Beliefs Culture Ethics Institutions Jonathan Merritt: On Faith and Culture Opinion

More allegations of plagiarism surface against Mark Driscoll

Mega-church pastor is mum in the face of four allegations of plagiarism in two books. (Image courtesy of Mars Hill Church - http://bit.ly/1hiOwlt)
Mega-church pastor is mum in the face of four allegations of plagiarism in two books. (Image courtesy of Mars Hill Church - http://bit.ly/1hiOwlt)

Mega-church pastor faces at least four allegations of plagiarism involving two of his books. (Image courtesy of Mars Hill Church – http://bit.ly/1hiOwlt)

Syndicated radio host Janet Mefferd sent shockwaves throughout social media when she accused megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll of plagiarism in a heated on-air exchange last week. In the last two days, however, Mefferd has turned up the heat with additional allegations. On Tuesday, she posted photocopied evidence that Driscoll borrowed material — this time, word for word — in another of his books, “Trial: 8 Witnesses From 1&2 Peter. As Mefferd’s evidence demonstrates, Driscoll published several sections from D.A. Carson’s “New Bible Commentary” without proper citation.

Mefferd struck again on Wednesday, providing two additional allegations of plagiarism— both taken word-for-word from Carson’s “New Bible Commentary” and published in Driscoll’s book on 1&2 Peter. Carson has said that preachers who plagiarize are “stealing” and “deceiving.” Requests for a comment sent to the office of D.A. Carson were not immediately returned.

Last week, Mefferd claimed Driscoll plagiarized Dr. Peter Jones for at least 14 pages in his book, “A Call to Resurgence. She has since released documentation in an effort to support these claims.

I contacted  Jones’ ministry, TruthXchange, for a public statement. Joshua Gielow, Jones’s assistant, has offered the following response:

Dr. Jones wants to express his appreciation for the balanced article on this matter published at Religion News Service. At this time, Dr. Jones and TruthXchange will not be making public statements, but we do pray for reconciliation among all parties involved.

Regarding “A Call to Resurgence,” the book’s publisher, Tyndale House, released a statement last week defending Driscoll, expressing dissatisfaction with Mefferd’s “belligerent tone”, and vowing to investigate the matter. Today, they sent the following statement to RNS:

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.

According to Brad Greenberg, Intellectual Property Fellow at Columbia Law School, the first allegation is far less serious than the newer ones insofar as the law is concerned. Copyright laws protect expression — the exact ordering of words — not the idea, Greenberg told me.

“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.”

Mefferd has provided side-by-side photocopied comparisons of the material on her website.

Mefferd has provided side-by-side photocopied comparisons of the material on her website.

Mefferd told me it is disconcerting to her regardless of the legal implications: “I think word-for-word plagiarism is always very serious. Mark Driscoll plagiarized a man word-for-word providing more evidence that he hasn’t followed his own sermons and admonitions to not steal.”

Driscoll has been outspoken on the issue of stealing intellectual property. The FAQ section on the Mars Hill Church website warns against stealing Driscoll’s intellectual property, and he penned a November 23 article on lying that stated, “pastors are notorious for ‘borrowing’ material. All of us are guilty of deception to some degree. Its prevalence, however, does not change the fact that deception is a demonic, satanic issue.” In his book, “Vintage Church,” Driscoll argued that pastors who plagiarize should quit their jobs.

Mefferd says this has sweeping implications for Driscoll’s ministry because the Bible is “very clear that a pastor should be above reproach.” When asked if she believes Driscoll is now no longer above reproach and therefore unfit for the role of pastor, Mefferd replied, “That would be my opinion.”

Mars Hill Church Communications Manager Justin Dean, did not respond to emails, phone calls, and text messages. Driscoll has not acknowledged the matter on either his blog or social media accounts.

As to whether she has more allegations to make and more evidence to present in the coming days, Mefferd told me, “I think it is entirely likely that more will come to light.”

**RELATED: See my original column on this story for full context: “Mark Driscoll accused of plagiarism by radio host”**

**RELATED: “Mefferd Producer reportedly resigns over Mark Driscoll controversy”**

**UPDATE: I received the following email from Daniel Ahn, assistant to D.A. Carson: “Thank you for your email of 27 November.

I apologize for taking so long to respond back to your email. Dr. Carson was out of the country last week and just returned. At the moment, Dr. Carson does not want to comment on these accusations of plagiarism against Mark Driscoll. “**

**UPDATE: Today, Mefferd deleted all the content on her site alleging plagiarism and apologized to her radio audience saying she should have approached Tyndale House Publishers first: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2013/12/04/janet-mefferd-removes-evidence-relating-to-charges-of-plagiarism-against-mark-driscoll-apologizes-to-audience/**

**UPDATE: CT reports, “While most commentators have connected IVP’s 1 Peter chapter to Carson, it was actually written by David H. Wheaton, a vicar in London.”**

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

ADVERTISEMENTs