A Hypothetical Example

Cultic Studies Journal, 1985, Volume 2, Number 2, page 316.

A Hypothetical Example

Dietrich Gruen

Imagine that you are in a student-packed college auditorium, listening to a Christian evangelist – I’ll call him Ben Myear - who is representing the League of International Evangelism Specialists (L.I.E.S.). His aim is to persuade you to confess Jesus Christ as the Savior and Lord of your life. Suppose that, with one notable exception, all of the evidence, reasoning and motivational appeals he uses are valid and well within ethical propriety. But at one point in his evangelistic speech, Ben Myear knowingly uses a set of false statistics to support his claim that more college students are choosing to follow Christ than actually is the case.

To promote analysis of the ethics of this persuasive situation, consider these issues: If the university audience society at large, or evangelicals in particular views Ben Myear's evangelistic mandate as worthwhile, does the worth of his persuasive end justify his use of false statistics as a means to help achieve that end? Does the fact that he knowingly chose to use false statistics make a difference in your evaluation? If he used the false statistics out of ignorance, or out of failure to check his sources, how would that alter your ethical judgment? Should Ben Myear be judged as an unethical person, as an unethical speaker, or as one who, in this instance relied on a specific unethical technique or misguided zeal?

Consider carefully the standards you would employ to make your ethical judgment. Are they purely pragmatic? “That is, should Ben Myear avoid false statistics because he might get caught? And if he does get caught, his credibility as an evangelism specialist is weakened with this and future audiences. Furthermore, his getting caught might weaken the credibility of other representatives from the League of International Evangelism Specialists.

Should Ben Myear's communication ethics be criticized because he violated some agreement of trust and honesty implicit between you and him? Your expectations concerning his honesty, accuracy, and the relevance of the information be, as an evangelism specialist, chooses to present are probably markedly different from your expectations of the stereotypical used car dealer. You might not expect a representative of such a Christian organization to use questionable techniques, and thus you would be especially vulnerable.

What other ethical criteria might be appropriate for analyzing this hypothetical instance? How might Ben Myear's intentional use of false statistics be evaluated according to the standards associated with utilitarian, legal, or situational perspectives? For example, should his intentional use of false statistics be considered unethical because you are thus denied accurate and relevant information you need to make an intelligent decision for or against Jesus Christ?