Nori Media Group Refuses Comment on Plagiarism in Tim Clinton’s Ignite Your Faith. Guest Post by Aaron New

Guest post by Aaron New

Tim Clinton, President of the American Association of Christian Counselors and Executive Director of the James Dobson Family Institute, faced questions of plagiarism and ghost-writing last year.  Blog host Warren Throckmorton has documented many of those questions here.  I have compiled a long list of my questions and concerns here.  Clinton has consistently denied, through a spokesman, plagiarizing any material. On more than one occasion, Clinton has declared a “zero-tolerance policy on plagiarism.” Clinton “is just not a plagiarist” his spokesman said. That’s the “bottom line.” Instead, Clinton has blamed grad students, interns, research assistants, employees, “posting errors via some third party partners,” and even co-authors for the “mistakes” in various writings and publications. In addition, he seems to describe some “mistakes” as inevitable since at the AACC “[we] do touch a lot of content, mountains of content, in fact, between what we put online, what we distribute to members, what goes into books, and other publications.”

Not Me

So, if I understand correctly, there have been “mistakes” for which plenty of others are responsible.  Clinton himself, however, is not accountable for any of them.

This is not the sort of personal responsibility Christian counselors need to model for our clients. But I digress.

In an August 2018 statement to Inside Higher Ed, Clinton’s spokesman mentioned that one book in particular was “under an immediate editorial review.”  Later, I became curious about the outcome of this review, so I contacted the publisher to follow up.

The book in question is a devotional by Clinton Ignite Your Faith: Get Back in the Fight, published by Destiny Image in 2014. The parent company of Destiny Image is Nori Media Group. After several attempts, I exchanged brief correspondence with a couple of executives at Nori Media.  I provided 8 different examples of potentially plagiarized material I found in the book.  I highlighted each of the “Ignite” passages I found questionable and also provided what I believed were the original sources.  Some were only minimally questionable, others were clearly problematic, with the most blatant example being a devotional on day 35 where large amounts of the entry appear to be a cut and paste job from a newspaper article in 1999 (see this post for extensive documentation of the cut and paste job).

One executive acknowledged my concerns and thanked me for bringing them to his attention.  He promised to “review the documents you have provided for cases of possible plagiarism and take the most appropriate course of action based on our findings.”  Since then, I have asked for an update several times, focusing on just 2 questions.  (1) Was Nori Media previously aware of the potential plagiarism?  (2) What was the result of their investigation and what actions will they take, if any?

After over a month of inquiries and a phone call from Warren Throckmorton to Nori Media yesterday, I finally received the briefest of responses from the Vice President. Jonathan Nori wrote:

It is contrary to Destiny Image policy to comment on potential issues of plagiarism or any actions taken related to such.

I’m disappointed by this response and wish there was more transparency regarding their findings and actions. As it is, the public is left to just make guesswork of it all. The book does not appear on the Destiny Image website, but a customer service representative said the website has undergone some recent changes and Ignite Your Faith has yet to be added back to the online catalog. The book is still available for purchase from Destiny Image (as are two other works by Tim Clinton).

If Tim Clinton and the AACC take plagiarism as seriously as they indicate, I would have expected Destiny Image to be aware of problem and be willing to make a statement accordingly.  Without any further details from them, I cannot say with certainty they were unaware of the potential plagiarism, but I suspect that the AACC’s “immediate editorial review” did not include a notice to Destiny Image or Nori Media.  Definitely of note, the book is still available to purchase on the AACC website. This is curious, given Clinton’s “zero-tolerance policy” on plagiarism.

As I have said elsewhere, I refuse to believe this is an unimportant topic.  Our field deserves better than this.


Update to Aaron’s article by Warren Throckmorton (1/10/19)

As part of reviewing Aaron’s article, I contacted Nori Media Group by phone. The person who answered said Ignite Your Faith was still offered by Nori but, as Aaron noted, the website was incomplete. She then said she would pass along my questions about possible plagiarism and copying to someone in production. She told me that she or another person would call back with an answer. I didn’t get a call. I also wrote Nori and asked why other publishers commented on plagiarism when found in their books. I have not received an answer.

It is relevant to point out that Tim Clinton’s co-author/collaborator on this book commented to me about this book almost five months ago.  Below that entire post from August 2018 is reproduced:

Defending himself against charges of academic misconduct last week, American Association of Christian Counselors president and Trump advisor Tim Clinton blamed a former employee for lifting material from other sources for use in articles which carried Clinton’s byline. Even though AACC’s code of ethics discourages ghostwriters, Clinton blamed an employee who functioned in that manner for material in his articles which came from other sources.

