Is Mark Driscoll Getting Away With Plagiarism? 

Religion, spirituality, and sacrilege.
Dec. 11 2013 2:31 PM

The Evangelical Celebrity Machine

Janet Mefferd accused pastor Mark Driscoll of plagiarism then deleted all her proof. Why’d she back down?

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Mefferd broke the story, and it would be natural to assume she would have continued leading the charge. But last week, in what Throckmorton called “a stunning about-face,” she removed the interview and the evidence of plagiarism from her website, and apologized on air for how she handled the issue. “I now realize the interview should not have occurred at all,” she said on the show. “I never should have brought it to the attention of listeners publicly.” Saying that she should have raised the issue privately with Tyndale House first, she apologized to Driscoll. (As of this writing, the PDFs are available on at least one blog, and audio from the interview is on YouTube.)

The book of Matthew lays down guidelines for how Christians should confront one another about sin: start with a private confrontation, then return if necessary with witnesses, and make your case publicly only as a last resort. That is the context in which many Christians may have interpreted Mefferd’s apology. But to many observers, something smelled fishy about her sudden removal of evidence from her website. The next day, a part-time producer named Ingrid Schlueter resigned suddenly, posting comments online suggesting that Mefferd was strong-armed. “All I can share is that there is an evangelical celebrity machine that is more powerful than anyone realizes,” she wrote. “You may not go up against the machine. That is all. Mark Driscoll clearly plagiarized and those who could have underscored the seriousness of it and demanded accountability did not. That is the reality of the evangelical industrial complex.”

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.

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But she says her apology shouldn’t be mistaken for a recanting. “I stand by my allegations of insufficient sourcing, absolutely and unequivocally,” she said by email. “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.” Mefferd says that “no attorneys were involved in this situation” and that no one at Mars Hill Church, where Driscoll is pastor, suggested she remove the materials.

On Monday, Mars Hill made its first explicit comment on the issue since Driscoll’s original interview. In a corner of its website devoted to the Driscoll book with several paragraphs apparently copied wholesale, the church posted a statement blaming a research assistant for “citation errors”: “During the editing process, content from other published sources were mistaken for research notes.” The head of communications at Mars Hill did not respond to an email and direct messages on Twitter requesting comments from the church or from Driscoll.

Mars Hill’s partial, passive-voice acknowledgement of wrongs, blaming an unnamed researcher, is unlikely to satisfy his critics. The drumbeat of criticism and reporting coming from within the evangelical community shows no sign of letting up. Mefferd, who is sympathetic to Driscoll’s worldview, isn’t satisfied with his silence. "I wanted to behave in the godliest way possible, and I opted to apologize for my tone and approach," she said. "Why doesn't Driscoll apologize himself?”

In A Call to Resurgence, Driscoll writes, “I have been hated, protested, despised, lied about, threatened, and maligned so many times and in so many ways I could not even begin to recount them all.” For a powerful leader, he is unusually attuned to his critics, and for a man who promotes the virtues of strength, he is quick to emphasize his victimhood. He tends to wear the attacks against him as a badge of honor, proof that he is speaking the truth that others are afraid to. On Monday, as the Mefferd dispute continued, he tweeted, “No leader is perfect. Actually, there was one...but we killed Him and we still argue with Him.”

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