Authorial Intent and Journalistic Integrity

Orthodox Christian theologians, who believe in objective truth, speak frequently about the importance of authorial intent when interpreting Scripture. Authorial intent is the capstone and starting point from which all other hermeneutical and literary interpretation rules flow.  It is wrong, for instance, to co-opt St. Paul’s words by taking them out of context or by twisting them to support one’s own agenda.  In the same way, as Christians who believe in objective truth, we are called to accurately represent anyone that we reference or quote.  If we fail to truthfully represent a given author or speaker’s stated viewpoint, by willful ignorance or other motives then we are not engaged in truth telling.  Not only this but by our actions we have, at least temporarily, acted within the worldview that we oppose, namely the worldview that believes truth is relative.  As Christians and as responsible journalists, we must always portray any author or speaker’s viewpoint in such a way that they would whole-heartily agree with how their viewpoint was portrayed.

JD Hall, in a recent Pulpit and Pen article (http://pulpitandpen.org/2015/07/30/christian-group-puts-bounty-on-lions-until-planned-parenthood-defunded/) wrote an article (in the genre of satire) entitled “Christian Group Puts Bounty on Lions Until Planned Parenthood Defunded”. In that article, he makes a reference to Dr. Karen Prior,

Karen Swallow Prior, research fellow for the Southern Baptist Convention’s ERLC, wrote an article published in the Washington Post, comparing the death of Cecil the Lion to infants aborted by Planned Parenthood. Clearly, there are some similarities and juxtaposed ethical presuppositions as well.

Based on the context of the paragraph, the entirety of the article and along with his other writings, JD seems to be asserting that Dr. Prior was comparing the atrocity (“comparing” defined as “to appear in a similar standing”) of Cecil’s death to the atrocity of aborted infant’s deaths.  If by comparing JD meant “to examine (two or more objects, ideas, people, etc.) in order to note similarities and differences” he would have been accurate.  I believe though, based on his final sentence, “Clearly, there are some similarities and juxtaposed ethical presuppositions as well”, he meant the former definition of comparing, “to appear in a similar standing”. 

As a quick side note: If I were to find out that I was wrong in my interpretation of JD Hall’s article, I will remove what I have written above.

If one carefully reads Karen’s article (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/07/30/is-cecil-the-lion-more-devastating-than-the-planned-parenthood-videos/?postshare=6881438278772173) as well as her Twitter feed, we find that JD’s assertion about Dr. Prior’s article, is in fact not accurate.  Dr. Prior’s article is about “knowledge as a moral responsibility” not on the moral equivalence of killing human fetuses and lions.  Karen uses two case studies (1. Planned Parenthood’s selling of human fetal parts & 2. the poaching of Cecil the Lion) as an object lesson for her short treatise on ethics where she discusses moral culpability and ignorance:

While elective abortion and trophy hunting are different issues surrounded by different ethical and political questions, both news stories offer — regardless of one’s views on either issue — an opportunity to consider the moral responsibility that comes with knowledge — and the moral responsibility that comes with willful ignorance.

Dr. Prior was more than clear in her statement above that the controversies surrounding Planned Parenthood and Cecil the Lion are ultimately “different issues surrounded by different ethical questions”. To drive this point home even more Dr. Prior posts a link on Twitter to an article that states, “This is not to say the two issues [Planned Parenthood and Cecil the Lion] are morally equivalent. They aren’t.”

The overall point by Dr. Prior and by those she has linked to is that Christians can wisely take the opportunity of moral outrage over Cecil the Lion and say (as one article did that she tweeted), “One act is evil. How much more the other?”