One online article by Clinton [see this article for evidence of copying in Press On from Ignite Your Faith], “Press On,” (cached)* which contained plagiarized material was first published in the book Ignite Your Faith by Clinton and Max Davis. Because I wanted to find out how the copied content got into “Press On,” I contacted Davis for comment (I also contacted Clinton with no response).

When I contacted Davis, he said he did not have any part in writing the devotional “Press On.” He added that he always checks his sources and “never once in all my years as a writer has this happened” referring to copied content ending up in one of his books.

He also wanted me to know that he was not the fired AACC employee blamed by Clinton for academic misconduct to the Christian Post.

*The same article with the title “Strive to Excel” was once posted on Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk website. It is archived here.

 

Some Thoughts in Response to Harvest Bible Chapel’s Defamation Lawsuit

On Monday night, I reported that Harvest Bible Chapel dropped their defamation suit against The Elephant’s Debt bloggers, their wives, and Julie Roys. As a part of discovery in the suit, Roys filed an extensive request for documents. As those documents were supplied to Roys, she published some of the internal communications on her blog. In turn, that action led HBC to ask the court to prevent Roys from making the material public. On Monday, the court declined to issue a stay on such information. Later that night the church signaled an intent to drop the suit.

According to a statement released by HBC, the church wanted to spare the privacy of people who might be named in emails and texts subpoenaed by Roys. I am sure that is true. In addition, I suspect there are aspects of the church’s functioning and information about various church leaders that the church wanted to keep private. I say that because the church now keeps some such information secret. For instance, information about executive compensation and housing and other financial transactions are guarded secrets. There also appears to be an attempt to manage the reputation of leadership.

Even though I support the journalists (I consider bloggers citizen journalists) in this case, I must add that I only do so because I don’t see any indication of bad faith. Some of what was written may indeed turn out to be off or incomplete, but it appears to me that those involved have tried to get the story right. I do not support people who speculate or make false allegations and claim freedom of speech as a protection from scrutiny.

I have written things that turned out to be incorrect but not because I intended to. When reporting about organizations which deliberately spread disinformation or attempt to mislead, it is hard to separate truth from a lie. At times, I have gone with incomplete information because a source didn’t have all the information. In those times, the remedy is to correct as quickly as possible and apologize.

In the suit brought by Harvest, a sign of what appeared to be an intent to harass was the inclusion of the bloggers’ wives as defendants. Harvest never addressed this. I specifically asked the church why they did this and the church spokesperson simply referred me to James MacDonald’s prior statements. Nothing in those statements dealt with a reason to sue the wives of the bloggers.

Given the fragile legal and theological foundations of the suit and the heavy handed means of pursuing it, I think HBC’s leaders have a responsibility to correct themselves. I believe they should pay the legal expenses of the defendants and issue a public apology. The very public retreat from what HBC leaders told the public God was leading them to do is a rebuke to their leadership. First, they said God was directing them to sue. Now they say God is directing them to drop the suit. A reasonable question for members is: Do these leaders have the ability to know what God is directing the church to do?

Recently, when Willow Creek Church found itself in a leadership crisis over the mishandling of Bill Hybels, the entire leadership team resigned. While the church isn’t out of the woods yet, this action helped to reassure wavering members that the church might be able to survive. It was a brave, selfless, and bold move. Harvest Bible Chapel finds itself in a similar crisis of leadership. What will the leaders of the church do?

A factor which might separate the two Chicago area churches is member sentiment. At Willow Creek, there was and is a significant number of members who demanded change. I am not aware of a significant number of current members who want change. If indeed most current members are happy with the situation, then probably nothing will happen. Indeed, it is a personal matter for members to decide.

In the current Harvest governance, there really isn’t a way for members to have an impact on leadership. They don’t vote for elders and they can’t recall a pastor or staff member. They can stop giving or leave the church. By HBC’s admission, over 2000 members have left over the past several years. The leaders blamed that on the bloggers. Will the public retreat on the lawsuit change the focus? Will they now look inward?

Since there is no systematic means for members to have an influence on leadership at HBC, I suspect that those who are dissatisfied will continue to trickle away. Although a bold leadership move could probably prevent that, it is probably as it should be. No doubt there are many small struggling churches which could use some new members.

