A casualty of this election season is Eric Metaxas’ reputation as a scholar. He acknowledges this in an interview published yesterday on NPR. In addition to his political statements, Metaxas again hurt himself by continuing to misattribute a quote to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the service of support for Donald Trump.
Metaxas said he has been misunderstood and that he was only quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As we now know, Metaxas wasn’t quoting Bonhoeffer but using a quote he has misattributed to Bonhoeffer.
To his dismay, Metaxas’ suggestion that Christians who do not support Trump will have to answer to God for their vote quickly got him in trouble with other Christian leaders.
“I have been horribly misunderstood, and it’s really damaged my reputation,” Metaxas told NPR. “When I put that out there, I didn’t realize most people aren’t going to get the joke, so to speak.”
Metaxas explained that when he said “God will not hold us guiltless,” he was simply quoting the German theologian and anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the subject of one of Metaxas’ numerous books. Bonhoeffer famously said God would not hold Germans guiltless for appeasing Hitler, because “silence in the face of evil is itself evil.”
“The point of the quote,” Metaxas said, “Is that you can’t say, ‘Oh, I’m not going to vote.’ You have to make a sober, difficult choice, because people are depending on you.”
I don’t understand what keeps Metaxas and his publisher Thomas Nelson from issuing a correction. His continued misuse of quote now seems to be willful and fraudulent. Ethical scholars make mistakes but they don’t keep on making them when evidence is presented. I have reached out to him and his publisher. I know he has received messages from mutual friends and his twitter followers. He has offered no source for the quote nor an explanation for why he keeps using it. Even a cursory review of academic ethics demonstrates that he should correct and is damaging his reputation by not doing so. For instance, read what Des Moines University says about proper citation:
Locating scholarly resources and then citing these references accurately should be the foundation of your own academic and professional writing.
Why is this an ethical issue? Correct documentation
- Provides attribution or credit to the original author or creator.
- Allows someone to find the documents you cited on their own.
- Enables the reader to follow the continuum of research. What important contributions were made before your work and where does your body of research contribute to or add to current knowledge?
- Enables others to verify the accuracy and completeness your work. A thorough reference list demonstrates that you are knowledgeable about your field of inquiry.
- Communicates transparency, trust and integrity and helps you to avoid plagiarism.
Ethical research and writing means giving proper attribution and credit to the work of others. In the academic community the ideas, words, and formal or informal publications of others is considered intellectual property. Failing to provide the correct citation may not always be plagiarism. However, if another scholar cannot easily find the research you claim to have consulted, one may reasonably conclude that you either “raided” the reference list of someone else, or that you made up the reference(s) on your own. In either case, you did not actually do the work of reading and analyzing the source material yourself. Citing sources without reading them is considered fraudulent because you are lying about the work you have done. Finally, you should not blindly trust the conclusions of others. Always track down and read the original research yourself to make sure that the data is accurate.
Finally, sometimes the expression of someone’s creative work is copyrighted. You may see official copyright or creative commons licensing information on a website or publication indicating that the work is protected. Regardless of whether or not you see an official notice, you should always consider any written, visual, multimedia, or auditory work as protected under copyright law whether or not you see an official trademark or warning.
I have repeatedly asked Metaxas for a source for the quote. He has not answered. A review of ethics standards for scholars is clear that being able to provide sources for one’s work is foundational.