The Ethics of Righteous Video Sting Operations

So let me tell you right at the beginning what I think of the ethics of video sting operations (like the #PPSellsBabyParts story from last week). After telling you what I think about it, I want to lay out a biblical case for it.

The story caught Planned Parenthood by surprise, along with a bunch of people in the moderate middle whose reaction was “wait . . . what?” That being the case, Planned Parenthood’s first responses have been pretty lame, and have actually made things worse for them. Apologizing for the “tone” of the comments, as the head of Planned Parenthood did, is like Dylann Roof apologizing for jaywalking on the way to the church in Charleston.

Some Bible stories are inconvenient.
Some Bible stories are inconvenient.

I hope they don’t have time to collect themselves, and I hear there may be more videos ready to drop that might keep them on their heels. And if they are kept busy, and if the current climate is sustained for any length of time at all, every Christian should be pressing for the defunding of Planned Parenthood. The ways you press for it, in order of importance, would be 1. prayers, 2. hashtag activism, and 3. letting your congressman know that you don’t want Planned Parenthood to get one more thin dime. In short, keep this issue before the throne of Heaven, keep it before the online public, and keep it before the bursar.

But if they do get a minute to collect themselves, one of the push-back techniques they will almost certainly try is to challenge the ethics of secret sting video, and, if they have their wits about them, they will press for laws forbidding such operations. To which we should say, you know, laws have to be interpreted . . .

Nevertheless that particular challenge might still resonate with a lot of Christians. Such Christians are delighted by the damage done to PP, but are unsure about going in there like a secret agent wired for picture and sound, pretending to be someone you are not. Moreover, you are doing this surveillance operation entirely on your own, representing no one in authority at all.

In the meantime, it must be admitted that some Christians apply the Golden Rule in ways that are quite demented. They think that to approve the making of such videos means that we are saying that the bad guys have the right to get all wired up in similar ways in order to infiltrate evangelical bakeries in order to nose out our discriminatory cupcakes. But “how would you feel if someone did that to you?” is not manufactured out of ethical two by fours. “How would you feel if you were a guard at Auschwitz and somebody came and took away all your prisoners? Hmmm?”

So what do I think of this operation? I think it is the best thing to happen to the pro-life cause since Roe introduced this bloody debacle into our national life. And I don’t just think this because God draws straight with crooked lines. In this case, He was drawing straight with straight lines. I believe that the next president should award the person who organized this operation with the Medal of Freedom. And prior to that, I believe pro-life activists should make a point of talking about this in superlatives. We should apply every accolade we can find.

So what about the deception involved then? I am glad you asked.

The Christian world has a long and checkered history when it comes to our debates about the ethics of deception. There are hardliners who want to say “no deception” ever. There are others who would regard lying to hide Jews from Nazis as a sin, but as a lesser sin than turning them over would be. So they lie in order to keep a clean conscience, and then confess the lie afterwards as a sin, in order to restore a clean conscience. Then there are others, like myself, who believe that Scripture fully allows (indeed requires) deception under certain conditions, while flatly forbidding it in others. If we want to tell the two situations apart, then we have to do some Bible study.

The view that Christians may never deceive in any situation whatever is exegetically and theologically indefensible, and rapidly devolves into silliness. Can a tank commander paint his tank to look like a bush when it is in fact not a bush? Is it all right, in a game of pick-up basketball, to fake left and drive right? When Jericho Homeland Security asked Rahab which way the spies went, no one thinks she should have said, “Thank you for this opportunity to come clean. They are up on the roof hiding under the flax.” And Rahab the harlot, brought up in a pietistic home, was justified by her scruples.

So back to the video sting. In my view, this situation is comparable to a combination of two different kinds of lawful biblical deception. The first has to do with the response of the Hebrew midwives to Pharaoh’s requirement of infanticide. In defense of innocent human life, they lied through their teeth, and God rewarded them by giving them families of their own.

“But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty” (Ex. 1:17–20).

This is similar to our situation, but is not quite identical. In both cases, babies are being saved but there are some points of difference also. There the Hebrew midwives were acting (on behalf of their people) in self-defense, while in this situation the pro-lifers are acting on behalf of children who have been rejected by their own people. It is as though the Hebrew midwives had figured out a way of lying that would save Egyptian babies. So appealing to the Hebrew midwives is helpful for at least part of this. If there is a difference, this video sting operation was even nobler. But at the very least we see that deception when the stakes are high — e.g. the lives of babies — is not necessarily wrong. In my mind, this is a sufficient defense of obtaining videos about Planned Parenthood this way, but fortunately, there is more.

