Tag Archives: Driscoll

Testing the motives behind attacks on Mark Driscoll

Poets, priests, and politicians/ Have words to thank for their positions / Words that scream for your submission / And no-one’s jamming their transmission – from “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” by The Police on Zenyatta Mondatta

What really, really scares me in the Mark Driscoll plagiarism controversy is this:

What if Driscoll assumes that anyone who investigates allegations against him is an enemy who is merely trying to tear him down?

Does he not realize that ministers who commit ethical violations scandalize and disillusion their flocks? Does he not realize there have been plenty of such ministers?

During the Janet Mefferd radio interview that started all this, Driscoll kept saying, essentially, let’s stop talking about whatever mistake I might have made and get back to talking about Jesus.

That sounds great and self-deprecating but the problem is that ministers who become abusive or controlling or cultic can use the same rhetorical move to take the focus off their misdeeds.

Driscoll, complaining of a head cold and the flu during the radio program, didn’t seem to understand that he was doing the exact same thing politicians do to journalists all the time — trying to change the subject when the questioning gets uncomfortable.

Whatever his intentions, he might as well had waved two fistfuls of red flags in front of Mefferd’s face.

And Mefferd is a veteran journalist with seasoned instincts.

Driscoll needs to understand the role of the journalist — not the big-time, D.C. and Manhattan journalists stuck in self-referential, reactionary liberal echo chambers, but rather the thousands who go to work each day in hopes that honest information will help improve the quality of life in their towns.

Like most teaching gigs, most reporting jobs don’t make the kind of money celebrity D.C. and Manhattan journalists make — or the kind of money that The Gospel Coalition and The Resurgence superstars generate (however charitably they might distribute it).

It’s a kind of calling, like teaching, like ministry.

Hey, if these journalists catch a politician or city official embezzling, if they catch an influential person in a lie, the community is better off.

And if Driscoll gave me an audience, I would try to persuade him this way:

If a journalist catches a pastor in a lie, JESUS IS BETTER OFF, because Jesus doesn’t need shepherds who mislead their flocks. (Why isn’t this obvious?)

And if the journalist who catches a pastor in a lie happens to be a (gasp) liberal feminist atheist, Jesus is still better off.

Whatever Driscoll 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.

Of course some journalists have bad motives. Of course plenty of journalists have been guilty of wrongdoing,  including plagiarism.

But most of the time, journalists are questioning authorities, not exercising authority.

The Meta-Narrative of our time, I submit, is a loss of confidence in leadership, a reflexive cultural cynicism, a tendency of the influential to abuse of power, and a crisis of moral and epistemic authority.

A plagiarist cannot speak into such a cultural milieu.

Whirlwind life of faith and betrayal / Rise in anger, fall back and repeat    – from “Far Cry” by Rush on Snakes and Arrows


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.

Driscoll announced a new college and seminary after being accused of plagiarism

It’s often said timing is everything in humor, and that’s just as true for unintended humor.

Shortly after the Mark Driscoll plagiarism controversy began, Driscoll announced two new academic institutions, as Sam Tsang reports:

“After this whole thing broke, here’s MD’s [Mark Driscoll’s] initial non-response response by announcing … get this … Western Seminary will open a campus on Mars Hill.  MD peppered his video with all sorts of churchy vocabulary about loving God, and secular vocabulary about bringing ‘accredited’ seminary education to Seattle, never mind that Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University both have accredited divinity programs and never mind that many can love God without going to Western Seminary located at Mars Hill.  The highlight for me in this video is MD calling himself one of the professors for this program. I thought professors have to contribute to the wider academic world and to the institution in order to get the title.  Perhaps, MD is the exception.”

If the paradox has not yet occurred to you, click here to read the academic integrity page at the university where I teach. Pay close attention to the “Honor Pledge” and “Prohibited Conduct” sections. Then watch Driscoll’s announcement about the two academic institutions that will be affiliated with his church, Mars Hill Church.

Mark, HOW DARE YOU? That’s old. I know. Couldn’t resist.

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Driscoll copied Holcomb who copied the New Bible Commentary *UPDATE

New turn of the screw in the Pastor Mark Driscoll plagiarism controversy, especially regarding minister’s book Trial:

Warren Throckmorton has viewed a PDF of a new statement on Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church website (a PDF which, at the moment, won’t open in my Google Chrome for some reason; update, 11:53 p.m.: I can’t open it in Firefox, Explorer, or Chrome; was it taken down?).

The statement apparently shows the research notes taken by Justin Holcomb of Docent Research Group.

Throckmorton writes: “…Holcomb might better get the credit for the sections discussing the background of the books of 1 & 2 Peter.”

Throckmorton also writes, “It appears the Holcomb borrowed [see below] the material from the New Bible Commentary and then Driscoll changed a few words and included it under his authorship. There are multiple instances of this practice throughout the memo. What started in late November with Janet Mefferd’s accusations of plagiarism against Mark Driscoll has morphed into broader concerns over authorship and use of research materials.”

