Christian Radio Host/Journalist Janet Mefferd interviewed Neo-Calvinist/Charismatic/Emergent Pastor Mark Driscoll on Thursday, November 21, 2013, in which Mefferd asked or confronted (depending on one’s interpretation of the event) Driscoll about possible plagiarism in his new book, A Call to Resurgence. From this issue arose a substantial wave of response and reaction by Evangelicals of many stripes and particularly when Janet Mefferd removed the controversial material from her website and apologized for her approach on the matter.
Fast forward to today, three weeks later. Now we have a much clearer perspective and one that looks back having learned a few things. Not that the citation issue itself has been completely laid to rest, but within this context arose some rather ugly and - now known to be incorrect - speculation about the matter which either directly or indirectly accused Mark Driscoll, Tyndale House Publishers and Janet Mefferd, along with what was coined the "Evangelical Industrial Complex” of lying about the matter, of intimidating Mefferd into silence and of Mefferd not being honest about why she apologized thus, questioning the integrity of her apology.
After the interview between Mefferd and Driscoll (in which I agreed that Mefferd was unprofessional in how she approached Discoll by “60 Minuting” him and lacking Christian hospitality as a host who should have, in the least, if genuinely concerned about the matter, informed Driscoll of the nature of the questions which were going to be a departure from the normal content interview which was expected), a supercharged wave of dissent supervened in the reaction by some Christians and was expressed, of course, online which is where many believers now live for mass communication and information. And within this undulation came speculation, accusation and assignment of guilt merely on suspicion and the words of a third-tier subordinate which should have been taken with great caution and certainly vetted before accepted and believed.
Instead, a frenzy of group hysteria ensued and it was an ugly scene in many places. Compelled and led by suspicion and melodrama which formed the undercurrent, others quickly identified their cue and became the collective of this tidal motion, sustained and emboldened by one another. It got bad enough that one individual did some measurable damage to his reputation as a credible and stable source among his peers and superiors and others merely reinforcing their image as serial inventors or exaggerators of controversy to aid their injury hustling "ministry".
What was telling, in my view, was that many of those who led the charge are the very people who often claim to wish to protect others from abuse. Yet, these same saviors of their brothers and sisters led their congregation of hurting and injured sheep on a rampage (as I observed) of heedless speculation and accusation. They taught their sheep to preemptively injure other sheep with speculation and accusation and approved of this, in large part, by not quelling such discussions and accusations and in some cases, leading it with their own articles, blogs, additional comments or tweets doing just the same when, in the end, we discover those speculations and accusations of lawyer and Evangelical Industrial Complex intimidation simply were not true.
Slate and Why Mefferd backed down
Slate magazine published an article by Ruth Graham, The Evangelical Celebrity Machine, in which Graham provides quotes from an interview with Mefferd as to why Mefferd removed the materials and apologized. From the article (highlights mine):
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.Clearly Mefferd and many still have concerns about the citation issue but frankly, I do not see anyone making arguments against being concerned about proper citation. That is being pursued and Mars Hill has responded to some degree stating that it was an assistant editorial issue. But in the end, that does not matter with regard to this blog post and the peripheral speculations which arose that damaged the reputations of, Mefferd, Driscoll and the Tyndale without warrant.
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.
No amount of, “Well, Driscoll had it coming”, satisfies either a reasonable justification for the damaging speculation and accusation and certainly not a Biblical standard of our conduct. We are not commissioned to dole out justice as we see fit with speculation and accusation. No amount of, “Well, the Evangelical Mafia had it coming”, will do either (Evangelical Mafia are my words, it representing the equivalent of how the unspecified of powerful Evangelicals in this realm are alleged to have behaved as it came across to me). No matter what you think of either a person or a business, lying through speculation and then accusation is not only sinful but a grievous sin of unrighteous judgment upon which God makes clear he visits with his own judgments.
Not an Apologist for Mark Driscoll
Lest you believe I am an apologist for Mark Driscoll, think again. He is a brother and a Pastor, I recognize that. I believe he is also in error on a number of matters and would not and do not recommend him as a Bible Teacher who can comprehensively lead a believer into a mature handling of the Word of God. I do believe he manifests, in his public work, sincerity but theological and spiritual adolescence. Hence, in my view he demonstrates a lack of capacity for the high demands such a position necessitates.
However, that does not warrant me to damage him through speculation and accusation merely out of suspicion which might have as a basis, in part, my view that he is not as developed as needed for his elevated role thus, I may simply license myself to speculate about Mark Driscoll and accuse him of something for which I cannot provide proof, namely that he intimidated Mefferd into silence. This doesn’t get to be added to the weight of my suspicion thereby making my still unproven and public speculation and accusation all okay. No, that is immature, unstable and simply wrong. It still remains damaging accusation without proof.
There is a way to express suspicion with integrity but it is a rare that situations warrant strong public articulation of that suspicion and particularly unbridled, as went on in this case. But it does not matter who or what Mark Driscoll is or anyone else for that matter. We, Christians, are still bound by God’s protocols in our conduct in our own lives. We are to give a fair hearing, we are to wait for facts and speak truth no matter who the subject of our concerns may be. If we will recall, our Lord was speculated about, accused and then executed by false witnesses.
