Right from the start, a long Page 1 story in The Dallas Morning News portrays the Rev. Charles Moore as a hero.
The headline on the weekend story:
In dying act, minister hoped to inspire social justice
The top of the 1,750-word story:
From segregated churches of East Texas to destitute slums of India, the Rev. Charles Moore fought for human rights.
He delivered sermons about racism and sexism. He stood vigil against the death penalty. He went on a hunger strike to protest discrimination against gays and lesbians.
But during retirement, the United Methodist minister questioned whether he had done enough. He saw the broken world around him.
So how did Moore — according to the Morning News — take his final, courageous stand?:
On a Monday afternoon in June, Moore, 79, drove from his home in Allen to Grand Saline, the town of his childhood about 70 miles east of Dallas. He traveled along country roads near fields of wildflowers and grazing cattle. In a strip-mall parking lot, outside a dollar store, beauty salon and pharmacy, he knelt down, doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire.
As flames engulfed him, he screamed and tried to stand. Witnesses rushed to put out the blaze with shirts, bottled water and, finally, an extinguisher.
He was flown unconscious to a Dallas hospital, where he died from burn injuries.
Keep reading, and the Dallas newspaper uses Moore’s own terminology — self-immolation — to describe the nature of his death:
Moore had intended his act to be a grand but selfless gesture in the manner of Buddhist monks who have done the same before him.
“I would much prefer to go on living and enjoy my beloved wife and grandchildren and others, but I have come to believe that only my self-immolation will get the attention of anybody and perhaps inspire some to higher service,” he wrote in one of the notes he left behind.
The Morning News does not explain the term, but Wikipedia defines self-immolation as “a ritualistic suicide practice” that refers to “killing oneself as a sacrifice.”
In an earlier story headlined “Madman or Martyr: Retired minister sets self on fire, dies,” the Tyler Morning Telegraph used the term “suicide” up high:
GRAND SALINE – A 79-year-old Methodist minister who died after setting himself on fire on a busy street in this town of about 3,100 residents left behind a suicide letter asking the community to repent for its racism.
But the word “suicide” does not appear in the Dallas story. Nor does any mention of the high prevalence of mental illness and/or substance abuse in people who kill themselves.
The story does report that a United Methodist Church policy calls the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Supporters of that policy don’t get a chance to defend themselves for (based on this story) contributing to Moore’s death. But the way the piece reads, it’s not a stretch to suggest that maybe they should.
This pastor’s death is certainly a tragedy, but the Morning News almost seems not to realize that. Rather than a sad story about a troubled soul, this one appears to celebrate his death — and the manner of it.