Driscollgate 2013. Why don’t Christians care about plagiarism?

Last year Jonah Lehrer fell from the graces of journalism and writing in a big way. As a writer for Wired, The New York Times, The New Yorker and featured in top magazines and radio (Radiolab, etc) Jonah was a media darling writing about neurobiology, science and creativity. His books were hugely popular and he was on the rise. However in a quick turn of events, Jonah was revealed to be plagiarizing and copying from himself as well as fabricating quotes and information. Form the first claims of foul play, on the 19th of June 2o12, he was fired from many jobs by August 31st.

Julie Moos, at Poynter.org, created a timeline of events:

June 19: Jim Romenesko reported that Jonah Lehrer recycled material for a New Yorker story
June 19: Joe Coscarelli published additional examples of Lehrer recycling material in New Yorker blog posts
June 19: Jacob Silverman found examples of Lehrer recycling in stories for The New York Times
June 20: Edward Champion published a comprehensive catalog of Lehrer’s recycling
June 20Lehrer apologized for recycling his own material
June 21: New Yorker editor David Remnick said, “…if he were making things up or appropriating other people’s work that’s one level of crime.”
July 30: Michael Moynihan revealed fabricated Bob Dylan quotes in Lehrer’s “Imagine”
July 30Lehrer resigned from The New Yorker
August 3: Moynihan revealed plagiarism in “How We Decide”
August 7: Lehrer’s publisher said it was reviewing all of his books
August 10: Magician Teller said he didn’t say what was attributed to him in “Imagine”
August 15: Wired said Lehrer remained under contract
August 16: Wired said Lehrer had no current assignments
August 17: Milton Glaser said he didn’t say what was attributed to him in “Imagine”
August 31Wired severed ties with Lehrer
Related: Complete coverage of Jonah Lehrer


One of the biggest moments was when his publisher, Houghton Mifflin, stopped the  sales and started “taking the e-book of IMAGINE off-sale, and halting shipment of physical copies (Poynter.org).” In just over a month, Lehrer’s publisher had pulled the book and within another month, he has resigned or been let go from the vast majority of his employers. Even later, months after the controversy, Lehrer was followed by it all. At a conference, at which his speech was an open and honest apology for the entire scandal, he was ostracized and the conference attacked for even having him. His speech was paired with live tweets mocking him.

So cut to now and we have Driscollgate 2o13! Lets look to the timeline…

Nov. 21st: Driscoll appears on the Janet Mefferd show. (Listen to interview here.)

Nov. 22nd: Jonathan Merritt reports on it, launching the wider spread awareness.

Nov. 23rd: Driscoll published passive aggressive post about lying on Mars Hill website. 

Nov. 26th: Mefferd’s releases evidence of plagiarism. 

Nov. 26th: Driscoll’s publisher denies any wrong doing (Are they merely defending themselves?)

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. – from RNS. 

Dec. 4th: Mefferd removes evidence and issues apology to Driscoll.

Dec. 4th: Mark is on Glenn Beck. No mention of scandal.

Dec. 5th: Part-time producer Ingrid Schlueter resigns from Mefferd staff. 

Dec. 9th: IVP claims citations were lifted from some of their texts incorrectly. 

Dec. 9th: Mars Hill comments on controversy and admits to “errors” in a small post buried on website. They also falsely claim books were never sold. They blame it on a research assistant.

And that is all so far.

If this had been the Lehrer scandal, Driscoll would have apologized (which Lehrer did within 1 day), resigned (Lehrer resigned from the New York Times within 11 days). As of this writing, it has been 21 days in which Driscoll has attacked Mefferds, pressure has been placed on her and become an apology from Mefferds, and Driscoll’s publisher has denied any wrong doing.

How bizarre.

Why is it that the Christian leader, who is on record for saying plagiarism is a sin, avoids apologies and shifts blame on others. While the “secular” author apologies in one day and resigns from positions quickly? Why is that the “christian” publisher denies any wrong doing, while Jonah’s pulls books quickly and initiates a quick investigation?  Andy Crouch of Christianity Today expands the debate, wondering why Driscoll has gotten away with claiming mostly done by assistants. And as Docent (the employer of the research assistant) has claimed, they passed all necessary citations to Driscoll and Mars Hill, so when and why were they deleted?

When Driscoll writes, “If you use the work of others, you are not a teacher, and you should quit your job and do anything but speak (p.105),” but is then shown to do just this, how is he still speaking, leading and speaking? He also demands others cite him, but does not follow his own rules. The Mars Hill page states, “If you don’t cite him, you are plagiarizing. If you use content from one of Pastor Mark’s sermons or from one of his books, you need to attribute the content (whether it is a quote or paraphrase) to Pastor Mark. Also, even though we make transcripts available of our sermons, this does not mean you can take the transcript and deliver the sermon as though it is your own. This too is plagiarism (Mars Hill).

Why is the Church being held to a different standard? I must assume, like much of Driscoll’s teaching, that it is about power and not humility. Are Tyndale and Driscoll and Mars Hill trying to maintain a power and profit rather than be humble? How is this Christlike? Anyone?

Please note that this post makes use of Jonathan Merritt’s reporting. Please support him. Much thanks to his work. 



Add yours →

  1. I wonder if some of it doesn’t come from our fear (I’m using “our” very loosely) that failure by a prominent Christian would give non-Christians one more excuse to reject Jesus. Too many times, Christians maintain the “He’s innocent!” party line just for fear of impugning our testimony before the world. And when you’re MD, and you’ve built your entire reputation on always being right, there’s no room left for “well, maybe I wasn’t right this time.” Of course, it could also simply be that Christian publishers are losing a lot of money, and don’t want to shoot their cash cow.

  2. Great points. I am hoping that sometime soon celebrity-pastor Mr. Driscoll will decide to act more like a pastor and less like a celebrity. It’s that distinction that could have taken this present kerfuffle in a whole different direction. Instead, Mr. Driscoll has allowed his employees and publisher to speak for him.


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