Ultimately, it would be wonderful if the HBC board and senior pastor repent of their actions in this lawsuit, make restitution to the defendants, and at least consider a sabbatical from leadership to determine why they thought they should pursue such an extreme public action. Trust in Christian leaders is at a low right now and it would nice to get some good news for a change.

Image: By Esther 5000 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48825134

Ralph Drollinger Responds to Allegations He is a Christian Nationalist

Ralph Drollinger really doesn’t like being called a Christian nationalist. He is back with a rebuttal to another Katherine Stewart NY Times op-ed and has a response to my recent posts on his ministry. He gets a few things wrong in his reply which I want to unpack.

First, Drollinger takes on Fred Clark for a brief statement in one of Clark’s Patheos blog postings. Clark wrote:

Ralph Drollinger of “Capitol Ministries” says he’s not a Christian nationalist. (Warren Throckmorton, correctly, disagrees with him.)

In his blog post, Clark linked to my Dec. 31 article on Drollinger and Christian nationalism.

Then Drollinger comes after me.

Throckmorton makes no bones about being a Monday morning quarterback. He describes his blog as a “college psychology professor’s observations about public policy, mental health, sexual identity, and religious issues.”

According to Wikipedia, Throckmorton has no formal training or education in theology.

Throckmorton’s credentials are listed as: bachelor’s in psychology in 1979 from Cedarville College; an M.A. in clinical psychology from Central Michigan University in 1982; and a Ph.D. in counselor education and community counseling from Ohio University in 1992.

I think he means this as a criticism but I don’t know how it helps him. Perhaps, he didn’t recognize Cedarville College as a Christian college. If he had, he might have wondered about my training there. In fact, I took more hours in bible training, theology and New Testament Greek than in psychology (my major). While it was a long time ago, I do have training in theology. Now what?

One consequence of my training as an educator and academic is that I provide citations for my sources. Drollinger doesn’t do that. While he mentions my blog, he doesn’t link to it (or Clark’s). The effect is that he can select a part of my post without his readers having the easy ability to click over and read it for themselves. For instance, Drollinger claims I object to conversion.

In stating his reasons for calling Drollinger a Christian nationalist, Throckmorton objects to Drollinger evangelizing legislators, or, as he writes, “converting legislators to his view of God’s moral law.”

In fact, I don’t object to evangelizing. Evangelizing others is an American freedom. I object to teaching government officials that conversion is necessary for effective public service and possibly using public facilities and resources to do so.

Throckmorton objects to Drollinger establishing “his view of Christianity.” What other view of Christianity would Drollinger impart?

Drollinger gets hung up on my deliberate attempt to distinguish his evangelicalism from other Christian traditions. Of course, he is going to preach what he believes. However, his view of conversion appear to be limited to those in his tradition. It isn’t clear if Catholic, Orthodox, or progressive Christians fall within his definition. Certainly, non-Christians don’t. Even in his rebuttal, he doesn’t back away from his contention that non-Christians however defined aren’t as qualified to legislate as Christians are.

In likeminded logic, does he object to those same actions by other religious leaders, such as the Catholic Pope imparting his brand of Christianity on Nancy Pelosi? Or is it only conservative Evangelical Christians whom Throckmorton believes should be silenced?

I never said he should be silenced. I believe his objectives and teachings should be explicit. That is why I wrote about his operation. My post mostly quoted his material which makes it clear that he believes Christians from his tradition are better legislators and voters than other citizens. I think that runs counter to the Constitution and American values. Since Drollinger obscures the issue by limiting the definition of Christian nationalism to exclude him, it is even more important to present his views clearly.

Non-Christian Legislators Not Effective

Regarding conversion and the effectiveness of legislators, Drollinger says I am wrong and then proves me correct. I don’t think he sees what I see as a contradiction. Drollinger:

Allegation

Perhaps Throckmorton misunderstood when he mocked Drollinger’s point that conversion to Christianity was preeminent to education for the leaders of the state. Throckmorton wrote:

“If President Trump’s handlers are truly listening to this advice, this could help account for some of the truly unqualified appointments to high administration positions and the judiciary.”

This is False

As Drollinger has said and written many times, education, knowledge, experience, and the proper qualifications are important.

The point Drollinger was making refers to the effect of sin on an individual and strikes at the heart of his ministry as a Christian pastor – to introduce people to God and to teach them why they need His Word.

