Mefferd’s strange moves and Driscoll’s worldly political savvy


“I stand by my allegations of insufficient sourcing, absolutely and unequivocally. His plagiarism is a very serious ethical and moral breach. Academics and journalists alike have lost their jobs over less than what Mark Driscoll has done.” — Radio host Janet Mefferd, who started the Driscoll plagiarism controversy, in a later email to Ruth Graham of Slate

 

Mark Driscoll responded to Janet Mefferd’s so-called un-Christlike confrontation of his plagiarism during a radio show with some un-Christian behavior of his own.

Wait. Is there a Christlike way to confront plagiarism? Maybe to rip the cords from the curtains and start thrashing evangelical publishing businesses? I’ll mull that.

Anyway, Mefferd asked Driscoll a hard question about the source of some material in his book. The interview got tense. At the end, Driscoll seemed to have hung up.

Two days later, according to Slate (and verifiable here), Driscoll wrote about “Slander/Libel” in a longer post about several  sins “we” commit. As Ruth Graham wrote in Slate, “Though he didn’t mention Mefferd by name, it is hard not to see her in the section on ‘Slander/Libel’.”

Driscoll wrote:

Case-builders collect information like stones to throw at somebody—just waiting for the right opportunity to impugn and attack someone’s character and integrity. If you’re a case-builder, you’ve decided that someone is your enemy and then justify sinful slander as righteous aggression.

But now the blog post using the word “libel” seems like Driscoll’s self-justified “righteous aggression.” Calling Mefferd “accusatory” and “unkind” during the interview — in response to a reasonable question — seems like his own self-justified “righteous aggression.”

What makes the “Slander/Libel” section even stranger is the inclusion of those very words within the blog post. Driscoll quotes the book of Leviticus (always handy for hitting people), and the verse he cites uses the word “slanderer.”

By placing “slander” beside “libel,” however, Driscoll connotes matters of news media and law. He frames these terms as “malicious and often false information used to inflict harm.”

Two problems with any suggestion that Mefferd approached slander or libel:

1. Mefferd provided evidence showing that she had grounds for her questions. Statements followed from Peter Jones and InterVarsity Press that suggested they believed their copyrights had been infringed, and copyright infringement is illegal.

During the interview, Mefferd asked Driscoll about his book A Call to Resurgence and his thinly acknowledged use of Peter Jones’s “intellectual property” in the book.

That confrontation would be considered reasonable by anyone who had visited the website of Driscoll’s church and read MarsHill.com’s Terms of Use and MarsHill.com’s FAQ on Use of Content. The FAQ is blunt about plagiarism. The Terms of Use are direct about copyright and intellectual property.

Even paraphrasing Driscoll requires attribution, the site says.

In other words, Mefferd was not false. Mefferd was accurate. A law had been broken. Driscoll’s name was on the book.

2. While Driscoll was blogging about how “we” libel and slander and lie and deceive, he ignored (or maybe redirected public focus from) the deception of presenting himself as the author of something he didn’t write. Oddly enough, “Deception” was one of the headings in the same post with the “Slander/Libel” heading.

Instead of showing pastoral concern for the offended parties and all the readers who have been misled, Driscoll went into defense mode, asking us to think about “One Big, Important Question” before we share information.

As a veteran of 11 years in the newspaper business, most with the late Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) chain, I can assure you nothing Mefferd did on her show constitutes anything close to libel or slander.

The better question is what Driscoll’s and Mars Hill Church’s responses have constituted.

Mefferd’s strange moves

Meanwhile, I’m guessing only God can understand Mefferd’s thinking. Based on published reports (here and here and here):

1. She confronts Mark Driscoll during a radio interview.

2. She provides evidence for why she confronted Driscoll.

3. She apologizes for trying to hold accountable a powerful, influential celebrity who exercises authority over the lives of a sizable flock (of apparently nearsighted sheep).

4. She makes evidence disappear from her website — something that is astounding in the field of journalism.

5. She clams up about the situation for a while.

6. She holds an email correspondence with Graham of Slate and seems to reinforce the position she seemed to have during her interview with Driscoll: “I stand by my allegations of insufficient sourcing, absolutely and unequivocally. His plagiarism is a very serious ethical and moral breach.”

The justification for apologizing was, as Graham paraphrases, “Mefferd wrote to me that she removed the materials from her site because they had already been widely disseminated, and she wanted to be responsive to those who had criticized her tone and approach.”

Having listened to the interview, I don’t think anything was wrong with her tone and approach. This was not a Mike Wallace gotcha moment.

The only thing I don’t understand about Driscoll’s response is his increasing aggravation at the questions and his attempt to change the subject back to the sales pitch we usually hear from authors in media interviews.

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6 responses to “Mefferd’s strange moves and Driscoll’s worldly political savvy

  1. They are strange moves. Her actions within the interview seemed to me to be fair journalism. Her actions afterward seem inexplicable for a journalist. As for celebrity pastor Mr. Driscoll – for he’s a celebrity pastor whether he wants to be or not – I keep hoping he’ll act more like a pastor and less like a celebrity in how he’s responding to it all.

    Cheers,
    Tim

    P.S. Followed you over here from the pingback at Jonathan Merritt’s place.

    • Thanks Tim! I appreciate that because I’ve been wondering if anyone else thinks so many parts of the situation are just strange! All the best — CFB

  2. This is all such theater of the macabre – rich in irony.

    The study guide/book, “Trial,” that contains the plagiarized passages, was prepared as part of Driscoll’s sermon series by the same name. That was the first time Driscoll started regularly appearing on stage wearing a jacket instead of his usual t-shirt/punk attire. The stage was set-up to resemble a lawyer’s office – with a desk, and Driscoll dressed like a lawyer, for stage props. The timing of all this is most interesting, coming on the heels of Driscoll’s firing and defamation of an elder, who happened to actually be a lawyer.

    So now we have Driscoll, the play-acting lawyer, making legal claims of “slander” against an uppity female talk-show host who had the nerve to confront his plagiarism. As a faux attorney, Driscoll should at least know that The Truth is an absolute defense against allegations of slander.

    • Thanks, Royce, I wasn’t aware of the trajectory of this situation — and yes, you’re absolutely right. Driscoll is a public figure who plainly plagiarized and broke copyright law, so if the “Slander/Libel” segment of his blog post was a veiled response to Mefferd (as Graham suggested in Slate) then he was either clueless about the depth and breadth of his offenses — or he was arrogant enough to think he was being attacked because of his righteous perfection, or maybe out of jealousy, or maybe out of a greedy attempt to push ratings. Whatever he thinks, he needs to understand that priests and preachers and politicians consistently prove themselves UNTRUSTWORTHY, and if he’s going to wear that Pastoral mantle, he needs to bend over backwards to be trustworthy. Instead of all the brash and hip and slick packaging, he could be SUPER-RELEVANT by being trustworthy, and the copyright infringements and the plagiarisms do not inspire trust.

  3. Pingback: Testing the motives behind attacks on Mark Driscoll | lit!