On one side of this week’s media morality play, we find Dr. Kent Brantly, a heroic Fort Worth missionary felled by a frightening virus while tending to the world’s sick and poor.
On the other side, we find celebrity book peddler Ann Coulter, who does for political commentary what Sriracha does for grits.
To Coulter, Brantly is a fool who had no business being out in the world preaching Christ’s love.
Her midweek column mocked Brantly for “Christian narcissism” and even said missionaries should stay home and “serve their own country.”
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Here in Brantly’s adopted hometown and state, the choice between the two sides is not close.
“You have exemplary Christian people doing what Christ taught us to do, which is to care for our fellow human beings,” said religion professor Mark Hamilton of Abilene Christian University, the speaker at a citywide worship service on Sunday in Abilene for Brantly and everyone with the Ebola virus.
“This is what Christianity is supposed to be about. It seems a little bizarre to be criticizing people.”
Coulter’s broadside blast against Brantly — some of it is too revolting to reprint — came after on-and-off presidential candidate Donald Trump groused in uppercase letters on Twitter that Brantly should be left in Liberia.
Other conservatives, and not only Christian leaders, were quick to defend Brantly and missionary work.
Erick Erickson of the conservative RedState.com website, hosting its annual RedState Gathering this weekend at the Renaissance Worthington hotel in Fort Worth, pointed out that if Brantly had gone to the Valley, critics would have attacked him for treating illegal immigrants.
“After all,” Erickson wrote, “Christians are to save souls, not just American ones.”
Southern Baptists were quick to speak out, not only for Brantly but also against Coulter.
The commentary “flies in the face of everything Christ taught his disciples,” wrote Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.
Christian missionary work “has nothing to do with American nationalism,” Mohler wrote, adding that Coulter’s insulting depiction of West African nations comes “very close to racism.”
Her column “should lead to outrage,” Mohler wrote.
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, brought some.
“Ann Coulter has not suddenly pivoted to saying some outrageous, shocking thing,” he wrote. “She’s made a living at it. Donald Trump is not suddenly a boor. He’s been playing this role for years.”
In a bit of wise advice for anyone following shock-talk politics, Moore wrote that Christians should take Coulter the same way they take Howard Stern.
“We should be the last people to fall for hucksters and demagogues,” Moore wrote. “The church is built on the rock foundation of apostles and prophets, not hucksters and outrage artists.”
In Abilene, where Brantly went to school and worshiped at the Church of Christ, Hamilton called Coulter’s comments an unfair attack on a “marvelous person.”
And he made another point.
“When somebody writes something like that on Facebook, their friends take them down pretty quickly,” Hamilton said.
“We celebrate people who are only good at being loud. It would be nice of we had more Kent Brantlys and fewer Donald Trumps and Ann Coulters.”