When someone is “dead in their trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), they will not be effective in office or anyplace else due to the noetic effect of sin.

This is called talking out of two sides of your face. First he says I am wrong and says education and qualifications are important, but then he says when someone isn’t converted as an evangelical they are not effective. Actually, I wasn’t wrong at all. He still says non-Christian legislators aren’t effective. His evidence is a Bible verse for a political claim.

By raising the “noetic effect of sin,” Drollinger makes a theological argument against his position. The noetic effect of sin is that effect on reasoning and cognition which effects all people, converted and unconverted. As I was taught at evangelical Cedarville College, Christians do not escape the noetic effects of sin. We can learn much from those who are not Christians. In my training, the basis for integration of academic disciplines and theology was rigorous instruction in both professional knowledge and theology.  It is what I currently do now as a Christian college professor. Drollinger’s citation of the noetic effect of sin undermines his point about making conversion a priority for legislators. Just try that when you need open heart surgery.

There is more and you can read the rest.

I don’t think Drollinger should be silenced. I do think he should be watched and his teachings clarified. A key problem I have with his influence is that he thinks non-evangelical legislators aren’t effective. This is arrogant, theologically narrow, and empirically false.

Harvest Bible Chapel Drops Defamation Suit

I just heard via Twitter that Harvest Bible Chapel dropped their defamation lawsuit against The Elephant’s Debt bloggers and their wives, and Julie Roys. This came after a judge did not grant a restraint against the publication of material obtained via discovery. Here is HBC’s announcement from the church website.

In October of 2018, we filed a lawsuit asking a civil court to restrict the actions of those attempting to interfere in the life of our church by publicizing false and distorted information about our church, primarily related to the years 2007-2012.

On advice of counsel, we still believe their actions to be illegal. However today the court ruled, contrary to expectation and legal precedent, that it would not stay further discovery while the case is under defendants’ motions to dismiss, nor would it restrict the publicizing of that discovery during the trial process.

Recent events have made it clear that any further private content subpoenaed from third and fourth parties will likely be publicized online. Case law contains many legal precedents related to restricting these actions, yet the court ruled against our motions in both instances.* The result is that even if we filed a motion to reconsider, even if we amended the complaint to exclude private matters sensitive to some third parties, the court appears unwilling to protect our many friends, including those with whom we seek to reconcile. In good conscience we cannot knowingly subject innocent people, in many instances against their will, to a full subpoena process.

Surely the Lord could have caused the court to rule in our favor, as “the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33), and “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:9). We receive these outcomes as God’s direction and have instructed our legal counsel to drop the suit entirely. With this decision, we can again focus our energies on continued growth in personal and organizational faults we have owned, enduring what is false, and striving to mitigate the damage such attacks bring to our church family and friends.

We remain willing to meet with the defendants for a face-to-face resolution of grievances, and we covet your prayers. 

– The Executive Committee of Elders, Harvest Bible Chapel

*At our request, a court reporter transcribed today’s proceeding, which will be available soon.

A common sense view of this situation is that the bloggers and journalist have free speech rights and the courts are keen on maintaining them. It always seemed odd to me that a church would use the courts to attempt to establish a fact pattern. If the church wants to be transparent, then simply open the books and the minutes and take questions from the press without a defensive posture.

 

Image: By Esther 5000 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48825134

Jerry Falwell is Wrong About the Poor

There are several head scratching quotes from Jerry Falwell, Jr. in his New Year’s Day interview with Joe Heims in the Washington Post. One such quote which caught my eye is this:

Why have Americans been able to do more to help people in need around the world than any other country in history? It’s because of free enterprise, freedom, ingenuity, entrepreneurism and wealth. A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.

While job creation might be out of reach for many low income people, charitable giving is something the poor do often. As Relevant magazine pointed out, Christian college president Falwell appears to have forgotten Jesus’ teaching about the widow and her few cents. Beyond Falwell’s insensitivity to the Bible, he is wrong about the poor and charitable giving. Actually, low income people as a group give a lot and on average they give more as a percentage of their income than rich people.

Given Falwell’s role as a fund raiser for his college, I am surprised he isn’t aware of this. In philanthropy literature, the link between income bracket and giving is well known. Although the truly poor don’t often itemize charitable gifts, lower income brackets are responsible for significant amounts of charitable giving compared to higher brackets. This is especially true of religious giving.

