A wider circle of accusations surrounding author and Seattle-based megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll that originally included plagiarism allegations by a radio talk show host, now includes claims from others tracking the saga about how ghostwriters or researchers were used and not given proper attribution. At the same time, the Mars Hill Church pastor's silence on the matter has raised intrigue and the question: How powerful is the "evangelical celebrity machine?"
"What started in late November with Janet Mefferd's accusations of plagiarism against Mark Driscoll has morphed into broader concerns over authorship and use of research materials," writes Warren Throckmorton on the Patheos blog. "This finding raises interesting questions about ghostwriting and the use of research in writing for publication. I am not aware of how wide spread this practice is but perhaps this story allows us a view behind a door not often opened."
Throckmorton, who has been reporting daily on developments in the Driscoll alleged-plagiarism story that began three weeks ago, says that it appears that Docent Research Group consultant Justin Holcomb "quoted the material from the New Bible Commentary and then Driscoll changed a few words and included it under his authorship. There are multiple instances of this practice throughout the memo."
Well-known theologian and pastor John Piper also chimed in on the online chatter about the Driscoll matter via Twitter and Throckmorton writes that the series of tweets was "apparently in response to an op-ed by Andy Crouch at Christianity Today on the Mark Driscoll plagiarism (now ghostwriting) controversy. Crouch's op-ed builds to this crescendo: The real danger here is not plagiarism – it is idolatry."
One of Piper's tweets included a link to a podcast that includes his answer to his feeling on ghostwriters. "Just in case you want to hear my emotion about this ghost writing thing, here's groaning last July. http://dsr.gd/1iTfgur," he tweeted.
The fallout from accusations made by Mefferd that Driscoll plagiarized in at least two of his books includes her pulling the allegations from her website, an apology to the outspoken Christian leader, the resignation of a dismayed part-time producer from her show, and now, the wider circle of accusations from more members of the Christian community.
It was part-time, topics producer Ingrid Schlueter of Mefferd's show that said "there is an evangelical celebrity machine that is more powerful than anyone realizes. You may not go up against the machine. That is all." Schlueter also says that "those who could have underscored the seriousness of [the charges of plagiarism] and demanded accountability did not. That is the reality of the evangelical industrial complex."
Media publication Slate took advantage of Schluter's take on the matter and published a piece with the headline, "The Evangelical Celebrity Machine." Reporter Ruth Graham wrote that Mefferd's apology and her removal of the original content that included the accusations "shouldn't be mistaken for a recanting."
"I stand by my allegations of insufficient sourcing, absolutely and unequivocally," she said by email to Graham. "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." Graham reported that Mefferd told her that "no attorneys were involved in this situation" and that no one from the Driscoll camp suggested she remove the materials.
Several commentators have made the observation that Driscoll's "brand is now damaged," again, putting into play the question of the dynamics of "the evangelical celebrity machine" and the "evangelical industrial complex."
Attempts by The Christian Post to obtain a statement from Driscoll or Mars Hill Church have been unsuccessful. A source from the church asking to remain anonymous confirmed that no statement was planned as of Wednesday.