A few days ago a Christian radio show host called out Mark Driscoll for plagiarism on the air.
It was the proverbial first plate of gross school lunch thrown in what has become a little bit of a food fight between the Neo-Reformed crowd and the Progressive Patheos crowd.
Was it really plagiarism? I’m not sure that it’s the right word.
It’s seems clear to me that the two books mentioned lacked proper attribution. (see one example here)
I tend to see that as more of an editorial error than straight-up intentional plagiarism though, which is a different animal altogether.
Particularly in the 2009 study guide, my guess is that the book was originally a sermon series that Driscoll (or his team) later packaged and sold as a product.
If that’s the case, it’s unlikely that Mark did much more than sign-off on the manuscript put together by a staffer or freelancer. So to accuse him of plagiarism may be technically true since his name is on it, but might not be the right description for what happened.
It could have been that the copywriter just didn’t know that this was a quote, not original content, and therefore failed to attribute it. And it could have been that the editors on the publisher end were just sloppy and didn’t fact check closely enough. Only the authors team and the team at the publisher really know what happened there. (more on the accusations here) I’ve got no doubt that the publisher is looking into that right now because the accusation is important.
Or, as another possibility, it could have been that Driscoll acted fast and loose with someone’s content in his sermon, later mentioning the sources name without really attributing it properly in the message. (This happens to me fairly regularly as a blogger, a pastor will use a blog post in his/her sermon “as inspiration” and never attribute the idea to me. A minor irritation but not really what I’d call plagiarism.)
Pushing back against the “it was a simple editorial mistake” argument are the words of Driscoll’s employer: Mars Hill’s website has a fair use policy posted… which is highly unusual for a church… and makes it clear that if you quote or paraphrase Mark Driscoll, you have to attribute it to him.
If you don’t cite him, you are plagiarizing.
So, if he didn’t properly attribute in a sermon or book, the logic says that he fit his own definition of plagiarism. Oops.
Back to the Food Fight
So while I think the accusation was rather academic and there are plenty of reasonable explanations, there’s good reason to call it to question.
Also, it was an accusation that the host later backed up with documentation.
Then Driscoll’s team fired back. And the woman who made the accusation deleted her blog posts about it, resigned from her job, and won’t answer questions about what happened. (Read: She probably got a not-so-nice letter from a lawyer.)
Now we’ve gone from a fun little food fight over some missing attributions to someone losing a part-time job at a Christian radio station.
Here’s why I’m mentioning this whole thing. I’m not really trying to toss gas onto a fire, I’m trying to draw attention to the language being used about servants of the Gospel by fellow servants of the Gospel.
The woman at the center of this, Ingrid Schulueter, posted this response at Spiritual Sounding Board. (The comment has since been deleted, the emphasis are mine.)
Being limited in what I can share, let me just say that truth tellers face multiple pressure sources these days. I hosted a radio show for 23 years and know from experience how Big Publishing protects its celebrities. Anything but fawning adulation for those who come on your show (a gift of free air time for the author/publisher by the way) is not taken well. Like Dr. Carl Trueman so aptly asked yesterday in his column at Reformation 21, does honest journalism have any role to play in evangelicalism now? (It was rhetorical.) My own take on that question is, no, it does not. The moment hard questions are asked, the negative focus goes on the questioner, not the celebrity, when there is something that needs scrutiny. Those who have the temerity to call out a celebrity have tremendous courage. The easiest thing in the world is to do fluffy interviews with fluffy guests on fluffy books. So hats off to those like Janet who have the courage to ask at all. And my own opinion on Mr. Driscoll is that despite the bravado, despite the near silence of his Reformed peers and enablers, his brand is damaged, and damaged by his own hand.
Some disturbing language, highlighted in red:
- “limited in what I can share” This is the indication that she’s gotten threats of legal action or already received legal action. I’m not sure I see any defamation of Driscoll’s character. I think calling this to question is protected by the First Amendment. I’ve got no idea what sort of legal action she could be facing.
- “celebrities” I hate the idea that there are people who think some pastors as celebrities. What’s a word stronger than hate? Detest! Let’s be real honest here, outside of Billy Graham or maybe Rick Warren, there’s not a single celebrity pastor. Tim Tebow is a celebrity. Mark Driscoll, as much as I’m not in his camp, is just a dude who works at a church. He’s not a celebrity.
- “negative focus on the questioner, not the celebrity” OK, so this hurts because it’s true. Nothing gets my integrity questioned faster than asking a hard question. Now here’s the deal: Did Jesus shy away from hard questions? Nope. He invited them. Did Paul? Nope. He invited them. James? Peter? Are you kidding, they loved a good scrap. This is something we need to see change on in the American church. Asking hard questions is not a sign of defiance or hardness of heart, it is a sign of critical thinking. Asking hard questions is a virtue, not a sin. Fluffing a fluffy book leads to the marketers prevailing and not the Good News. Fluff is bad news. Truth is good news.
- “his brand is damaged.” OK, so this is the crux of the matter. Are we really at the point where a local pastor, like Mark Driscoll, is a “brand” that people have to protect? How is he more important than other pastors in Seattle? Why does he have a brand to protect and his church doesn’t? Aren’t the youth pastor or the administrative staff or the volunteer small groups leaders serving the same God? Why do we, as a culture, say a servant is a brand?
So I’m not fueling the Christian Food Fight here.
I’m asking: Why is there a food fight over this to begin with? We’re all just a bunch of knuckleheads serving the Lord Most High. Mistakes happen. You get called out. Deal with it and move on.
Why the food fight?