Another scriptural category that I find helpful here is the category of deceiving someone in order to be able to confront them with the truth. The point is not to deceive, and then to sneak off to enjoy the fruit of the deception. The point is to deceive, and then to unveil the deception in such a dramatic way as to unmask unrighteousness that is being confronted. The point of such deception is to subsequently tell everyone what you had done. The point is to reveal, not to hide. The hiding is merely a preamble to a great unveiling of the truth — in this case, the truth that Planned Parenthood has far surpassed Mengele in cold-blooded, reptilian ghoulishness.

This method is what the prophet Nathan did when he confronted David about Bathsheba. He told him a made-up story about a poor man with one lamb, and a rich guy with flocks and to spare. When the story got to the rich guy confiscating the poor man’s lamb to use it for his hospitality dinner, David’s anger was kindled. So when he passed judgment on the man, Nathan then unveiled the fact that his words had been a prophetic sting operation. You are the man. That is the same kind of thing that has happened here.

This technique may even have been taught in the schools of the prophets.

“So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face. And as the king passed by, he cried unto the king: and he said, Thy servant went out into the midst of the battle; and, behold, a man turned aside, and brought a man unto me, and said, Keep this man: if by any means he be missing, then shall thy life be for his life, or else thou shalt pay a talent of silver. And as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone. And the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgment be; thyself hast decided it. And he hasted, and took the ashes away from his face; and the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets” (1 Kings 20:38–41).

One final objection. How can this be a confrontation of Planned Parenthood that reveals to them what they are doing? The video reveals that they know — in bone-chilling ways — exactly what they are doing. But here is the real value of the videos. This was not a sting just on Planned Parenthood. This was a sting operation being run on the American conscience. The revealing was done to America. America was being shown what America is doing. This is not mere tissue removal. Cysts don’t have livers, legs, hearts, and lungs. The nation was lied to, and the sellers of baby parts got away with it, because the nation wanted to be lied to. Treating babies as mere tissue was a sexual convenience for a lot of people, and a cold cash opportunity for others.

This video says to a shocked American public, as Nathan once said to David, “you are the man.” May God use it to bring us to the response of David. “We have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13). As we truly have.

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Doane
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Doane

Well, that seems pretty cut and dry. Can’t see why there would be any disagreement. Next post please.

katie
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katie

Amen.

PerfectHold
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PerfectHold

Very timely.

Given both your encouragement for media activism and your talent for quick response (witness also your unrehearsed Ask Doug posts) — may we ask God to put you farther up the flag pole than this blog?

If folks offered — would you get on Fox or The Blaze as a commentator or analyst?

Jane Dunsworth
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Jane Dunsworth

“How would you feel if you were a guard at Auschwitz and somebody came and took away all your prisoners? Hmmm?”

I am filing this away for future reference. The logicphobes might shriek Godwin at the direct reference to Nazis, but equivalent analogies with the same punch could be useful.

Lanin Thomasma
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Lanin Thomasma

How would I feel if I were cheating on my wife and someone filmed me? Probably mad at that person – which shows just how little feelings help in the matter. I’d still be wrong.

Jane Dunsworth
Guest
Jane Dunsworth

Well, exactly.

Benjamin Bowman
Guest

What’s the difference between selling body parts and donating fetal tissue? Semantics.

Rob Steele
Guest
Rob Steele

And money. Blood money. Bloody money.

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

Some tissue — perhaps almost any tissue — can be donated in godly manner & purpose, if the donator obtained same by godly means.

Benjamin Bowman
Guest

Yes it can, with consent.

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

Yet even with consent (presumably from the child and the parents (which would be an impossibility both from a practical & legal state, given his minority) the act of donating or selling tissue might still be sinful, yes?

Benjamin Bowman
Guest

Maybe, however my comment has more to do with the current hand waving being done by planned parenthood and it’s media supporters i.e. The Huffington Post. They are (and have been) claiming that they don’t sell body parts, but they do donate fetal tissue. It’s like saying “no, we’re not terrorists, that’s just a little turbulence” or perhaps they would use the term “rough air.”

Luke1972
Guest
Luke1972

Too many Godwins on the field, but…

Ya know who else said, “They’re going to die anyhow, may as well get some good medical research out of it…”

somethingclever
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somethingclever

This moral hierarchy is important when addressing issues like the police lying in interrogation or using extortion (i.e. plea bargaining).

Brandon Klassen
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Brandon Klassen

This entire issue, IMO, is obfuscated by those Christians who erroneously claim that one of the commandments is “Thou shalt not lie” when in reality it is “Thou shalt not bear false witness [against your neighbor]”. Deception with intent to harm and then personally benefit from said harm is in view; not categorically speaking an “untruth”.

Jack Bradley
Guest
Jack Bradley

Great distinction, Brandon. Great article, Douglas.

valerieab
Member

Yep. Bearing false witness for your neighbor is peachy keen. This is also useful to remember when planning surprise parties.