A 2007 Indiana University study found that donors making under 100,000/year gave nearly $60 Billion to religious organizations compared to $8.6 Billion given by donors making over $1 million/year. The per donor gift was much smaller in the lower income group, but together the lower income group represented nearly 60% of all giving to religious causes. In contrast to Falwell’s claim, that’s some real volume. No doubt Falwell’s college gets many widow’s mites on a monthly basis to help keep those doors open.

I realize that $100,000/year is not poor. However, this bracket is more likely to include large families with limited resources. As noted above, people in the lowest income groups don’t often itemize contributions and so it is harder to capture those data via the Indiana U. methodology. However, other research supports the contention that lower income persons give more as a percentage of income than the rich.

For instance, a 2014 study published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy showed that the wealthy reduced their giving during the economic downtown while lower and middle income donors increased giving. The lowest income bracket – those making less than $25,000/year – increased their giving by 17% from 2006 to 2012. The lowest income group demonstrated the highest percentage increase of all groups.

The 2014 study wasn’t unusual. Much prior research has found that those in low income brackets give more as a percentage of income than the wealthy. According to researcher Roger Barnett, “Research in the area has established that, on the average, high income donors give more to charitable causes than do people with low incomes. However, in Britain (and in the United States) the poor have for decades been observed to donate proportionately higher shares of their income to charity than the financially better off (emphasis in the original) (p. 520).

Falwell, Jr.’s college has been helped out in the past by big gifts (e.g., self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon) so perhaps he is influenced by the big donors. However, as a group, the poor do give and they give a lot. He is wrong and shouldn’t spread this misinformation. If I were a low income donor to Liberty University, I would have to rethink my contribution.

 

Capitol Ministries: Christian Nationalism by Another Name is Still Christian Nationalism

Head of Capitol Ministries Ralph Drollinger recently told James Dobson that 11 of President Trump’s cabinet members attend his meetings. In describing his rationale for the studies, Drollinger’s reasons sounded similar to those who espouse Christian nationalism. Christian nationalists believe that leaders in a society need to be Christian so that the laws and policies will reflect Christianity.

In his interview with Dobson, Drollinger asserted:

Right actions begin with right thinking and right thinking begins with thinking right about God. So, how can you expect right actions in terms of the course of a nation unless your nation’s leaders think right? And how can you expect them to think right if they don’t know the Word of God?

I was surprised to learn that Drollinger doesn’t think of himself as a Christian nationalist. He wrote an article distancing himself from the terms most closely associated with Christian nationalism. However, after a review of his recommendations for public policy, I don’t agree with him. He sounds like a Christian nationalist to me. For him, the only good legislator is a legislator who subscribes to his view of Christianity.  

About two years ago, he took issue with a NYT editorial by Kathrine Stewart in which she called him out as a Christian nationalist. Drollinger wrote a response calling that defamation and asked that the Times print a retraction. To my knowledge, nothing came of that demand.

In response to the publicity surrounding the dust up, Drollinger outlined his views of dominionism and Christian nationalism. He dismissed theonomy, Christian reconstructionism, and dominionism as faulty concepts based on misunderstandings of Scripture. He distinguished three types of law in the Old Testament and said that only one expression should be promoted in civil government by Christians. In a Capitol Ministries newsletter on the subject, Drollinger asserted:

The Judicial/Civil OT Law along with the Ceremonial OT Law are not applicable for Public Servant lawmakers today in the Church Age because they are specific to theocratic Israel of the OT and they have been done away with by Christ Himself. On the other hand, the Moral Law of the OT is applicable for today as a reliable informant for civil government leaders in their lawmaking. In fact, the Moral Law is and should remain the basis of civil government lawmaking today because it matches perfectly the conscience “chip” that God has installed in everyone He has created: The Moral Law of God, revealed in the OT and NT is written on our hearts! (Cf. Romans 1:18-20.)

Drollinger claimed Christian nationalists (whoever they are, he doesn’t name them) want to implement OT civil and ceremonial laws into American government. He doesn’t want to do that so he isn’t a Christian nationalist. However, he does teach legislators that God’s moral law as expressed in the Bible is the proper basis for civil government. This heading comes from the same lesson:

BELIEVERS WHO SERVE IN CIVIL GOVERNMENT SHOULD ONLY SEEK TO IMPORT ONE OF THE THREE DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF THE OT LAW. THEY SHOULD SEEK TO IMPORT FOR TODAY THE MORAL LAW OF GOD AS REVEALED IN THE OT TORAH!