UPDATE — Throckmorton changed the above “borrowed” to “quoted.” He explains: “I changed this word from “borrowed” to “quoted” in the section above because there are quotes around the material starting just under the heading Who Wrote 1 Peter? also on page 147. Then the quote closes on page 148 with a footnote. However, the footnote is not to the New Bible Commentary but to a book by Peter Achtemeier. It is possible that the confusion is a matter of a mistake in this footnote which Driscoll just carried over to his book. In any case, with this new information, the focus seems to be more on Driscoll’s adopting this research report as his own work in the Trial book.”

When Throckmorton says “Holcomb might better get the credit for the selections,” I wonder if the researcher had become the ghost writer.

Ghost writing has been common — and controversial — in evangelical circles, wrote David Moore back in August. Moore called ghost writing “unethical.”

Apparently, Driscoll never has hidden his use of researchers. On the other hand, one wonders about the hand-off from Holcolmb to Driscoll — what assumptions were made, what was assumed about the information.

At any rate, U.S. Copyright Law applies to copyright infringements whether they are intentional and accidental.

For example, “I didn’t know I was speeding, officer!” You’d still get a ticket, right? And would you be right to denounce the officer for bringing up the matter?

Mark Driscoll’s abuse of power evident in plagiarism controversy

By some accounts, Mark Driscoll was a bully to Janet Mefferd, the radio host who challenged Driscoll about plagiarism.

Collin Garbarino, in a new First Thoughts post, writes, “In the initial interview, [Driscoll] says that he’ll look into it, but he takes an aggressive tone and accuses the interviewer of having the wrong spirit.”

A journalist brings illegal activity to the attention of a minister, and the minister accuses the journalist of having the wrong spirit.

So Mark Driscoll believes legitimate questions (see InterVarsity Press’s concerns here) about illegal activity constitute a wrong spirit.

(I wonder how Driscoll preaches on Nathan’s confrontation of King David. Could it be something like this? “Watch it, there, Nathan! You have the wrong spirit! And I have more power than you! I’ll take away your voice!” Not that anyone would really stop someone from speaking out – oh wait.)

That’s a classic two-step often performed by politicians, bullies, and cult leaders: cover up a wrongdoing by attacking the accuser.

Or, to put it another way, turn a question of fact into a question of motive.

After the two-step comes the stonewall.

The following definition and illustration of stonewalling by Steve Becker, LCSW, might be used to describe the story line of this plagiarism controversy:

Stonewalling is when someone shuts you down from communicating. He just ‘bails’ on your efforts at communication, refuses to take you seriously; refuses to engage a discussion of your concerns. He may ignore or dismiss you, express fatigue with you (and your concerns); he may listen without offering a thoughtful, respectful response, and then credit himself for having listened.

“In any case, his unthoughtful, lazy, dismissive, or flat-out non-response to your feelings and concerns captures the essence of stonewalling and will reflect his pure contempt for which he’ll take no responsibility.

“Rather, he may depict you as a boring windbag who doesn’t know when to ‘stop talking,’ or who’s always making or looking for ‘trouble,’ without recognizing or owning how his insistent refusal to listen, his determination NOT to listen, actually provokes, passive-aggressively, your very instinct to ‘talk’ and ‘pursue him’ until he gives a meaningful response. If you do persist, he may complain to others that he is being ‘harassed’ for no reason, pointing out that he is doing ‘nothing’ to you.”

Now, according to Jonathan Merritt, Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church has backpedaled on a portion of yesterday’s statement that a book in question “was never sold.” Why would they take down those three words if the book wasn’t sold after all? That mistaken moment of public relations might be due to an earlier “unthoughtful, lazy, dismissive, or flat-out non-response,” per Becker’s article.

After all, the church just made a mistake describing its handling of money while trying to explain its plagiarism mistake.

This is starting to sound like a presidential administration.

So here’s Mark Driscoll:

When a man is granted so much mystical authority, he begins to believe he is always right and has the best word on everything. Confrontation is either dismissed or attacked. He turns against the Nathans who dare enter his court.

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Copyright infringement and plagiarism in the Mark Driscoll controversy

Mars Hill Church has added an online statement to a webpage, and that statement says Pastor Mark Driscoll’s book Trial suffered from “citation errors.”

The latest news on the Driscoll plagiarism controversy, blogged by Jonathan Merritt, answers questions regarding the minister’s book Trial but does not answer questions about other books suspected of plagiarism

Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church added a statement about Trial to one of its webpages, according to Warren Throckmorton at Patheos (Merritt’s source for the church’s statement).

“Citation errors” might be unintentional, but unintentional mistakes are not necessarily free of legal consequences.

To explain the possibility of legal consequences, we have to get some official definitions.

We might say plagiarism is unethical and dishonest, but not necessarily illegal.

We might say copyright infringement is illegal and actionable.

On its website, the Digital Media Law Project (DMLP) at Harvard University explains copyright infringement and plagiarism.

“Plagiarism is the act of using another’s work and passing it off as your own,” says the Digital Media Law Project. “While such a use could open you up to a copyright infringement claim, there is no legal liability associated with the act of plagiarism.”

Legally, copyright infringement is a different matter.

According to “Copyright Basics,” a fact sheet from the U.S. Copyright Office, “Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of ‘original works of authorship,’ including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.”

