "Oh, I`d like to file that as a hate crime." There`s got to be somebody out there that wants to take that on.
LAFFERTY: It`s hateful. But, you know, Glenn, a lot of us grew up liking Elton John.
BECK: I love him.
LAFFERTY: He`s no longer the Elton John that we knew. He`s a guy who has a personal agenda, who hates God, who hates Christians, who hates people of faith, and he`s going to use his money to spout this.
The traditional media that insist on selecting speech and images to label as intolerant, should at least be even-handed. Why haven’t they covered this example of religious intolerance or “hate speech,” particularly when it is perpetrated by a celebrity who frequently “speaks out” against hate speech and who is a vocal supporter of self-described anti-bigotry groups like Human Rights Campaign?
Let’s flip this around; if country artist Toby Keith displayed a burning mosque at a concert, it is highly unlikely that the media would be this indifferent. Comparing how the media treated the false story of the desecrated Koran at Guantanamo Bay perfectly illustrates the inequity in the portrayal of intolerance or hate speech.
The distinct disinterest in anti-Christian bias is evident in the media treatment of an incident which would be considered bigotry and perhaps hate speech if the image targeted any other religion or group.
NB reader Peter D was at John’s concert and says that the image of the burning church was displayed during John’s 1970 song “Burn Down the Mission,” a song which seems to take place in the North American Old West. A group of people without supplies are planning to “burn down the mission” and watch “the red flame light the sky,” where “the rich man sleeps” to get his “fat stock” and goods because it’s their “only chance of living.”
This song and album were well-received, but what if “mosque” was plugged in for “mission?” Obviously, that’s would never occur, but what happens when a song's implied religion is Islam or if “polarizing” Toby Keith showed a burning mosque at a concert during either of his two “controversial” 9/11-themed songs?
The media called Keith’s patriotic fist-pumper, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” “mean” and “an ugly picture.” The Washington Post’s reviewer Joe Heim spat, “there can’t be any excusing his venomous jingoism.”According to Keith, it was so poorly received among the media that ABC News’ Peter Jennings cancelled Keith’s appearance at a 9/11 4th of July concert because of the lyric content. Keith’s anti-Taliban anthem, “The Taliban Song” was even said to border on “candy-coated hate speech,” and its success was called “the great American nightmare.”
The purpose of noting this dichotomy is not to say that John isn’t “allowed” to show the image. Christianity is strong enough to co-exist with free speech without riots; our focus is the imbalance in treatment. There is a clear difference in how songs with religious undertones are received when the religion is not Christianity, but Islam.