Updated to add Carl Trueman quote and link.
Plagiarism is a serious issue these days in academia, publishing, and journalism. In 2005 Judy Hayden called academic plagiarism a “crisis“. In publishing, both Fareed Zakaria and Doris Kearns Goodwin were exposed as plagiarists when portions of each of their works were shown to be plagiarized. Yet for all that, plagiarism increasingly seems to be brushed off these days as a minor mistake.
Salon.com wrote further, “Goodwin, the elder, is a serial plagiarizer who has been welcomed back with open arms by the TV punditocracy.” As for Zakaria the journalist, last year “Zakaria was suspended … by Time magazine and CNN for lifting several paragraphs from a New Yorker magazine essay and using them in his Time magazine column. Zakaria apologized, calling it a “terrible mistake.”
Academia has plagiarizer checkers, whereupon the Professor submits the student’s paper to a site and software automatically checks for similar language or lifted portions. This is now as much a standard task for Professors to perform as actually grading the papers.
Because plagiarism involves lying and stealing, one would think that plagiarism would have no place in Christian circles. But it does.
Increasingly, pastors are routinely exposed for plagiarizing sermons and failing to give proper attribution, passing them off as their own study and work product. I wrote back in May that our own pastor was asked to leave due to serial plagiarism, among other reasons. It has sadly become a common problem in the pulpit.
With so many pastors attaining celebrity status and writing books, going on tours and giving interviews, the temptation to plagiarize their for-profit work product exists for them as much as it does for secular writers. Just as with any sin, it can creep in, lie in wait, inoculate the bearer to its evil, and then sear the conscience.
In my opinion, that seems to be what happened to Mark Driscoll.
Mars Hill publicly released photo
Readers might know that he crashed the Grace Community Church Strange Fire conference last month and attempted to pass out his un-vetted books at the conference. Then when he was caught, he spoke falsely about what happened, claiming that his books were confiscated and he was abruptly escorted off the grounds by guards. Photos, eyewitness accounts, and video proved those to be lies, almost immediately.
I chose not to write about it because there has been so much ink already on Driscoll that I thought the event was tawdry and over the years there has been plenty to show that he has engaged in acts which in my opinion at least, bring him below reproach.
This week, Mr Driscoll was interviewed on the Janet Mefferd show regarding Driscoll’s new book, “A Call to Resurgence”. (Interview link below). Mefferd, who is familiar with the work of Dr. Peter Jones, and in preparing for the Driscoll interview, noticed that 14 pages of Driscoll’s book were extremely similar in tone, language and concept to Dr Jones’s, and there was no direct citation nor was there proper attribution. Were the pages plagiarized?
Mefferd asked Driscoll about this. The interview became heated on Driscoll’s part, and unfortunately he began to attack Ms Mefferd. Pastor Driscoll said that Mefferd was being unkind, rude, grumpy, and trying to give Driscoll orders. He said she was unChrist-like, had no experience as an intellectual property attorney or judge.
Then he hung up on her.
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15)
Part of Driscoll’s reasoning was that like Zakaria had said, the 14 pages of eerily similar content in his book to Jones’s was “a mistake.”
Later, Ms Mefferd related that her former newspaper editor emailed her after examining the evidence, saying, “He works on the plagiarism issue with the American Copy Editors Society, listened to the interview and said that group would agree with my assessment of plagiarism in the Driscoll case. Just thought you all would like to know!”
Yet Ms Mefferd is receiving a lion’s share of blow-back simply because she asked Driscoll about the plagiarism, and Driscoll isn’t (yet) repentant about the apparent plagiarism nor his behavior on the interview with toward a woman of the faith.
Pastor Wade Burleson wrote of this issue,
“Mark Driscoll is a pastor. He is not a scholar. It could be that he made a “mistake” by not realizing the seriousness of selling a book where he appropriated the thoughts and ideas of another author as his own. It could be that Mark truly didn’t know how to give proper credit to Dr. Jones in his book’s footnotes, endnotes, and bibliography. … Pastor Mark Driscoll might not be clear about the scholarly way to give credit. However, what Pastor Mark Driscoll should know how to do is to treat someone who calls him out on his error.”
