Plagiarism, @PastorMark, and why one tweet matters… (A Guest Post)


The following is a guest post by Sharideth Smith.

Unless you have never heard of the internet, you are probably aware of the Mark Driscoll plagiarism kerfuffle. If not, this article sums it up pretty nicely. There have been accusations and jokes and some very serious concerns over what appear to be well documented issues regarding Driscoll’s lack of ability or willingness to cite his sources. His response has been to not respond. Well, except for that one time when he tried to sacrifice his ghostwriter to the intellectual property gods. And that thing where his publisher is defending him because money.

In the midst of all of this you would think he would be very careful about posting other people’s words to internet without proper accreditation. But today this happened:


I’m not going to try to establish myself as neutral when it comes to Mark Driscoll. I am not a fan. But just like every other Christian since the dawn of redemption, I do not like to see our leaders fall. No matter what I believe about their character or how heinous their spiritual crime, I still get that greasy feeling in the pit of my stomach and that voice in my head saying, “What will people think? How will this hurt the Church?”

I feel that way now about Mark Driscoll.

And before you start loading up the comments section with “MARK IS AWESOME!”, hear me out. Because friends, I am more concerned about the welfare of his church members than I will ever be about the opinions of those outside his church. Including my own.

If this tweet had been an isolated incident…no big deal. In fact, as others have noted, it’s pretty much impossible to figure out who originally coined the joke. But it wasn’t Mark Driscoll or Mars Hill. On its own, it’s totally not worthy of the twitastrophe it became. Granted, that was mostly my fault. However, people were bothered by this because of the entire plagiarism context. They weren’t Mark’s words. But they were presented as Mark’s words. His followers believed they were his words. You just can’t do that. Especially when facing serious plagiarism allegations. Under the circumstances, that tweet was either foolish or arrogant. I’m not super excited about either option.

My real concern is for the internal Mars Hill response, or lack thereof, to the entire situation. Mars Hill members have been instructed to not respond at all to the issue. I’ve seen the email. In that same email, my friend was instructed to report anyone who did respond in a public way (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to leadership. Yeah. You read that right.

That is not okay.

To defend the indefensible for the sake of our witness is completely backwards. We should be policing our own. Hard. We forget that Mars Hill does not belong to Mark Driscoll. It is not his church. It belongs to God. And…wait for it…God does not need Mark Driscoll to accomplish His goals or lead His kingdom. He just doesn’t. He doesn’t need me or you either. Not if He is the God we believe him to be.

In his book Freakonomics, Steven Levitt says:

“Purity is a good mask for corruption because it discourages inquiry.”

This can be applied to just about every major embarrassment the Church has suffered. We need to stop being so terrified of our heroes’ images being tarnished and start cleaning house. Questioning the actions of our leaders is not divisive or evil. It is essential.

I would like nothing better than to see Mark own this plagiarism thing and apologize. Love him or hate him, he will be forgiven. But if he continues to deny, to insulate or repeat the behavior like that tweet indicates, his fall will eventually be far, hard and final.

We must not put our faith in men. It is God’s church. He will separate the wheat from the chaff as He sees fit.


  1. SueDuffield says

    Shoot. I just came in from “jogging with Jesus”, and saw your post. Yes, it’s a bad looking birth mark on the Christianese world, but I’m always encouraged – that some how, some way the truth surfaces. Thanks, Sharideth Smith, for good words. And thanks Matthew Paul, for letting her spill the beans. Yeah, we’re paying attention. “Question authority.” (who said that, anyway? Did I just plagiarize someone?)

  2. MickyScottBeyJones says

    Interestingly, I posted a blog post by benjamincoreyon Facebook earlier this month and someone I know who attends the main MH church faithfully (not a member because they are a military family and move too often) had not heard ONE word about the allegations. So while those of us outside of MH are talking about it, those who attend the church have NO IDEA this is happening. None. I find that interesting.

  3. AndrewLamb says

    MickyScottBeyJones That doesn’t surprise me. It reminds me of the LDS church. They’re actually prohibited from looking up or talking about anything that reflects negatively on Mormons. One of their elders got really offended when I asked him about the Mormon shunnings I’d heard about, and he claimed he’d never heard anything of the sort.

  4. Sharideth says

    SueDuffieldThanks Sue. I really didn’t want this to be just another hit piece on Driscoll. There’s plenty of those. I see this whole thing as a much bigger problem facing the church these days.

  5. SueDuffield says

    Sharideth SueDuffield And unfortunately, it’s not a new phenomena. Now we just have social media to expedite the uncovering.

  6. Ellen Mandeville says

    SharidethSueDuffieldYou’re right that there’s a much bigger problem here. Those claiming to be able to teach the Bible to others aren’t living according to it themselves. The Bible is very clear on conflict resolution: restitution, repentance, reconciliation. Driscoll and Tyndale have not followed these Biblical principles.

  7. slkierley says

    AndrewLamb Hey Lambo, good to see you on here. I have to agree, MH is a cult and they are super controlling. I stopped going about a year ago. I refuse to go back, or to bring my wife and son to that dysfunctional “church.” Hope you are doing well sir.

