Tag Archives: Janet Mefferd

Let’s use hindsight to help us anticipate abuses of religious authority

Time’s the revelator

– Gillian Welch

Sometimes a simplistic, clichéd saying wallops me with its inescapable truth: Time really changes things.

Radio talk-show host Janet Mefferd’s confrontation with former Pastor Mark Driscoll back in November 2013 looks very, very different now.

Mefferd confronted Driscoll about some apparently plagiarized sections in one of his books.

Shortly after the confrontation, Driscoll wrote on a blog:

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.

Ruth Graham, writing for Slate, commented on that same blog post:

Though he didn’t mention Mefferd by name, it is hard not to see her in the section on ‘Slander/Libel’.

Mefferd was forced to backtrack and apologize, yet she told Graham she stuck to her original assessment of Driscoll’s plagiarism.

Yet as time passed, and as Warren Throckmorton and others reported on new developments and new evidence in the plagiarism allegations, Mefferd was vindicated.

And then a few more questions about Driscoll’s ethics and leadership popped up. It was like a slow start in a pot of oil and kernels, just a few random pops.

Then suddenly the popcorn was overflowing.

Now Driscoll has resigned, 21 former pastors have filed an official complaint, and some former elders and pastors are starting new churches.

Was Driscoll able to keep questionable ethics and bullying leadership because of his strong personality?

Was anyone with comparable influence able to see this coming?

Will anyone observe the fallout and decide to become more skeptical of ministers and ministries?

Darling, remember when you come to me
I’m the pretender and I, what I’m supposed to be
But who could know if I’m a traitor
Time’s the Revelator

– from “Revelator” by Gillian Welch

Also see:

Mars Hill Bellevue Pastor Thomas Hurst Resigns (Nov. 2) by Warren Throckmorton

Using Mark Driscoll and Robert Morris to Teach the Fallacy of False Dilemma (Oct. 23) by CFB

Updated Nov. 3 to clarify the Mefferd-Driscoll confrontation took place in November 2013.

The research backgrounds for concerns about Mark Driscoll’s behavior, Part Two

Between Warren Throckmorton’s investigative reporting on Pastor Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church and Wenatchee The Hatchet’s ongoing coverage, a picture of unhealthy and misleading authority has emerged.

For decades, psychologists and sociologists have been researching social dynamics, leaders, persuasion, religious organizations, personality, and cults.

To make sense, the research needs some quick context which does not relate to Driscoll.

One unavoidable problem of idea-driven or God-focused organizations is any given group’s appeal to invisible or abstract things must coexist with the need for visible or concrete things.

For example, a group might believe that God will speak to everyone’s heart when congregants gather in a specific sanctuary, but the somehow the group has to manage funds to pay the light bill and to keep the sanctuary in functional condition.

The invisible focus (God speaking to human hearts) also involves visible conditions (a sanctuary that needs electricity).

However, real problems arise when people are distracted from visible, concrete, or measurable problems by the use of language that references invisible and abstract qualities.

For example, within a group, a confrontation might go as follows.

Group member: “I don’t think that project was an appropriate use of money.”

Group leader: “That is just the spirit of rebellion in you.”

That’s a harsh example, although such an exchange is typical of certain kinds of groups.

(I strongly recommend I Escaped A Cult, which documents both Mormon and Protestant cults, and is available for streaming on Netflix. I also recommend I Can’t Hear God Any More: Life In A Dallas Cult, a book by Wendy Duncan, who survived a noble-sounding, fascinating attempt at Early Christian church life.)

So, a visible or measurable problem is covered-up with the use of language that points to invisible or tangible things.

Now, to the research.

To avoid dangerous leadership, Dr. Philip Zimbardo and Dr. Susan Andersen write, each person must remain “vigilant to discontinuities between the ideals people espouse and their concrete actions.”

They go on to say, “Separating the preacher from the practice, the promise from the outcome, the perceived intention from the consequence is at the crux of resistance — precisely because it is so easy to mistake labels for the things being described, to deal in symbols and concepts instead of people and their behavior (Lutz, 1983; Schrag, 1978).”

Zimbardo and Andersen later write, “We are often dissuaded from probing beyond surface illusions of meaningfulness by letting symbols substitute for reality, abstract maps for concrete territories.”