In researching this issue, I came across Driscoll’s own FAQ about use of material from his blog, church web pages, and sermons and sermon transcripts. It seems that Pastor Mark Driscoll is perfectly clear about intellectual property, plagiarism, and attribution. When it comes to using his own work-product, that is. After reading Driscoll’s FAQ on plagiarism, I ask us all, at what point do we stop giving benefit of the doubt?
The FAQ states,
“If I use material from one of Pastor Mark’s sermon’s [sic] do I need to cite him as the source of that material?
“Yes. If you don’t cite him, you are plagiarizing. If you use content from one of Pastor Mark’s sermons or from one of his books, you need to attribute the content (whether it is a quote or paraphrase) to Pastor Mark. Also, even though we make transcripts available of our sermons, this does not mean you can take the transcript and deliver the sermon as though it is your own. This too is plagiarism.”
I have a concern here about two things mainly.
1. After a pattern of sin has become entrenched in a pastor’s life, without any evidence of repentance, and with bad fruit more constant than good, when do we stop giving benefit of the doubt and saying things like “He is working for the Kingdom of God?” How does it honor Jesus to ignore a pastor’s pattern of a variety of sins where there is no repentance, and when the evidence points to his sin’s entrenchment and a seared conscience?
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:5)
Remember, ‘ravenous’ means they are always hungry and they never stop eating. The root of the word ‘ravenous’ in Latin means to plunder, take by force.
2. Why doesn’t the Church take plagiarism seriously? Plagiarism is lying and stealing. Pastors called to shepherd the sheep on behalf of the name of Jesus the Christ should not lie. It seems a moral given. Yet we have become soft on the benchmarks the bible gives on sin in the sheep and especially the pastors, and especially if they are celebrity pastors. Pastors and elders must be above reproach. (1 Timothy 3:2,10; Titus 1:7).
“The Mefferd-Driscoll controversy points to another aspect of celebrity culture: celebrities are routinely allowed to behave in ways which would not be tolerated in ordinary mortals.” Carl Trueman
So I ask again, why do churches put up with lying, unrepentant pastors? Why do they overlook patterns of sin and the bad fruit they produce? It is not about me being mean, or judging another or forgetting I am a sinner too. When a pastor who sins grievously according to the standards outlined in the Word, whether he repents or not, he has violated those standards. If you hired a doctor at a hospital and found out later he never went to medical school, would you keep him on? Of course not, he is not qualified. Pastoring is a matter of qualifications, and those were set by Jesus, the highest authority that exists. Yet there seems to be an easing of standards and more and more avoidance in applying them in discipline when it comes to pastors. Why do we let the wolves gobble us up?
In his 1991 essay titled Should Fallen Pastors Be Restored? John MacArthur wrote, “Gross sin among Christian leaders is a signal that something is seriously wrong with the church. But an even greater problem is the lowering of standards to accommodate a leader’s sin. That the church is so eager to bring these men back into leadership is a symptom of rottenness at the core. … By all means we should be forgiving. But we cannot erase the consequences of sin. I am not advocating that we “shoot our wounded.” I’m simply saying that we shouldn’t rush them back to the front lines, and we should not put them in charge of other soldiers. The church should do everything possible to minister to those who have sinned and repented. But that does not include restoring the mantle of leadership to a man who has disqualified himself and forfeited the right to lead. Doing so is unbiblical and lowers the standard God has set.“
Oh, and what happened to the pastor I mentioned who was asked to leave due to 4 years of plagiarizing sermons on a weekly basis, even passing off the original pastor’s personal anecdotes as his own? Within 5 months, he was quickly hired as interim pastor at a nearby church. Yes, the search committee was aware of the reason he had left. They hired him anyway.
Enough is enough from Mark Driscoll. We should state plainly that his fruits are not from the Lord.
1. Driscoll claims to see visions of congregants in the act of adultery, and claims these pornographic visions are from the Holy Spirit.
