A classic case of shooting the messenger emerged last week surrounding the revelation of an extramarital relationship of Dinesh D'Souza, one of today's foremost Christian apologists and conservative thinkers. Blaming the messenger goes back at least as far as Sophocles' ancient Greek tragedy, Antigone. A guard has to bring King Creon the bad news that one of his orders has been violated. The guard delivers the news after drawing the losing lot, and does so in fear and trembling, knowing full well, he tells Creon, that "no man delights in the bearer of bad news." In the play, the life of the guard is spared. But not all bearers of unwelcome news are so lucky.
World magazine reported October 16 that the married-but-separated D'Souza had, during an apologetics conference, introduced as his fiancée a female traveling companion. (Denise Odie Joseph is also allegedly married—and younger to an uncomfortable degree—as well as an outspoken, if lesser known, advocate of conservativism.) D'Souza responded the next day by denying marital infidelity in an exclusive interview with Christianity Today. He also published a statement at Fox News that, first, took issue with some of the facts and then turned the tables on World. D'Souza accused the magazine of reporting the story as part of a longtime personal and professional "grievance" and "vendetta" against him, and characterized the article as "viciousness masquerading as righteousness." (Perhaps not coincidentally, shooting the messenger seems to be the same tactic employed in D'Souza's most recent work, the documentary film 2016. Based on his earlier book, the film attempts to advance conservative principles by discrediting one of the conservative movement's leading opponents.)
D'Souza concludes his response to the World story by saying, "Ultimately this is not just about [World editor] 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."
On this count, D'Souza is right. However, the secular world is not concerned, as D'Souza claims, with the question, "Is this how [Christians] love and treat fellow believers?" No, the secular world is frothing at the mouth at having yet one more example of hypocrisy from within the traditional marriage/family values crowd. For just one prominent fallen Christian can make secularism's point far more effectively than can all the arguments of the New Atheists and marriage equality activists combined.
It may be the way of the world to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but as Christians—even fallen ones—we know better. And D'Souza is only arguing himself into a corner by discrediting the messenger. For if the validity of a message hinges on the messenger's moral character, then D'Souza's entire career falls with this recent news.
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.
Nevertheless, while objective and absolute in nature, truth is by necessity embodied and lived out in the realm of subjective experience and relationship. We cannot help understanding a message in the context of the messenger. Consider, for example, the message "You are beautiful" given by a father to his young daughter, a message that would, and should, be received quite differently when offered by a stranger at the school bus stop. Both messages are equally true, but represent entirely different phenomenon within two different contexts and from two very different messengers.
Messages matter. And so do messengers.
That such a visible and outspoken messenger of Christian truth has failed to live up to his own message is not that surprising (after all, there is no one righteous, not even one). But the gap between the truth D'Souza proclaims and the truth that he lives will hamper his message. It hits me a little hard. D'Souza's book Illiberal Education was a lifeline to me as a graduate student living out the very truths described in the book when it was published in 1998. At that time, D'Souza voiced and validated my own experiences of anti-Christian hostility and discrimination (which I've written about elsewhere) in a way that was empowering and freeing. I am thankful that such truths are bigger than D'Souza, or me, or any one person. But I am disappointed, deeply disappointed, in his seeming failure to live out the principles he so fiercely advocated.
It is imperative that those of us who dare to proclaim truth—whether we be preachers, poets, politicians, or, Lord help me, professors—strive to be messengers holy and humble, lest by our failures the cause of truth be tarnished.