And later, “As thinking beings, we can resist the lure of engaging in the ‘cardiac comprehension’ proposed by cultic leaders, of listening and evaluating with one’s heart, not one’s mind (Adler, 1978; Barker, 1984; Bowers, 1984; Johnson & Raye, 1981).”

I think you can find plenty of examples of Driscoll’s and Mars Hill Church’s behavior on Throckmorton’s site and Wenatchee The Hatchet demonstrating a tendency to emphasize ideals and abstractions while tightly controlling information about acknowledged and alleged wrongdoings.

Call that cultic, or call that the style of a corrupt presidential administration — either way, it’s supremely dishonest and manipulative.

Even radio show host Janet Mefferd’s initial confrontation with Driscoll about his plagiarism had this very flavor.

Driscoll took the emphasis off his concrete, material plagiarism and focused the attention on Mefferd’s allegedly unruly invisible spirit.

Eventually, Mefferd was proven right, several times over, but not before caving to pressure and apologizing for exposing plagiarism — which says a lot about evangelical media’s love of money.

Here’s the takeaway:

Narcissistic religious authorities will use mystical language to make questioners feel guilty, and to change the subject from any criticism regardless of validity. 

The narcissistic minister is perceived to have special insight, and with a confident stance and a language that references invisible realms, he can control information, attitudes, and emotions.

Manipulation covers a multitude of sins. 

The above Zimbardo and Andersen excerpts appeared in “Understanding Mind Control,” a chapter in Recovery From Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse, edited by Michael D. Langone, published by Norton, 1993.

In the above excerpts, Zimbardo and Andersen cite the following (in the order in which they appeared in this post):

Lutz, W. (1983). Double-speak: From “revenue enhancement” to “terminal living.” New York: Harper & Row.

Schrag, P. (1978). Mind control. New York: Pantheon Books.

Adler, W. (1978, June 6). Rescuing David from the Moonies. Esquire, pp. 22-20.

Barker, E. (1984). The making of a Moonie: Choice or brainwashing. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell.

Bowers, K.S. (1984). On being unconsciously influenced and informed. In K.S. Bowers & D. Meichenbaum (Eds.), The unconscious reconsidered. New York: Wiley.

Johnson, M., & Raye, C.L. (1981). Reality monitoring. Psychological Review, 88, 67-85.

Also see:

Andy Crouch’s ideological alchemy: turning facts into abstractions

A few more-recent assessments of brainwashing and its relationship to evangelicalism in the U.S.

Tyndale House Publishers or Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association?

The topic: Pastor Mark Driscoll’s citation problems — which have continued and continued and continued — which were first identified on a radio show.

The issue at hand: Tyndale House Publishers’ decision to defend Driscoll, one of the publisher’s authors, against plagiarism charges in a specific book, A Call to Resurgence. Three excerpts from the statement as it appeared on a Christianity Today website:

[1] “On November 21, 2013 Pastor Mark Driscoll participated in a radio interview via phone to promote his new book, A Call to Resurgence. The interview was arranged by his book publisher, Tyndale House. During that interview, the talk show host accused Pastor Driscoll of plagiarism in his new book, claiming that he had not properly cited ideas that originally came from Peter Jones, Director of truthXchange and Adjunct Professor at Westminster Seminary in California.”

[2] “Pertaining to his Tyndale book, A Call to Resurgence, Tyndale believes that Mark Driscoll did indeed adequately cite the work of Peter Jones. While there are many nuanced definitions of plagiarism, most definitions agree that plagiarism is a writer’s deliberate use of someone’s words or ideas, and claiming them as their own with no intent to provide credit to the original source.”

[3] “Tyndale rejects the claims that Mark Driscoll tried to take Peter Jones’s ideas and claim them as his own. Moreover, at Pastor Driscoll’s invitation, Peter Jones has written on the Resurgence website, and spoken at a Resurgence event, as well as a Mars Hill workshop. Quite the opposite of trying to take Peter Jones’s ideas, Mark Driscoll has provided several opportunities for Peter Jones to publicly express his ideas to a large audience.”

Before we look at the publication manual: In this last section, Driscoll’s invitations and provisions to Peter Jones have absolutely nothing to do with how the latter’s work is used in publications. There is no way to guarantee that every person who picks up A Call to Resurgence knows who Peter Jones is, or how many times he has spoken at Driscoll’s churches and conferences, or when Driscoll is extending Jones’ ideas or using his own. That much of Tyndale House’s argument is completely irrelevant.