Drollinger says he believes in separation of church and state because he doesn’t want a state church. However, he does want the church to influence the state. As we will see, the influence comes via converting legislators to his view of God’s moral law.

In the New Testament, the Bible teaches that God created the institution of the state as an entity separate from the institution of the Church. But that does not imply that God does not expect the institution of the state to be influenced by the institution of the Church: He does expect the Church to influence the State — while remaining institutionally separate.

I do not believe or embrace “Christian nationalism” nor does Capitol Ministries harbor any theocratic motives.

In a more in depth study on separation of church state, Drollinger explained the idea of influence of the church on the state.

As we will see from this study, the institution of the State is quite dependent on the existence of a strong and healthy institution of the Church (which it does not control) to build men and women in righteousness for service in government.

The same principles which build individuals  in righteousness (as expounded by the Word of God) are the same principles, wherein multiplied by and through individuals, that build a nation. It is when a nation is impregnated with highly principled individuals that it gains well-being.

Given this cut-to-the-chase analysis of our greatest need, the question then quickly becomes one of how righteousness is formed in the lives of individuals. Having said that, therein exists, in terms of serving the institution of the State, the absolutely critical preeminent duty of the Church in an institutionally separated society: to convert the soul and disciple — Christianize — the leaders of the State and its citizenry.

Conversion is even preeminent to education; without a moral foundation, knowledge makes arrogant (I Corinthians 8:1) and is of little value in terms of nation building. Therefore in our composite country, the State is highly dependent on an institution it does not control: The Church in regard to its own health and sustainability. Conversely, for the Church to spend her energy in the capital community attempting to affect policy with little manifest concern for the souls of the State’s leaders is to practice, biblically speaking, a misinformed and misguided sort of involvement: it is to attempt to do what others — strong-in-Christ Public Servants — can do much better! It is to be less than efficient. It is to misunderstand the primacy of her God-ordained role in a composite society.

The Church can best influence the State by building and sending righteous Public Servants to serve in government. Keep in mind the State is not in the business of manufacturing righteous individuals. Rather, God has designed it to punish unrighteous individuals (cf. Romans 13:4; 1 Peter 2:13-14).Proverbs 29:2 serves to summarize this:

I can imagine that a non-Christian reading this would be worried that this sounds like a formula for a de facto establishment of Drollinger’s view of Christianity. People from Christian traditions other than evangelical might wonder the same thing since Drollinger’s view of God’s moral law is a conservative evangelical one.

Drollinger tells us that “conversion is even preeminent to education” for the leaders of the state. In other words, Christian lawmakers who know nothing of the issues they will address in office are better than non-Christian experts. If President Trump’s handlers are truly listening to this advice, this could help account for some of the truly unqualified appointments to high administration positions and the judiciary.

Drollinger makes his views clear by saying that God can only bless the nation through the prayers of Christians.

God only hears the prayers of leaders and citizens who are upright, who live righteous through faith in Jesus Christ.

Scripture is clear; those who are at enmity with Him — who passively or actively reject the Son of God — their prayers are worthless and go unheard. And the State suffers for want of His blessing. The righteous leader is a man of potent prayer.

While Drollinger criticizes Christians who want Mosaic law as a basis, he sees no problem with his version of Christianity being the basis for civil government. If the nation can only prosper through the Christian church, then what else can you call this but Christian nationalism? According to his plain teaching, if you aren’t a Christian as a leader or a citizen, you are part of the problem. His answer is to convert you to his tradition of Christianity. The principle goal of Capitol Ministries is to evangelize legislators and as he wrote in the lesson cited above – Christianize – leaders and citizens. When the goal is political change, what else can this be philosophy be called?

What’s The Problem?

Drollinger claims that no one is required to attend his Bible studies. I suspect that is true at least in the formal sense. If no tax funds are being expended, I don’t see a problem with government officials attending his meetings although I wish they wouldn’t.

Where there could be a problem is what he does with his influence. Evangelizing is one thing, using the evangelized converts to institute your religious view of law is another. It seems obvious to me that he has policy views he thinks God wants more than others and he believes converted lawmakers will pursue those. He uses religious conversion to achieve political ends.

One effect of this could be to increase the polarization of our politics. In Drollinger’s Christianity, ideological opponents aren’t just people we disagree with, they are enemies of God. They aren’t just different in outlook; their prayers are “worthless” and the State “suffers” because they have “rejected the Son of God.” If you compromise legislatively with such people, you may view yourself as compromising on God’s principles.

