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The recent fall of Dinesh D’Souza from the presidency of the evangelical King’s College has multiple killer angles.
One conservative evangelical institution taking down another. Heated (so to speak) debates among religious conservatives about what constitutes infidelity. But to this reporter, the best question is: Why are some evangelicals criticizing World magazine for reporting on D’Souza’s sex life, rather than confronting him privately, as scripture suggests? Does journalism contradict the Bible? Is there no room for a serious, hard-core evangelical Bob Woodward?
This Feb. 1, 2007 file photo shows Dinesh D’Souza in Williamsburg, Va. The conservative scholar behind a high-grossing film that condemns President Obama resigned Oct. 18, 2012 as head of an evangelical college after a report about his engagement to a woman while still legally married to his wife.
News that the well-known political conservative was engaged to someone but still married to someone else was reported by some who would seem like his natural allies – the leadership at World magazine, a publication by, for and about political and Christian conservatives.
It immediately triggered debate, even among some traditionalists, about what, exactly, D’Souza did wrong?
He resigned last Thursday from the small, evangelical New York City college following reports in World that he had been traveling with a woman who was not his wife. D’Souza says he has been separated from his wife for two years, and introduced the woman as his fiancée, but that did little to quiet things down.
So is the issue that an evangelical figure was divorcing? There are disagreements even among conservative evangelicals about what constitutes legit grounds for divorce. Or was it that World reported that the 51-year-old was sharing a hotel room with his fiancée, a charge D’Souza denies?
D’Souza said in a statement that he “had no idea it is considered wrong in Christian circles to be engaged prior to being divorced,” but this raises the question: What if he was not sharing a room with her, would any apparently romantic contact be considered alright?
Warren Smith, who reported and wrote the article, told me today that many traditional Christian organizations would consider it “highly irregular and often forbidden” to travel with someone of the opposite sex who is not your spouse. Smith said the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association forbids opposite-sex co-workers even to be alone in the same car.
To me, of course, it’s intriguing that World is hearing from Christian readers who are challenging the publication to explain why it published an article and didn’t follow the scripture of Matthew 18, which says Christians should deal with sinners initially in private: “Point out their fault, just between the two of you.” If that doesn’t work, take someone else along, and then take it to church leaders.
But how should an investigative journalist apply that? Especially one at World, which is in the process of trying to raise its profile as a must-read publication for conservatives?
Smith told me the editors at World take scripture seriously, but felt Matthew 18 did not apply because D’Souza is a public figure, the alleged hotel-room sharing was at a public event (a conference), and because World’s staff were unable to figure out who D’Souza’s regular pastor is.
But, I asked, are there situations and stories you wouldn’t publish because you feel scripture tells you to work it out privately? Smith said he thinks World’s process isn’t unlike the one at secular newsrooms like the Post, where, for example, reporters don’t identify victims of sexual assault by name.
That said, he seemed mildly skeeved out by comparing World too closely to the MSM.
“I hope and believe yes, we probably pay a little more attention to the specific guidance of scripture than does the newsroom of The Washington Post. But many principles in journalism – transparency, concern for truth – biblical values”