The person who produced a work has the “exclusive right to… and to authorize others to… reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords” and “prepare derivative works based upon the work,” says the U.S. Copyright Office.

Later on the fact sheet, the U.S. Copyright Office says, “It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright.”

Use of material without permission very easily could constitute copyright infringement.

DMLP offers the following examples to explain the differences between plagiarism and copyright infringement (read the third example closely):

“If an author publishes a poem on his blog in which he substantially copies from Dante’s Inferno but passes off the words as his own, he has committed plagiarism. However, the author has not committed copyright infringement because Dante’s work is in the public domain.

“In contrast, if a website owner publishes a compilation of contemporary short stories on her website without the permission of the original authors, she would be liable for copyright infringement, even if the compilation properly notes the original authors and thus avoids plagiarism.

“Finally, if a journalist uses content from yesterday’s daily newspaper as his own original article in a weekly online magazine, the journalist has committed both plagiarism and copyright infringement.”

Based some of the examples available here (they’re in Google Drive, so you might have to sign-in to your Google account to read them), Driscoll could easily be guilty of both plagiarism and copyright infringement.

According to DMLP, copyright infringement, once proven, can be legally actionable.

“If [a defendant in a copyright suit] is found liable for copyright infringement, the copyright holder will be entitled to recover his or her actual damages (e.g., lost profits) or, if certain conditions are met, statutory damages between $750 to $30,000 per infringement.  If the plaintiff can prove the infringement was willful, the statutory damages may be as high as $150,000 per infringement,” says DMLP.

Let’s look at that last sentence again, with my emphasis added: “If the plaintiff can prove the infringement was willful, the statutory damages may be as high as $150,000 per infringement.”

In other words, copyright infringement does not have to be intentional to bring legal trouble.

In light of what InterVarsity Press told Christianity Today (apparently just this morning), Driscoll and Mars Hill Church have plenty still to explain — and they’re not necessarily off the hook for legal problems, either.

Also see: 

Following Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism, it’s time to ask serious questions about Tyndale House’s credibility

Calvinism as a galvanizing experience

This new New York Times Magazine article about Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll spurred plenty of thoughts, but there’s one passage I want to consider.

Calvinism is a theology predicated on paradox: God has predestined every human being’s actions, yet we are still to blame for our sins; we are totally depraved, yet held to the impossible standard of divine law…. Driscoll found his way into this tradition largely on his own. He recently earned a master’s degree through an independent-study program he arranged at a seminary in Portland, Ore. Years ago, paperback reprints of old Puritan treatises in the corner of a local bookstore piqued his interest in Reformation theology. He came to admire Martin Luther, the vulgar, beer-swilling theological rebel who sparked the Reformation. “I found him to be something of a mentor,” Driscoll says. “I didn’t have all the baggage he did. But you can see him with a quill in one hand and a drink in the other. He married a brewer and renegade nun. His story is kind of indie rock.”

I think what makes Calvinism so intriguing and compelling is its galvanizing, integrated worldview.

When people are young, their first galvanizing experience tends to be their only galvanizing experience. Let’s say you grow up marginally Christian with small-town values and a few vaguely-defined questions and frustrations about life, parents, church, and your hometown.

You go away to college and you have a galvanizing experience with existentialism (even though that’s a broad movement) through a great professor and/or literature and/or philosophy and/or art. It’s like a thunderclap or a revelation: suddenly existentialism makes sense to you and addresses those vaguely-defined questions and frustrations. It explains things in a way that makes sense to you where you are.

One way or the other, you follow the existentialist thread throughout your college career because it provides an integrated point of view, an organizing principle for all the random data and experience of life. Your decision-making and values, for at least the first few years out of college if not the rest of your life, are influenced directly or indirectly by existentialism (if not by reading Nietzsche, then maybe by watching David O. Russell or David Cronenberg movies).

The refreshing and enlightening experience of such a galvanization is probably fuel enough to keep you going for years — meaning, you’re probably not going to think, “OK, so, I had best be intellectually thorough with this new philosophical orientation; I’ll go back and read Plato, Aristotle, Stoics, Neoplatonists, Confucians and Neo-Confucians, Thomists and Neo-Thomists, Kant, Wittgenstein…” No, you probably won’t be that intellectually thorough. You won’t need to do that much homework, because that galvanizing experience of existentialism was just what you (thought you) needed at that time, and it reoriented your way of thinking and reorganized the world around you, and now you cannot imagine needing anything more.

It’s probably the same with how some people experience Calvin, or Aquinas, or C.S. Lewis, or innumerable others. When something feeds you, you feast on it. Why stop feasting on something that tastes so good and run around to all the other options on the buffet? You’re not trying to fulfill some academic standard of intellectual thoroughness. You’re trying to live a life. Read what feeds.

This, to me, is a fascinating psychological aspect of us as human beings. The actual content of whatever produced the galvanizing experience could include a high degree of truth, or a mix of truth and falsehoods in varying degrees, or no truth at all. But many of us have those moments when a new system or a point of view strikes the hot iron of who we are at a certain moment. The change can be lifelong — and, in the case of Mark Driscoll, influential.

-Colin Foote Burch