This view of the unconverted may not reflect the Christian nationalism that Drollinger rejects, but it is a kind of Christian privilege that isn’t reflected by the Constitution. The framers had an opportunity to privilege Christianity but firmly decided to reject religious tests for public service. The framers saw the rejection of a religious test as a sign of enlightenment. In contrast to Drollinger, the framers understood that public service required more than conversion to Christianity.

I believe Drollinger is wrong: Public service most certainly requires education and and openness to information. Currently, we have so many legislators who really have no idea how to evaluate information and scientific data. They rely on dubious “experts” within their faith traditions to tell them how to vote.

Furthermore, electing Christians is no guarantee of righteous actions or policies. For instance, the Trump administration has been among the most scandal ridden in history.  The supposed “baby Christian” President Trump can’t seem to find the truth. And far away from Washington, D.C., converted legislators are no insurance against greed and corruption (e.g., Arkansas bribery scandal). Any political observer knows I could go on and on.

The law of the land is the Constitution which does not place any barrier to the religious or non-religious. Teaching elected officials that their non-Christian peers can’t “think right” about public policy because they “don’t know the Word of God” isn’t consistent with American values and our Constitutional system. He can believe it with all his might but when he makes it his work to infect the political system with those teachings then it becomes everybody’s business to call it out and oppose it.

Harvest Bible Chapel Acknowledges Failures, Still Claims Only Three Defendants

Promising a change of tone, Harvest Bible Chapel posted tonight on the church’s website what is described as an acknowledgment of failures and deficits. In an admission that they have been marginalizing critics, the church promised to stop:

The Executive Committee of the Elders has declared a moratorium on all efforts to minimize or marginalize our critics, except a carefully considered and conscious decision to pursue a legal remedy regarding attacks against the church that upon advice of counsel we believe are illegal.

Time will tell if church leaders will honor that promise. In my opinion, they should drop the suit. As I pointed out this morning, the existence of the suit heightens the tension and animosity. I doubt that a nicer tone in public remarks will change that.

In what seems like a violation of the spirit of that pledge, the church continues to refer to “three named defendants.” There are five.  I cannot understand why the church continues to speak as if the wives of The Elephant’s Debt bloggers haven’t been sued as well.

The lawsuit against our three named defendants, moves slowly forward and again we state that we would gladly accept no financial settlement, no resolution of damage done or redaction of existing slander. All we ask is that they agree to stop attacking our church permanently and entrust the ongoing reforms to the Elders of our church.

I asked the church about this and did not get an answer about why the wives are being sued.

You can read the rest of the response from the elders here.

Harvest Bible Chapel: Mars Hill Church 2.0?

James MacDonald (left), Mark Driscoll (right)

From where I sit in small town PA (usually at a fast food place with good WiFi), it appears that there are some similarities between the last couple of years at Mars Hill Church and the current situation at Harvest Bible Chapel.

Elders and Leadership Style

At MHC, trouble had been brewing for several years over treatment of elders and perceptions from departed members and elders that Mark Driscoll was domineering and unnecessarily harsh. The same perceptions and polarization have occurred at HBC involving their founding pastor James MacDonald.

This morning I became aware of something called the Statement of Record on the HBC website where former and current elders are pledging loyalty to MacDonald. Up to the very end of Mars Hill Church, a core group of elders and members remained committed to Driscoll and expressed animosity toward the elders who brought formal charges against Driscoll.

Also this morning, the Elephant’s Debt blog posted a resignation letter from a former elder and staff member. In the letter, questions are raised about the leadership of MacDonald and financial management of the church. This letter along with the texts and emails posted earlier by Julie Roys remind me of various leaked letters and formal charges written by current and former MHC elders concerning the leadership of Mark Driscoll.

Many of the concerns seem similar. Driscoll’s charges included allegations of harsh treatment of subordinates, domineering leadership style, and using the church structure to enrich himself. Similar allegations have surfaced regarding HBC and MacDonald.

Driscoll and MacDonald

It should also be noted that Driscoll and MacDonald have a relationship which dates back to the Mars Hill era. MacDonald was on MHC’s Board of Advisors and Accountability. He resigned near the end of the church’s life in 2014. Recently, Julie Roys reported that HBC gave $50,000 to Driscoll’s new church in Phoenix. And who can forget the little trip by MacDonald (on the left) and Driscoll (right) to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference.