Nathan Smith
Member

True.

TheCountess De Plorable
Guest
TheCountess De Plorable

lying is bearing false witness at large. An analogy is quite a different thing when used in scripture to prove a point, which is what Nathan did. It took that ‘analogy’ to bring to the surface what David had done and that it needed admitting and repentance. Without direct accountability, which David could have dismissed away being King, he instead agreed with the accusation, for the story stung his heart. Nathan knew from God how to bring the King into subjection to the will of the Lord and not his selfish, greedy self. Lying is of satan. Deception is motive… Read more »

Brandon Klassen
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Brandon Klassen

[+] You shall not bear false witness **against your neighbor**.

(Exodus 20:16 ESV)

If words mean anything, you cannot ignore this caveat and flatten the commandment out to include more than God’s careful wording of the commandments intended.

Consider also Ex. 23:1; Deut. 19:16-20; Prov. 19:5,9, 21:28, 24:28, 25:18; Matt. 19:18. There’s a common theme running through these portions, do you know what it is?

valerieab
Member

As for the penultimate paragraph, according to Abby Johnson, PP appears to have largely given up the “it’s just a blob of tissue” line. Evidently that lie has become a harder sell, so they’ve had to move on to others.

Jane Dunsworth
Guest
Jane Dunsworth

It’s not a human until Mom says it is just got harder, though.

valerieab
Member

Yes!

D. D. Douglas
Guest
D. D. Douglas

Also, Jesus was not lying when he asked the Samaritan woman at the well to go get her husband. Neither was he charitably assuming that her situation was that of a run of the mill housewife. He was feigning ignorance while fully aware of her situation in order to confront her with the truth which is always a blessing.

David R
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David R

A lot of the confusion among Christians who grapple with lying in all its forms, is the interpretation of the commandment into “thou shalt not lie”. As one commenter on here said, it reads “thou shall not bear false witness”, which is something else entirely. So when confronted with hiding Jews from the Nazis and lying, they have a real ethical dilemma where none exists. The correct, righteous and just answer is to hide the Jews and lie to the nazis. The issue is motivation and the state of the heart. Here is another example of deception being used by… Read more »

somethingclever
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somethingclever

WLC 144 and 145 do a good job of supporting this case.

MeandMySoldierMan
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MeandMySoldierMan

When I saw this title pop up into my reader I hesitated to click (since I can think of several blogs I read which would dance with the same objections you listed)…until I saw which blog it was, and thought, “Oh, okay, we’re safe.” :) And sure enough, excellent as always.

timothy
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timothy

What is the name for this sort of thing? Let me illustrate what I am looking for… Thou shalt not lie and lying in Scripture. Obey the government and On The Lam For Jesus. On the left is an overt command, on the right is “another thing”. On the left is an overt command, on the right is ‘something that disobeys the overt command and yet fulfills “something”‘ What is “another thing”? And* what is the “thing that Pastor Wilson Just Did” where the “other thing” is reconciled with the over command ? thx *note to self, see if you… Read more »

Jane
Member

And which words would someone construct that sentence with, since ending questions with prepositions is a bad thing to use words for?

mikebull1
Member

Good stuff. Don’t forget that Adam was supposed to out-craft the serpent, Abraham out-crafted Pharaoh, Jacob and Rebekah out-crafted Isaac and Esau, and Joseph was extremely crafty when it came to discerning the hearts of his brothers in Egypt, which might explain why he wore a serpent on his head.

John
Guest
John

Abraham is never lauded for sending his wife into another man’s bedroom, and please present a verse approving of Jacob and Rebekah’s deception.

How in the world do you equate walking away from a tree and not eating a certain fruit with “out-crafting” a serpent?

Yes, Joseph was crafty.

mikebull1
Member

Hi John – the question is who is judged by God for sin? It is Pharaoh. His actions were an attack on the “seed.” Same goes for the actions of Isaac, blindly handing the succession to a son with Canaanite wives for the sake of his stomach. In that regard he was just like Esau. Moses’ execution of the Egyptian was also righteous. He was mighty in word and deed. The act was carried out with Pharaoh’s authority, but not his pleasure, because he was unjust. We don’t need a verse for everything. The Bible isn’t written that way. I… Read more »

Ian Perry
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Ian Perry

—I agree with the analysis of the ethics of going undercover to gather footage for the sting video, but isn’t there an issue if the video was edited to cause the public to think that Planned Parenthood was doing a different wrong thing than they were actually doing? (In this case, to make it appear this was about profit instead of scientific research–the latter it still bad and calls to mind the N.I.C.E. people from That Hideous Strength, but we should try to depict even misled and evil people accurately.) I haven’t watched the full version of the video, but… Read more »

