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May 2, 2005

Plagiarizing Slavery ...

Appended to Gene Edward Vieth's"Word for Word," World Magazine, 22 April, an article about plagiarizing in American preaching, is a short note of greater interest to American historians about how the plagiarism in the Reverend Doug Wilson's Southern Slavery as It Was was uncovered.
Southern Slavery: As it Was, a booklet defending slavery as biblically viable, has roused considerable controversy since its release in 1996. Critics of co-authors Douglas Wilson and Steve Wilkins have added to their content-driven charges of racism and shoddy history one more accusation: plagiarism.
The text failed 24 times to attribute word-for-word quotations pulled from the 1974 book Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery by Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman. University of Washington history professor Tracie McKenzie,* who attends a Seattle-area church connected to Mr. Wilson's Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, easily recognized the stolen sections because he teaches on the work of Mr. Fogel and Mr. Engerman.
Concerned with both plagiarism and the content of Southern Slavery, Mr. McKenzie drafted a response pointing out what he saw as poor historical conclusions and detailing the plagiarized sections.
After reviewing Mr. McKenzie's document, Mr. Wilson pulled Southern Slavery from the shelves in 2003 with the intent of correcting attribution oversights for a second edition. Now set for publication in the coming months under the title Black and Tan, the 150-page new edition reduces Southern Slavery to a single chapter and adds other essays on slavery, culture war, and Scripture in America. Mr. Wilson told WORLD the original thesis that slavery wasn't bad enough to justify violent abolitionism remains prominent.
The absence of plagiarism may not quiet opposition. University of Idaho philosophy professor Nick Gier collected the endorsements of 45 local academics for a widely circulated flier condemning the plagiarism. Steve Wilkins, pastor of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, La., admits to authoring every plagiarized section:"It wasn't [Mr. Wilson's] doing. It was my fault, not his fault."
Nevertheless, Mr. Wilson, who edited the booklet, has taken the brunt of the criticism. The charges fuel an ongoing spat between Christ Church and the Moscow community, a quarrel to which Mr. Wilson admits his blunt style has contributed, but one he blames more heavily on community intolerance:"This is the first issue where we deserve the lump on our head. There's no question it was wrong and inappropriate."
Canon Press, a ministry of Christ Church and publisher of Southern Slavery, issued a letter of apology to the publisher of Time on the Cross, and no legal action appears imminent.
*By"Tracie McKenzie", the author means Robert Tracy McKenzie, the University of Washington's specialist in the 19th century South, who also publishes in the evangelical historians' Fides et Historia.

World Magazine is the creation of Marvin Olasky. Born and raised in a Jewish family, Olasky joined the Communist Party in 1972, only to repudiate it later in the decade. His conversion to Christianity and conservatism were concurrent. Olasky earned a doctorate in history from the University of Michigan in the mid-1970s. He is now a professor of journalism at the University of Texas, a conservative Presbyterian, and has been given some credit for teaching George Bush about" compassionate conservatism."

When the note appended to Vieth's article appeared in World Magazine, civil warfare broke out among conservative American Calvinists. Doug Wilson directed his defense from his Blog and Mablog, but the battlefield was at World Magazine Blog, where 379 comments were posted at last count. Scrolling through them gives new meaning to the words"Christian education." Such g_dly vituperation!

It is re-assuring that the plagiarism was flagged by a professional historian who is in communion with Doug Wilson's congregation. Unfortunately, Wilson still insists that the" carelessness" is not plagiarism. At last report, a revised version of Southern Slavery as It Was will appear in his new book, Regenerate, But Unreconstructed, a revision of his working title, Black and Tan. The book will carry an endorsing blurb by Eugene Genovese.

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