Christian talkshow host and journalist, Janet Mefferd, removed documents which appeared to show plagiarism by controversial pastor and Young, Restless, and Reformed icon, Mark Driscoll. Earlier Mefferd had pressed Driscoll in an interview to explain why he apparently used material from Reformed theologian, Peter Jones, without properly citing his material, an interview which turned sour quickly with Driscoll allegedly hanging up (unfortunately the allegation of 'hanging up' took the spotlight away from the more serious breach if true--plagiarism).
Mefferd produced even more indicting forms of potential plagiarism by comparing passages in Driscoll's published works to passages found in mainstream commentaries. Warren Throckmorton reproduced Mefferd's original documents and has some helpful commentary concerning the issue of plagiarism.
“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.”
According to Merritt, Greenberg indicated Mefferd's allegation of plagiarism strengthened from her initial evidence she pressed in the interview when she showed the almost verbatim copying of passages in the latest evidence she provided but subsequently pulled from her site. Merritt reports:
"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." - See more at the RNS article by Jonathan Merritt
One surely should not assume any moral breach on behalf of Janet Mefferd. If she pulled the documents, we presume she did so for good and evident reason. According to one source,1 she intends to publicly address the issue with her listening audience.
For that matter, one need not assume personal guilt for Mark Driscoll even though he remains fully liable if it's actually determined plagiarism is present in his books. Assuming, of course, Driscoll did not write the passages but either an editorial assistant or ghostwriter compiled the material for him. In that case, Driscoll's error lies elsewhere but nonetheless remains fully responsible and liable if breach of copyright is determined.
Whatever the case, I'm quite sure no major magazine will proclaim this year as "the year of the evangelical."
1UPDATE: When I posted this piece, I was aware Janet Mefferd had apparently spoken publicly and offered an apology to Mark Driscoll, Tyndale House and her listening audience but when I clicked on the page of the blogger who originally alerted us to the particular broadcast, the link was broken. Thanks to North Carolina pastor, Tim Rogers for pointing me to the specific broadcast in which Mefferd humbly offers an apology to her listening audience and all parties involved for prematurely bringing the evidences to public attention and scrutiny. Here's the broadcast. Mefferd's apology begins at 5:30 in. For my part, her obviously sincere apology should strengthen our respect for her as a credible journalist, radio host, and committed believer. Thank you, Janet, for following both godly Christian counsel and your mature Christian conscience.