There is a famous -- and, in many Christian quarters, infamous -- pastor in the Seattle area by the name of Mark Driscoll. The Rev. Driscoll leads the megachurch Mars Hill, and he has an uncanny knack for surviving scandal. Indeed, lesser men have been swallowed whole by mistakes that pale in professional comparison.
You might recall me mentioning him in the fall, when he disingenuously told Christians to stop all their in-fighting. (Driscoll, after all, has picked more than his share of fights with other Christians.) Once again, he's in hot water.
And, once again, it's about his publishing practices.
In the fall, Driscoll was found to have plagiarized numerous passages in his book, "A Call to Resurgence," and to have copied passages verbatim from a Bible commentary into his books on 1 & 2 Peter.
These were the types of offenses that almost always end an author's career, not to mention to rise to copyright liability (as I explained to Religon News Service's Jonathan Merritt). But Driscoll blamed others and came out effectively unscathed. His reputation among his followers remained in tact; his reputation among his critics couldn't get much worse.
But then last week Christianity Today revealed that Driscoll paid a makerting firm $210,000 to get his latest book, "Real Marriage," on the New York Times' Best Seller list. And we're not talking about an advertising campaign:
The document asked Mars Hill to buy 6,000 individual orders and supply RSI with addresses to deliver the books through a third party. In addition, Mars Hill purchased 5,000 bulk copies and provided 90 different addresses for the shipment of the bulk copies, according to the document signed by Matt Miller of RSI and Mars Hill general manager (and current executive elder) John Sutton Turner.
A thousand different payment methods also reportedly were used to further conceal the manipulation. And it's not clear whether Driscoll or his church footed the bill.
This is unethical, and appalling, on so many levels. Chip MacGregor, a former book publisher and current agent who works primarily with Christian authors, explains why in a lengthy takedown of Driscoll's latest authorial misdeeds and the absurd excuses and equivocations that have come from his camp.
This is toward the end:
So today Mark Driscoll admits, in an interview in Charisma, the scheme was cooked up and a bad idea… but, of course, he’s not to blame. Nope. He explained that “outside counsel advised us to use ResultSource.” So those pesky outside counselors are to blame, like that pesky unnamed research assistant who plagiarized is to blame. Not Mark. Not the guy with his name all over stuff. Huh-uh. Instead, his board made a statement that they appreciate his “endurance through false accusation.” Um… excuse me, but what exactly was the FALSE part? His book contains the un-cited work of another writer, which his own publisher acknowledged was inappropriate He had clearly plagiarized materials with his name on it. A company was paid a pile of money to pump his book and dishonestly get it onto bestseller lists. Those are all facts. What exactly is the “false” part? Well, except for the part where Mark claims he actually wrote any of this, I mean. I’m fairly certain that part is false.
What’s wrong with buying your way onto the bestseller list? It’s an expensive, short-term ego stroke for the lazy and dishonest, and it excludes real writers from actually making the list.
Read the rest here.
This whole incident evokes the expression "the fish rots from the head down." Driscoll never seems to own up to his mistakes -- he either blames them on some unidentified intern or contractor, or he blames his haters -- and his congregation seems to be following his example. But I also wonder how much of this is part of a feedback loop: Driscoll blames others, so the congregation affords him greater latitude, so Driscoll takes greater liberties.
*UPDATED at 3:06 pm: Warren Throckmorton notes that the apology Driscoll circulated among the Mars Hills community yesterday sounds many familiar notes to a 2007 sermon he delivered on humility. Throckmorton doesn't say Driscoll plagiarized himself -- er, is an onanist -- but he says it's "deja vu all over again."