In the following, I consult the section on plagiarism in Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (5th edition), a style and citation guide used in publishing for numerous academic disciplines (not just psychology).

I then compare its view with Tyndale House’s comments on the “deliberate use of someone’s words or ideas, and claiming them as their own with no intent to provide credit to the original source” — as well as its rejection of “the claims that Mark Driscoll tried to take Peter Jones’s ideas and claim them as his own.” (Also see “Tyndale House Publishers or Chicago Manual of Style?“)

On page 349 of the Fifth Edition, under the subheading of “Plagiarism (Principle 6.22),” the APA Publication Manual says, “Psychologists do not claim the words and ideas of another as their own; they give credit where credit is due. Quotation marks should be used to indicate the exact words of another. Each time you paraphrase another author (i.e., summarizing a passage or rearrange the order of a sentence and change some of the words), you will need to credit the source in the text.” (The italicized “each time” is in the original.)

After providing a few more words and an example, the Publication Manual says, “The key element of this principle is that an author does not present the work of another as if it were his or her own work. This can extend to ideas as well as written words.”

With that in mind, read the following account of  the radio show confrontation that started this controversy, as reported by Jonathan Merritt:

Syndicated Christian radio host Janet Mefferd accused Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll of plagiarism on her Nov. 21 broadcast. Mefferd claimed that Driscoll quoted extensively from the work of Dr. Peter Jones for at least 14 pages in his book, A Call to Resurgence, without direct or proper citation.

“In this book,” Driscoll responded, “I took [Jones’] big idea and worked it out through the cultural implications but I wasn’t working specifically from his text.”

Peter Jones is an author and adjunct professor at Westminister Seminary California whose areas of interest include “ancient and medieval paganism.” Driscoll said that most of what he’s learned from Dr. Jones was acquired in conversations over meals where Driscoll was not taking notes.

“Don’t you think that it’s important when you’re using someone else’s materials that you footnote the person?” Mefferd pressed.

Driscoll acknowledged that he, in fact, did make mention of Jones in the footnotes once, though it was an unspecific citation without page numbers.

“If I made a mistake,” he said, “then I apologize to Dr. Jones, my friend…that was not my intent, for sure.”

Consider that account in light of professional publishing guidelines like those found in the Chicago Manual of Style and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

Of special interest ought to be Driscoll’s comment, “I took [Jones’] big idea and worked it out through the cultural implications but I wasn’t working specifically from his text.”

That seems to suggest Driscoll’s intent to use Jones’ ideas. Actually, it seems to be an implicit confession that his design and approach was to use Jones’ ideas without adequately “credit[ing] the source in the text,” as the APA Publication Manual says.

After all, the complete sentence of that excerpt is, “Each time you paraphrase another author (i.e., summarizing a passage or rearrange the order of a sentence and change some of the words), you will need to credit the source in the text.”

Sure, that might be difficult, but again, there is no way to guarantee that every person who picks up A Call to Resurgence already knows who Peter Jones is, or how many times he has spoken at Driscoll’s churches and conferences, or when Driscoll is extending Jones’ ideas or using his own — even with some citations of Jones’ work in the book.

Sources must be clearly identified. Derivative and synthesized ideas must be acknowledged.

Perhaps Driscoll used Jones’ work in a naive way. Maybe he didn’t understand basic publishing standards about plagiarism, citation, and paraphrase.

That, and Mefferd’s original claim that 14 pages were not properly cited, seem to provide a basis to say that Driscoll and Tyndale House violated the spirit of publishing-industry plagiarism standards, and probably the letter of those standards, too.

If Tyndale House really wants to stand by its ideas on plagiarism, then it is at odds with the practices and dispositions found within the Chicago Manual of Style and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

Why does all this matter? It matters because statements by Tyndale House reveal the wealthy, influential publisher does not have a good or ethical standard on plagiarism.

It also matters because Pastor Mark Driscoll is starting a seminary, which is an academic institution, which ought to have clearly defined ethical standards on plagiarism and citation. But Driscoll’s understanding of plagiarism is about as advanced as my freshman students’ — and that’s the beginning rung for undergraduate education. A seminary is supposed to be graduate education.

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


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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