2. Driscoll speaks crassly about sex from the pulpit, crossing the line of propriety especially by focusing on adult content in front of congregations and children are present. MacArthur wrote a 4-part series about Driscoll’s Rape of Solomon’s Song preached by Driscoll in Scotland a few years ago. MacArthur stated that Driscoll defended his talks, “It’s frank but not crass,” Mark Driscoll told a Sunday congregation in Scotland just less than 18 months ago. But then he continued by paraphrasing Solomon in a way that was totally crass and not even remotely close to what the Holy Spirit intended. (A CD copy of that shocking message, entitled Sex: A Study of the Good Bits of Song of Solomon was recently sent to me [MacArthur] by some deeply offended and concerned Christians in the UK. It is primarily the reason I’m doing this series.)” Dr MacArthur said that Driscoll engaged in “scurrilous soft-porn” from the pulpit. One should consider that blog series a rebuke by an elder of the faith to Driscoll. And yes, Driscoll was privately contacted by MacArthur before the blog series was published.
2a. It should be noted that the New York Times reported, “Mark Driscoll’s sermons are mostly too racy to post on GodTube, the evangelical Christian “family friendly” video-posting Web site. With titles like “Biblical Oral Sex” and “Pleasuring Your Spouse,” his clips do not stand a chance against the site’s content filters.”
3. Driscoll swears from the pulpit like a longshoreman. “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” ~James 3:10
4. Driscoll runs roughshod over deacons and employees, engaging in guerrilla-like tactics (Mark & Jonna Petry for example) of firing them when they question his leadership or his doctrine. (John 12:42)
4a. Driscoll does the same with congregants who won’t get aboard his metaphorical vision bus and won’t align themselves unquestioningly with Driscoll’s vision for his own leadership of Mars Hill. He calls it ‘blessed subtraction’ and boasts that it is by ‘God’s grace’ that there will be a ‘mountainous pile of dead bodies under his bus’. More here. (Matthew 6:21).
5. He makes a mockery of the pulpit and ignores rebukes and discipling opportunities from elder men of the faith. “Nevertheless, I have written Mark privately with my concerns. He rejected my counsel. … Mark Driscoll’s response to that admonition and the things he has said since have only magnified my concern.” More here.
6. I mentioned the Strange Fire Conference intrusion in October, where Driscoll and another pastor came uninvited, passed out their books (which were doctrinally opposite to the Conference’s teaching objective) and lied about the incident- we know this because many eyewitness and video testimonies surfaced almost immediately which contradicted what Driscoll had tweeted. (More here)
7. And now this objectively analyzed plagiarism incident where not only the plagiarism is exposed but Driscoll dealt harshly and made ad hominem attacks to a sister of the faith and acted not in grace but in childish pride by hanging up. (1 Peter 3:15; Proverbs 14:17; For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God, James 1:20)
There are more examples of course. I do not like spending time listing these examples. They give me no joy and only engender heartbreak for a man who claims to serve my precious Lord. I am sorrowful for the congregants he is a poor example to. I am saddened that he has given such opportunity to pagans to mock us and our Holy Jesus.
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone,” (Colossians 4:5-6)
Christianity has standards. We have standards for entry, for behavior once converted, and for pastors who are supposed to be leaders. (Jeremiah 3:15, Proverbs 27:23, James 1:22 , Titus 1:5-9, 1 Peter 3:15)
Is Mark Driscoll a shepherd after Jesus’s own heart? The question must be asked, at what point do you stop saying that a crass, lying, plagiarizing, childish, sex-obsessed, porn-vision pastor who goes rogue, refuses to submit to authority, and sullies the pulpit with profanity is doing Kingdom work? When?
For Further Reading–
Janet Mefferd’s Interview with Mark Driscoll
Carl Trueman: If the Top Men take over, who will ask the hard questions?
Chris Rosebrough/Fighting for the Faith,”Allegations that Mark Driscoll Plagiarized Dr. Peter Jones“
Wiki Classroom: Avoiding Plagiarism
Pastoral Plagiarism: 10 Do’s and Don’ts
What are the biblical qualifications for pastors?
Thom Ranier: 10 Things members desire in a pastor