“In Titus 1, and 1 Timothy 3, God’s requirements for leadership are strict — and clear. According to those requirements, John Wesley was not qualified to be a leader of God’s people; he was not ‘blameless’ in the text’s sense. He stole the words of another and did not acknowledge that he had done so.” Douglas Wilson
Twenty-five years ago Doug Wilson wrote an essay titled “Wrestling With Wesley” for the January–February 1991 issue of Antithesis. In the article, Mr. Wilson identified three scandals in the life of eighteenth-century evangelist John Wesley and used them against the ordained Anglican to disqualify him from Christian ministry. Accordingly, Mr. Wilson impeached Wesley for his failures in the matters of “Honest Representation . . . . Plagiarism. . . . Slander.”*
Honesty, plagiarism, and slander — Doug Wilson chose these three character flaws in the life of John Wesley to declare him unfit for leadership in the church, and Mr. Wilson delivered his verdict at a distance of 216 years while acting as judge, prosecutor, and jury. Therefore, today I want to consider the evidence that Mr. Wilson furnished against Wesley to condemn him for plagiarism and see how he measures against his own standard. Here is the entire subsection titled “Questions about Plagiarism,” footnotes et al, from “Wrestling With Wesley.” It is 763 words:
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By Douglas Wilson
. . . . But it is not good to blur the edges of our ethical standards when applied to our heroes who lived in the past. . . .
Questions about Plagiarism
Wesley’s ministry included the time prior to and during the American War for Independence. How to respond to colonial demands was a hot political issue in England, and Wesley waded right into the middle of it. Reversing an earlier position, Wesley came out in strong support of the legitimacy of taxing the colonies. His position was put before the public in an address entitled A Calm Address to Our American Colonies. The tract caused a sensation in England (but not in America, where a friend of the Methodists destroyed all the copies, lest the Methodist preachers be persecuted7).
The problem with the pamphlet was that Wesley did not write substantial portions of it. In the course of approximately ten pages, Wesley used numerous sections taken verbatim from Samuel Johnson’s Taxation No Tyranny. In the first edition of Calm Address, Wesley did not indicate in any way that he had borrowed text from Johnson — Wesley represented the work as his own. This laid him open to the just charge of plagiarism, and those charges were not long in coming. In a preface to the second edition, Wesley acknowledged his indebtedness to the other pamphlet, but this was too late. A plagiarist does not cease to be a plagiarist because he admits the obvious after he has been caught.
Compare the following samples. The first section is from Taxation No Tyranny. [Yellow & blue backgrounds added by MoscowID.net — ed.]
An English colony is a number of persons, to whom the king grants a charter, permitting them to settle in some distant country, and enabling them to constitute a corporation, enjoying such powers as the charter grants, to be administered in such forms as the charter prescribes.8
Now here is the same paragraph as it appeared in Calm Address. I have italicized that which Wesley altered and bracketed what he omitted. It isn’t much.
An English colony is a number of persons, to whom the king grants a charter, permitting them to settle in some far country [, and enabling them to constitute] as a corporation, enjoying such powers as the charter grants, to be administered in such a manner as the charter prescribes.9
There are many other sections like this. Now, what would we call this if we did not know the names of the principal individuals involved? We would identify it by its proper name — plagiarism — and recognize it as a species of theft. Should we refuse to call it by its proper name because the reputation of Wesley is such that such charges will only recoil on those who make them? That has a name too — cowardice.
We must also guard against another temptation. When the world recently learned that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a plagiarist, those who had a vested interest in keeping him up on his pedestal immediately began talking about feet of clay, the human condition, and we all struggle, do we not? In other words, Dr. King was a scoundrel, but we will admit no evidence that supports the claim and treat as a scoundrel anyone who dares to present the evidence. When confronted, against our will, with indisputable evidence that our hero was not foremost among the saints, the automatic response is to interpret it as evidence that King had a “weakness” or a “failing.” But never is it called by its Biblical name — sin.
