Me and Steve

The worldmagblog food fight apparently continues, although everyone appears to be almost out of ammo. Steve Wilkins found out about the fracas after it had been going for several days, and sent a statement I will include below to worldmagblog, which they posted under a separate thread. I am posting Steve’s comments here in their entirety, and then want to follow them up with an amplification. The only part I differ with in Steve’s comments is his attempt to exonerate me completely. Steve is one of the most honorable and conscientious Christian gentlemen I have ever met, and it is a great privilege to be his friend — although I have to say our mutual friendship has gotten us both in trouble. I am frankly surprised that our mothers still let us play together. Here is Steve’s statement:

I was surprised to learn of Mark Bergin’s report about the “plagiarism” charge leveled against the booklet “Slavery as It Was” (as noted on the World Magazine blog, April 23, 2005). This is not exactly “breaking news” but if World wants to bring this up, it should desire to report the whole story and not simply repeat the charge itself.

The portion of “Slavery as It Was” that has been labeled “plagiarism” is totally my responsibility and not Doug Wilson’s. That section of the booklet came straight from my lecture notes which were not referenced and I did not take the time to go through them carefully and reference them properly before submitting them to Doug for inclusion in the booklet. There was never any intent on my part to deceive or to present the material from Drs. Fogel and Engerman as my own. I always made plain in my lectures that this material was drawn from the study of Drs. Fogel and Engerman and as I have never studied the plantation records on which their study was based (indeed, I have never even seen any plantation records of any sort!), I am completely unqualified to make any of the judgments or to draw any of the conclusions presented in the booklet. All of it came straight out of Time on the Cross.

Though it may be acceptable simply to note this verbally in a lecture so that all understand the source of the material, it is utterly inappropriate and inexcusable not to make plain your sources when you publish your material. I should have been more careful and taken the time to properly reference the material in my section of the pamphlet. I did not do this and thus, fully deserve all the blame for this sloppy, inexcusable, and unjustifiable action.

Doug Wilson’s only fault was that he trusted his friend to be responsible and careful. Thus, one might sympathize with my astonishment that he would be blamed for something he didn’t do. Well, I should say I’m not really astonished that those who hate the gospel and are filled with blind prejudice would do this—indeed, this is perfectly consistent with the actions of those lovers of “tolerance” in the Moscow community over the last three years or so. But what can we expect? They love lies and are acting just like their father. As my grandmother used to say, “they can’t help it if they act ugly.” What is truly incredible to me, however, is that those who present themselves as faithful Christians, responsible journalists, and knowledgeable Seminary professors, would so quickly and thoughtlessly take the side of the enemy with so little consideration and regard for the whole story (not to mention their indifference to the broader context of this entire fracas). It is enough to give one “pause” as they say.

Thus, I find myself in the embarrassing position of having my friend take all the blame for my sin. I will not stand for it any longer. Therefore I protest, and hereby insist on taking my fair share of the blame— and as far as this particular story is concerned, that means that I should get it all.

The part I disagree with is his Steve’s use of that last word all. Steve and I both wrote our respective sections, and are each responsible for their respective contents. But at the same time, I was the one who edited them, putting them together in one sustained piece. The booklet was not a “two article” affair, with his name on his and mine on mine. There was one sustained argument from front to back. Both our names were on the cover. And I was the one who had the editorial responsibility for blending them. And even if this had been a “two article” booklet, I still would have been the editor, and an essential part of a good editor’s responsibility is to anticipate the possibility of this kind of error, and check on it. Accidents do happen, and an editor’s responsibility includes an active awareness of the fact that accidents happen, and to therefore check. I didn’t check, and I should have. Mea maxima culpa. I had not read Time on the Cross at that time, and given the nature of the errors, had I read that book we would have been spared a lot of grief. Further, given the controversial nature of the point we were making, it was absolutely essential that no handles be presented to our adversaries. But those handles were presented anyway, and it was not just Steve’s responsibility that this happened. The responsibility was also mine.

So I am not printing Steve’s comments above as a way of sidling away from him. I have wanted to own my responsibilities in this throughout — and I did so publicly on this blog last summer. First, my association with Steve was as co-author and editor, and we were and are on the same team. And nothing is more unseemly than members of the same team trying to blame one another when things go wrong. When the right-fielder starts blaming the left-fielder they have quit playing the other team and have started to play each other, which means that defeating them will be easy. And second, Steve is a good personal friend and one thing I sure as hell wasn’t going to do is back away from him just because I could tell a plausible story about it, a story that would sell in these individualistic times. It would sell out there, but it would be a stench before God. And in a aside to the pietists, if I might paraphrase C.S. Lewis, my use of sure as hell was not frivolous swearing. Given that the lake of fire is reserved for liars, among others, the sureness of hell is something that more than a few active participants in our slander wars out here ought to be contemplating.

So, although I am absolutely committed to confessing my sins, and, when my sins are public, confessing them publicly, what I won’t own or accept is World magazine’s egregious use of that word stolen.

In posting Steve’s comments, Marvin Olasky said, “That said, I’m bringing up a comment from Steve Wilkins, co-author with Doug Wilson of the book in question, that seems to me a fine example of taking responsibility for actions.” I agree, it was a fine example of doing this. However, I am concerned that in this context the praise is coming from Marvin, who is the editor-in-chief at World. When will anyone at World take responsibility for this journalistic helicopter crash? Will they at all? More on this shortly.

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