Tag Archives: Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt sees an ideological mode among Reformed Christians

The blogger and author on Twitter:

Do you think he’s right? Why? Or, why not?

(“Xians” is short for Christians.)


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

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

Tyndale House‘s defense of Mark Driscoll — following what can only be called plagiarism — suggests the publishing house is unprofessional at best and untrustworthy at worst.

I say this after 11 years of experience as a newspaper reporter and editor, and after 11 semesters of teaching college students about the necessity of citing sources and the serious offense of plagiarism.

But my credentials are minor compared to anyone’s common sense, as well as the facts of the situation and U.S. Copyright Law.

First, if you’re not familiar with revelations of Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism, read Jonathan Merritt here and here before you continue. Another update — and news of bizarre twists in this story — is available at Christianity Today‘s Gleanings blog.

I’m not the first to say “plagiarism” with conviction. Driscoll’s plagiarism cannot be doubted. Professor Collin Garbarino writes, “Some of the other evidence…is more damning. In a book on First and Second Peter published by Mars Hill Church, Driscoll lifts whole paragraphs almost word-for-word from the entry on First Peter in the New Bible Commentary, published by IVP in 1994. These passages are at the end of the previous link, and [Janet] Mefferd provides additional passages here. I’m a university professor. I have no tolerance for this kind of nonsense. I’ve failed students for less flagrant plagiarism. So, it’s my duty, as a member of my professing profession, to give Driscoll an ‘F.’”

Unfortunately, Mefferd’s website no longer holds the evidence that she had collected. She eventually apologized for her “behavior” (the link goes to a Christianity Today blog) when she challenged Driscoll about plagiarism on her radio show.

But Garbarino posted his comments before Mefferd took down the evidence. He saw the evidence, and he testified to it on the First Things blog.

And, fortunately for the truth, Jonathan Merritt captured some of Mefferd’s evidence on his blog, and apparently, Merritt is not influenced by the forces who caused Mefferd to take down what she had collected in the course of basic journalistic reporting.

[Update: A blog called Another Slice salvaged PDF versions of Mefferd’s evidence. They’re on Google Drive, so you’ll have to sign in to your Google account for viewing. Click here to find the links at StandUpForTheTruth.com.] 

However, Tyndale House’s defense of Driscoll’s book is staggering. And baffling. And unacceptable. The defense, as noted on the Gleanings blog, reads:

“It has come to our attention that a radio talk show host has suggested that author Mark Driscoll has committed plagiarism in his recent Tyndale book, A Call to Resurgence. Tyndale House takes any accusation of plagiarism seriously and has therefore conducted a thorough in-house review of the original material and sources provided by the author. After this review we feel confident that the content in question has been properly cited in the printed book and conforms to market standards.”

“Market standards” are irrelevant. The phrase “market standards” means nothing when plagiarism and U.S. copyright laws are involved.

“Properly cited” is inaccurate considering Mefferd’s collected evidence and Garbarino’s assessment of it.

The law is relevant — and it should be relevant to Tyndale House.

(“In-house review”? That reminds me of how much I love the fine print on a product that tells me the producing company found its own product to be effective.)

Tyndale House did not take the charge of plagiarism seriously enough.

On this page, Plagiarism.org has a heading that reads, “BUT CAN WORDS AND IDEAS REALLY BE STOLEN?” Then the site provides an answer: “According to U.S. law, the answer is yes. The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some way (such as a book or a computer file).”

Based on Garbarino’s testimony, Driscoll and Tyndale House clearly violated U.S. copyright laws as described in the following excerpt of Copyright Basics:

“Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

“• reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords

“• prepare derivative works based upon the work”

Of course, direct copying is a huge problem, but are the execs at Tyndale House ignorant of the meaning of the word “derivative”? Or are they pretending not to know in a ridiculous attempt to protect their cash cow?

If Tyndale House and Driscoll had met the standards of copyright law, then why did Brad Greenberg, Intellectual Property Fellow at Columbia Law School, tell Jonathan Merritt the following?

“The passages that Mefferd has identified appear to be copied almost verbatim from the Carson New Bible Commentary. Merely changing a few words, such as ‘unschooled’ to ‘uneducated’, is likely not enough to skirt liability for copyright infringement,” Greenberg said. “The only relevant defense that I could see Driscoll having is independent creation–that is, he wrote this passage completely independent of the Carson text, and the striking similarity is mere coincidence. That, of course, is exceptionally unlikely because the Carson text was far from obscure and, in fact, was later cited by Driscoll.” (See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/11/27/mark-driscoll-silent-amid-mounting-allegations-of-plagiarism/#sthash.4RVWbexx.dpuf .)

Notice that the “later cited by Driscoll” does not place Driscoll within the law, at least not according to Greenberg’s interpretation of it.

A professional publisher ought to be aware of the basic ethical and editorial standards available at Plagiarism.org and the U.S. Copyright Law website. The explanations and definitions on that website are so basic, I can get my English 101 students, freshmen, to read them each semester. Yet Tyndale House defends itself and Driscoll with “market standards.” Whatever that means, it’s not relevant — and it certainly sets a low bar for ethics.

At least, as Merritt reports, Ingrid Schlueter puts integrity above profits and reputation.

Also see:

Who’s Talking about the Mark Driscoll Plagiarism Controversy?