Such an option is not open to us. As Christians, we have to take into account what God’s Word requires of us. The qualifications for fellowship are different than those of leadership. In Titus 1, and 1 Timothy 3, God’s requirements for leadership are strict — and clear. According to those requirements, John Wesley was not qualified to be a leader of God’s people; he was not “blameless” in the text’s sense. He stole the words of another and did not acknowledge that he had done so. As mentioned above, he acknowledged his debt to Samuel Johnson in the second edition, but even then he did not acknowledge that he had done any wrong in the silence of the first edition. . . .
7 T. Herbert, John Wesley as Editor and Author (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1978), pp. 107–108.
8 Samuel Johnson, Political Writings, Donald Greene, ed (New Haven: Yale Press, 1977), Vol. X, p. 423.
9 John Wesley, Wesley’s Works, Vol. VI (New York: Mason and Lane, 1839), p. 294. Incidentally, it is also worth comparing how accurately Wesley copied this material, as opposed to his treatment of the material out of the Synod of Dort.
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Please note that Pastor Douglas Wilson of Christ Church, Moscow, furnished only one example consisting of 45 plagiarized words† to disqualify John Wesley from the ministry, adding “There are many other sections like this.” Mr. Wilson did not give John Wesley the benefit of euphemisms to diminish the gravity of this “species of theft.” He didn’t refer to Wesley’s “amplified uncited quote,” “citation problems,” or “alleged plagiarism.” Mr. Wilson left no room for so-called “false positives.” Mr. Wilson did not differentiate between “intentional plagiarism” and “unintentional plagiarism,” because the correct meaning of the term does not admit this distinction. Mr. Wilson used the exact definition of plagiarism‡ and he applied it precisely:
“The problem with the pamphlet was that Wesley did not write substantial portions of it. . . Wesley used numerous sections taken verbatim from Samuel Johnson. . . Wesley did not indicate in any way that he had borrowed text from Johnson — Wesley represented the work as his own.” (emphasis added)
Since the publication of Wrestling With Wesley in 1991, Douglas Wilson has written, co-written, and/or edited or co-edited 10 books that have plagiarized text. These 10 books cover a 19-year period and while the amount of pilfered copy varies, a pattern is evident. Listing them in chronological order of their release dates, these 10 books are —
- Southern Slavery As It Was (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1996)
- Fidelity: What It Means to Be a One-Woman Man (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1999)
- Future Men (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001)
- Omnibus Volume I: Biblical and Classical Civilizations (Lancaster, PA: Veritas Press, 2005)
- Omnibus Volume II: Church Fathers through the Reformation (Lancaster, PA: Veritas Press, 2005)
- Omnibus Volume III: Reformation to the Present (Lancaster, PA: Veritas Press, 2006)
- Omnibus Volume IV: The Ancient World (Lancaster, PA: Veritas Press, 2009)
- Omnibus Volume V: The Medieval World (Lancaster, PA: Veritas Press, 2010)
- Omnibus Volume VI: The Modern World (Lancaster, PA: Veritas Press, 2011)
- A Justice Primer (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2015)**
Therefore, if one incident of plagiarism disqualified John Wesley from the ministry, at least according to Doug Wilson’s standard, then a consistent application of that rule to Mr. Wilson would disqualify him from the ministry. Nineteen years of lucrative serial plagiarism should have consequences, at least according Mr. Wilson’s standard. And Doug Wilson has a word for the Kirk elders and those in the CREC who recoil at that the thought of holding him accountable to his canon: “That has a name too — cowardice.”
* Ed. Douglas M. Jones III, Antithesis, Volume 2 Number 1 (Covenant Community Church of Orange County [O.P.C.], January–February 1991), online edition.
† Mr. Wilson flagged only 39 verbatim words. The light blue background demonstrates he missed six.
‡ “Failure to give credit is plagiarism.” (Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996] 74.)
** Rachel Miller caught eight of these ten instances of plagiarism during her free time. No one has any idea how much more filched body text awaits discovery in Mr. Wilson’s large corpus.