  8. Pedrosky says

    By the same logic:
    Ever told a knock knock joke and didn’t cite it? For shame if you have, you are making the church look bad. 
    What really makes the church look bad is when we treat each other like dirt and

  9. LeanneZeck says

    Pedrosky telling a knock knock joke and not citing it is the same? I have to disagree. While I think the tweet without citations is not as big of a deal as his book in which he didn’t cite his sources, as a pastor–everything I tweet and fb affects my congregation. They read it and if they think I actually wrote it–I am building a fake figure for them to listen to on Sunday morning. When I preach, I try to make sure I cite the fact I am quoting or where the idea stemmed from in the points I am making. 
    Yes, this tweet is a joke, and I even thought it didn’t sound much like Driscoll in my opinion. Is it at the same level of the book–no. But Mark’s ministry is built around his image in many respects. He is the cool pastor in jeans willing to tell it like it is and not care what anyone says. So this funny quote could actually be building his reputation as the funny, cool pastor. If that is the case, he needs to cite his quotes because he is building a false image of himself for his flock.

  10. says

    Wait! This is absolutely scandalous… Bill Murray’s account is not verified??? Have they not seen Zombieland?
    You think Mark looked back in Bill’s tweets three entire months to find something to plagiarize? I think he remembered and retold the joke. I read Matthew Paul Turner’s blog because he challenges our typically stinky ways of being authentically gracious. This article reminds me of the stuff I read on witch hunting “discernment ministry” news sites.
    Why do we eat our own?

  11. LeanneZeck says

    Part of me wants to say this is no big deal. Then part of me as a pastor realizes that my tweets and my Facebook posts build a reputation with those around me and those I serve. The truth is we are all creating these online personas. We can look more intellectual or more humorous or more socially minded by what we post. And if I take a profound quote and do not cite it, do those in my congregation feel their pastor is wiser than I am?  I need to be as authentic a person as possible so those who I lead understand God is for regular everyday people. Creating a false image so people find me more humorous or more intellectual is dangerous–whether I am doing it on purpose or not. That is why citation is important.

  12. MelanieWest says

    If we can’t handle “cleaning house” with religious leaders we sure as hell will never actually get people fired up enough to clean house politically. Oh wait, they go hand in hand these days.

  13. Sharideth says

    JonLewis I can’t. I have permission to post excerpts from it but it was a personal email from one of the top three leaders at MH to a friend of mine. To post it would be to put his livelihood in jeopardy since MH still employs him. I would rather just have people doubt me than to do that to him.
    I guess I would ask you to consider the silence from MH members regarding the plagiarism issue in comparison to their overwhelming defense of past issues. I believe that is very telling.

  14. Pastor Randall Slack says

    Dishonesty on the part of any Christian is a bad witness – and sinful behavior. However, this is the code of pragmatism, i.e., end ends justify the means.
    James 3:1 should be sobering for all who teach: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” (NKJV). However, “the fear of the Lord” seems to be the last thing on many minds these days.
    All of us are tempted to draw attention to ourselves. And all of us have been guilty from time to time. However, admission of wrong or sin seems to be a lost “virtue” among all of us.
    “Celebrity” pastors? Really? John the Baptist would certainly be out of place today – “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 NKJV)

  15. JimJacobson says

    I think this is the least of the concerns I have about MD. His “visions of sexual activity” are much more alarming.

  16. KenGarrett says

    You wrote:  “Mars Hill members have been instructed to not respond at all to the issue. I’ve seen the email. In that same email, my friend was instructed to report anyone who did respond in a public way (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to leadership. Yeah. You read that right.”  
    Such behavior from leaders who are under “attack” is tragically common.  However, your response to the request that you publish the actual email that you refer to (John Lewis, 2 days ago) suggests that the email was not actually sent to “Mars Hill members,” (since there are thousands of members), but only a few, select (since it was “personal”, only to “a friend”).  So my question is, were the members of Mars Hill actually told not to respond to online complaints against their pastor, or were a few staff members told not to do so?  My point is that you have suggested a church-wide policy, and that the absence of response from MH membership is a result of that policy–and yet it appears that there has not actually been such a policy, or membership-wide email at all, but only an in-house, staff-only email.  The latter option is certainly regrettable and perhaps wrong, but it is very different from what you’ve suggested (to me, anyway) in the argument of your post.  What have I missed?  Thanks, Ken

  17. KenGarrett says

    JonLewis KenGarrett 
    Thank you for your response and link, Jon.  Either way, this is some nasty stuff, ain’t it?  Blessings, Ken

  18. KenGarrett says

    JonLewis KenGarrett 
    12 years in a Dark Church, myself.  We’ve been out for over 17 years now, and still wake up praising God to have been rescued!  Happy New Year, Jon!

  19. mstinnett says

    Everyone tweets quotes as of they are theirs, especially if no one knows the author. Why is that a big deal? I seem to remember a speck/ plank conversation that many of us need to reread and perhaps apply for the first time. John Piper says that we beat people with our plank while trying to remove their speck. I want none of that.


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