Owed Acknowledgments and Admissions
Janet Mefferd did not apologize for her concerns, rather for her conduct in pursuing those concerns. She recognized it was needlessly reckless and damaging to other parties and further, it resulted in a recruiting meme for the disaffected and those who lead such people into ill-will and self-aggrandizing expressions of discontent toward the powers-that-be and other icons at which they have chosen to direct their wrath seeing these people or organizations, in some way, represent someone that hurt them in the past. As a result, a crusade of dissension followed which was part of Mefferd’s regret.
And what about the dissenters, the ones that Janet Mefferd apologized for giving opportunity to arise (she is not guilty for their actions and clearly she sought to quell the rumble but they paid no heed apparently)? What about them?
Their victim, who turned out not to be a victim at all, Janet Mefferd, simply and maturely recognized the error of her approach and conduct on the matter, admitted it and apologized for it. And really, it was not a great foible on display. It was merely one segment of a program which can, at best, be construed as inconsiderate questioning seeing that Driscoll was under the impression he was coming on the program to discuss the content of the book with respect to its thesis and not grammatical or citation issues for which he could have been prepared had he known in advance.
Thus, the campaign of speculation, accusation and damage against Driscoll, Tyndale, Mefferd (by refusing to accept her apology as genuine) and the Evangelical Industrial Complex (whomever you are) and so on, was all for naught. She was no victim and they did not perpetrate a campaign of intimidation against her; she was not being pressured and she was genuine in her mea culpa.
So what about them?
Where are they now? Are they formulating their acknowledgments and apologies? Are they prepared to admit they fostered an environment of suspicion, speculation, accusation and inevitably damage to people and institutions which were not justified? What about these crusaders who care for people and the truth so much and so often, where are they now?
I don’t know where they may be but I do know they owe an apology, if not to the people wrongly accused of intimidation tactics, at least to those who follow them and learn from them. In the least they owe their followers an apology for modeling naivety, for assuming the worst, for speaking the worst, for speculating, accusing and damaging others without justification and in doing so, teaching their followers to do so. Followers, I remind you, who are people claiming to have either been traumatized by mistreatment or know of it and sympathize with such people but now engaged a mass exercise of damaging others merely on suspicion.
Evangelical Industrial Complex and Christian Publishing: It is a Business
I am not sure what was meant by the Evangelical Industrial Complex specifically, if anything specifically, but as it was used by the author of the term and as how I would view it, I imagine it does have some basis in reality. Not everything with the identification, “Christian” is ministry nor is it altruistic. Some of it is business.
Now, I could depart here and begin a new series on all of the problems with that but I will not. Right now I do want to acknowledge, in part, that I accept the basis for this to some degree but I also reject its conspiratorial use.
Businesses are what they are, businesses. It is not conspiratorial to act in the interest of a business. Thus, even if it were true that Tyndale, Driscoll and other parties with some interests did act together to protect something, it does not warrant the implication that it exists only with self-interests and looms as a body of legal threats any time it is engaged with criticism or controversy.
The little guy is a little guy for many reasons, some good and some bad or to his discredit. Thus, simply because the apparent underdog believes there is a man behind the curtain or a bunch of people behind the curtain pulling strings to make puppets dance does not make it so. Rarely is there a great a might OZ. In fact, God isn’t even OZ nor wishes to be thought of in that way.
This is not to say there never is a cooperative work, either collectively or monolithically by design of likeminded men and women nor even that a conspiracy cannot ever take place. But to use this kind of description in a matter insignificant to many real problems such an industry faces and without proof? Atomic bombs for resolving skirmishes in the dirt? This is not a display of discretion and is intemperance even on its best day.
Publishing, which includes Christian publishing, is a business. As a publishing business there are editors and assistant editors as you should expect. Not every name of every book is the result of one person’s work and particularly with work that has many referenced materials. And even if one person wrote a book, that book gets edited. That means someone else, often more than one person, puts their hands on the book, handles it, edits it and changes the work of its author.
Yes, the author normally reads the final product but not even then is this always the case. He or she may have a trusted personal proofreader in whom they have confidence that he or she will be able to insure that the book, itself, represents the ideas and arguments of the author. And the publisher has confidence in the author of the book that through such mechanisms of the author, his or her personal proofreader will insure the book fairly represents the author's ideas.
Because sometimes the author has a very busy schedule, particularly if he or she has books produced at a high volume and has other endeavors going on which are not compatible with publishing deadlines. It is ideal? No. Is it reality in many cases? Yes.
None of this, or course, removes Mark Driscoll or the publisher, Tyndale House, from the responsibility of proper citation and no one is arguing this. But it is to explore and bring to light many of the normal-range reasons for citation issues in books. Unfortunately and instead, in this case many people simply assumed the worst, that Driscoll and/or Tyndale simply knew it was plagiarism and hoped to dupe the public and when discovered the Evangelical Industrial Complex sent over bad men and women in the form of lawyers or what have you, to threaten and intimidate Mefferd into silence.
In God’s Word we are told how to deal with incomplete knowledge on matters.
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
That is rather plain and simple. In this case many premature and wrong answers were given, rather emphatically. Now is a good opportunity to lead the way, again, this time in a better direction. For those listening, I encourage a public apology. Maybe you fear your theological antagonists or otherwise will see your weakness and take advantage of you, throwing it in your face. To that I say:
- They will only be showing their weakness
- You aren’t apologizing for their sake, rather to those unfairly damaged and those who you taught by example to do this which need to be corrected