For the last several days, a sizable subsection of Christian America has been all a-flutter with the news that Dinesh D’Souza—well-known apologist, former president of King’s College and maker of the film 2016: Obama’s America—was hanging out at an apologetics conference with a woman who wasn’t his wife.
Now in the secular world, perhaps, this wouldn’t create much of a ripple. But it was a pretty big deal for lots of folks who label themselves as conservative evangelicals, the very folks to whom D’Souza preaches and sells books. And so perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising that D’Souza, whom I gather is not a man to shy away from a fight, reacted more as a shocked victim than a shamed instigator. In a post on his website, he lashed out at World magazine (the publication that “uncovered” the alleged liaison) declaring that the magazine’s editor had it out for him due to a falling out when they were both briefly at King’s College. He wrote:
Ultimately this is not just about [World editor Marvin] Olasky or even World magazine. It is also about how we Christians are supposed to behave with one another. And the secular world is watching. Is this how we love and treat fellow believers? If my conduct was improper, wouldn’t it be the decent and charitable thing to approach me about it? Instead, here is a clear attempt to destroy my career and my ministry. This is viciousness masquerading as righteousness. And this is the behavior that is truly worthy of Christian condemnation.
I understand D’Souza’s point, I suppose. As Christians, we are given a model of how we are to deal with behavior and misbehavior in the Church (Matthew 18: 15-17 and Galatians 6:1, for starters), and publishing a damaging story via mass media is never mentioned. (Then again, some might argue that D’Souza’s 2016 takedown of President Obama, who’s also a Christian, might well fall under the same criteria.)
But I wonder whether the media, even the Christian media, falls under a different set of rules.
When I was covering religion for The Gazette in Colorado Springs, I covered my fair share of Christian scandal: sex, embezzlement, hypocrisy, you name it. And honestly, I hated covering some of those stories. I liked some of the people I had to write about, and I knew what I wrote was hurtful to both the subject and his flock. A time or two, people who knew that I was a Christian called me and asked me not to print a something, telling me the story wouldn't just hurt their church, but hurt the Church.
But as much as I wanted, at times, to shut my eyes, there was no way I could. I had a responsibility—not just to the newspaper that paid me or to the readers who trusted me, but to the Church itself, even in the midst of its own potential hurt and heartache. Thou shalt not lie, the Commandment says. And journalists are tasked to tell the truth—to follow the story, wherever it might lead. No one ever said the Christian walk was easy.
The Bible itself is, in many ways, a great example of journalistic integrity. Most of the characters we meet in its pages aren’t perfect. We find them up to their armpits in questionable behavior. It would’ve been easy for the Bible’s authors, or editors long after, to edit out some of those uncomfortable truths we find. But they didn’t. The authors wrote what they saw and heard. Many of the writers themselves were deeply flawed. But as a result of their honesty, the Christian faith is given a greater complexity, poignancy and reality than it would have otherwise.
Karen Swallow Prior, writing for Christianity Today’s blog Her.meneutics (one of the most consistently insightful Christian blogs you’ll find anywhere) offered some pretty brilliant thoughts on D’Souza’s alleged actions and World’s coverage of those actions. Perhaps the folks behind World magazine aren’t perfect, she allows. In fact, it’s pretty much a guarantee they’re not. But does that somehow then mitigate D’Souza’s own alleged wrongdoing? “For if the validity of a message hinges on the messenger’s moral character,” she writes, “then D’Souza’s entire career falls with this recent news.”
She goes on:
But, fortunately, it is not the case that the truth of the message depends entirely upon the messenger. Indeed, if hypocrisy consists of failing to live up to one’s professed standards, only those who deny any absolute, universal standards are safe from the charge of hypocrisy. (And even these inevitably run up against something they absolutely believe in.) The fact is that in every case—except One—truth is proclaimed by imperfect messengers. Therefore, it is essential when facing disappointment in fallen leaders to remember that, despite its fragile vessels, truth is greater than those who proclaim it. This is what it means to say that truth is objective, that it lies outside ourselves, that truth is not subjective, or found within. The truth of something is not, thankfully, dependent upon the character of the bearer of that truth.
The poet John Keats once wrote that, “’Beauty is truth, truth beauty’--that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” He was wrong, of course: Temporal beauty has very little to do with truth, and we know that a great many truths are quite ugly.
And yet, in the grand tradition of Christian paradox, there is a beauty in the ugliest truths, too. The truth, absolute and pure, does lie outside ourselves, as Swallow Prior writes—outside our ability to twist it and corrupt it and spin it how we like. Truth lies in a more hallowed place. And as such, it is beautiful indeed.