We They

Another similarity I see is the adversarial relationship between critics and defenders in both situations. There were sharp differences and strong feelings in the MHC camps. The same dynamic is at work here. When MHC responded to public or media questions, they were cagey and defensive. In private, the sides were fierce in opposition. In the HBC case, a lawsuit is in play. This really ratchets up the polarization.

I can’t see it getting any better as long as HBC maintains the defamation suit. Putting aside biblical arguments for or against the action, I think it is a terrible precedent to set as a matter of public perception of how Christians do things. The tension and animosity will only escalate with each new revelation.  In MHC’s case, the church was always the PR loser when differences emerged into the light of day.

Those supporting MHC’s establishment felt their situation would get better if they could just make their case in the court of public opinion. During the church’s demise, MHC had the blessing of the ECFA, touted numerical results, and portrayed a measured and positive front. However, each new disclosure had a cumulative downward impact. In HBC’s case, the existence of the lawsuit has great potential to multiply this effect.

I suspect there are more parallels but I think this is sufficient to make a point that MHC could be a learning experience for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. Fair or not, a prolonged public war will erode the church’s effectiveness and probably do more to harm the bottom line than anything the bloggers have done up to now.

Despite Video Claim, David Barton’s New Book Doesn’t Mention an Earned Doctorate

David Barton (left), Eric Metaxas (right)

In September of 2016, Barton asserted that he possessed an earned doctorate that he had chosen not to talk about. Watch Barton make that claim:

Transcript:

Something I’ve noticed about progressives and liberals is how careless they are in throwing false claims around. For instance, I was recently on a national television network where I was introduced as having a doctorate, and progressives instantly ran stories claiming that I don’t have a doctorate. That false claim is amusing on so many levels. First, things like health information and tax information and college educational information are fully protected by privacy laws. So they don’t know whether I have a doctorate or not! And I’ve always chosen not to talk about it.

Second, just for the record, I do have an earned doctorate. There it is.

And third, not only do I have an earned doctorate, I also have two honorary doctors of letters from other colleges. And according to West Virginia University, the doctor of letters degree is reserved only for individuals who have the highest level of knowledge in their chosen subject matter. Hmmm.

So for all of you critics, sorry to pop your balloon, but I do have an earned doctorate.

The day after Barton posted this video, I discovered that the degree (partially hidden in the video) was issued by unaccredited Life Christian University, a church which passes itself off as a school. Despite those privacy laws, the president of the entity Douglas Wingate confirmed that Barton was given a doctorate in “Christian history” from the school even though he didn’t attend classes. Wingate calls these degrees earned because Wingate uses published books as a basis for giving a degree. No classes are attended, the degree recipient never enrolls. The federal government considers such practices to be signs of a diploma mill and the state of Missouri will not allow LCU degree recipients to advertise the degrees as earned.

New Book Does Not Mention This Doctorate

Recently, Barton is co-author with James Garlow of a book titled This Precarious Moment. In it, Garlow wrote a chapter where he commented on his and Barton’s education. He makes it clear that he has the earned doctorate and Barton does not.

Those Careless Progressives and Their Claims

In their new book, Garlow and Barton take on progressives and liberals and offer Christianity as the solution to social problems. However, it is Barton who threw out a false claim about himself and withdrew it the next day without any comment, explanation or apology. Simply put, it was hypocritical for Barton to blast progressives for false claims at same time he was making one.

Just today, conservatives on social media are reveling in the discovery that a Der Spiegel reporter and award winning journalist, Claas Relotius, was fired for writing fake stories. Popular right wing pundit Pamela Geller used the news to attack all “left-wing journalists.”

What those crowing about Relotius’ demise aren’t pointing out is that he was fired and his awards taken from him by the same mainstream journalists they criticize. In mainstream journalism, there are consequences for falsifying your public claims and published work. His superiors at Der Spiegel took swift action when it was discovered and CNN removed his awards.

What has happened with Mr. Barton after his false credential claim? Nothing. Crickets. Bloggers have written about it but the story didn’t even make Christian news.

Of course, Barton had to pay a price for false narratives in the past when his book The Jefferson Lies was removed from publication by Thomas Nelson. However, he has made a comeback among those who should know better, one even telling me that the number of Barton’s followers mattered more than the accuracy of his work.

The false education claims (and the NCAA basketball claim, and the Olympic interpreter claim) have come after The Jefferson Lies debacle. One might sense a pattern.