A. James
Member

Wonder if more states will initiate or be pressured to initiate an investigation on how PP activities compare to state laws–or if they will wait to see what the hearings reveal or conclude. So far Indiana, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Arizona, Missouri, Ohio (I think). Wisconsin:http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/lawmaker-asks-state-to-investigate-planned-parenthood-of-wisconsin-b99539284z1-316061871.html “In 2011, the Wisconsin Legislature considered a bill that would outlaw the sale of fetal body parts and prevent scientists from using fetal body parts in research. The bill failed to pass in March 2012 and has not been revived. Fetal tissue, which is classified separately from stem cells, is used “all over the map”… Read more »

katie
Guest
katie

I’ve had the same thought. If the argument is made that PP is illegally selling body parts, and then it is found that they are actually legally selling body parts, they are still selling (apologies, timothy) BODY PARTS. The good these videos can do is not in exposing something illegal, but in exposing something immoral even if it is legal.

Jane
Member

And something shocking that some people who salve their consciences about abortion, find intolerable.

It’s tactics more than principle, but it’s not an unprincipled tactic.

stanmccullars
Member
stanmccullars

Another video was released this morning. The Planned Parenthood rep in this one refers to a “less crunchy technique” used to acquire intact specimens.

Nathan Smith
Member

The next video has released.

Andy
Guest
Andy

Bingo!

Chris
Guest
Chris

This is like the story of that concubine at the tail end of the book of Judges, no? “Consider it, confir it, and speak up”???

Carson Spratt
Member
Matthew Anthony
Member
Matthew Anthony

And Ehud didn’t go to Eglon with guns blazing. He hid his knife and then snuck out after killing him. I do think it truly was a message from the Lord, though. After all, it was a two-edged sword. Boy, the Bible has a lot of stories like this.

Lucy
Guest
Lucy

I agree with most of this. But the Bible never condoned Rahab’s lie. It merely states that she did lie. So I don’t think you can take that to mean lying is okay.

drewnchick
Member

Not quite true, Lucy. You forget that Rahab is listed among the great men of faith: “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace” (Heb. 11:31).

Her deception is specifically called out as an act of faith, and not only that, but she is justified BY that faith (c.f. the entire 11th chapter) and commended for her deception.

The Bible goes much farther than merely condoning her lie; she is heralded for it!

John
Guest
John

Actually, she is heralded because she “received the spies with peace.” No mention is made of her deception whatsoever.

drewnchick
Member

Plenty of mention is made of her deception in the OT story. And I’m pretty sure “receiving the spies” was not done out on the front patio over tea and crumpets. The author of Hebrews doesn’t need to say she deceived the Jordanians by hiding the Israeli spies…it really goes without saying.

Xlib
Guest
Xlib

Defenders of Planned Parenthood often cite the good works they do to justify their support. That is like celebrating the KKK’s efforts to start a soup kitchen for the homeless. Would ardent PP defenders be willing to overlook the evil of the KKK because of one good thing they might try to do? (not that I believe PP’s wholesale chemical contracepting of women is a good thing; but some do).

Chris Little
Guest

There’s also the argument of love, of course. The ninth commandment addresses false witness against a neighbour. I would have thought that hiding Jews in your ceiling cavity, say, was ‘for’ the neighbour. In this case for you in the US, the videos seem to love: the vulnerable in utero; the American conscience (as you helpfully identify); and even PP (my cynicism wants to kick in here, but the gospel keeps telling me that grace can lead anyone to repentance). I admit that ‘love’ by itself, as a rationale for deception, has its risks of spinning out of control. It… Read more »

TheCountess De Plorable
Guest
TheCountess De Plorable

So, let me see; I go to the clinic, freely give them my unborn baby in whatever trimester it is, for free because I have to pay for them to operate. Free number 1 with money. They then take said entity, which they got for free along with my money and now transfer said entity for their further profit (free number 2) and said entity ends up where? And PP is government funded as well? !!!! You can google yourself, but here is one to chew on…. pun intended.. http://www.naturalnews.com/035276_Pepsi_fetal_cells_business_operations.html Notice the date…. It wouldn’t matter why a female wants… Read more »

CronoT
Guest
CronoT

A lot of the examples presented here are somewhat specious; IE, since David was a Jew, & Nathan was a Jewish Prophet. King David was under the Jewish Law, so he answered for it when Nathan stepped out & reprimanded him. A better example to use here would be Daniel serving in the Court of King Nebuchadnezzar. He was a devout Jew, but he still served a pagan king as dutifully as he would have served a Jewish King. The King knew that once he signed a law, it applied to all without exception. He had no choice but to… Read more »