Derek W.H. Thomas and the Ongoing Saga of Plagiarism

By | July 27, 2019

Derek W.H. Thomas and Ligon Duncan

The ongoing saga regarding the plagiarism in the written work and preaching material of Derek Thomas is currently in the courts of his presbytery.  Even though the Publisher, P&R Publishing, pulled the book last fall for heavy borrowing of Sinclair Ferguson’s own material on Acts, there is still much confusion surrounding this case.  The most obvious issue is the complete public silence from Thomas.  One might respond by saying that he is waiting to make a public statement after the findings of his presbytery’s study committee, which is fair and understandable, yet the variety of messages communicated by Thomas and those close to him raise some deep concerns.  For one, Thomas began a letter-writing campaign early on, explaining his position, which some recipients have said does not square with reports that came out later in other quarters.Then there is the troubling case of what happened to Shane Anderson, the contributor to the Daily Genevan website, whose minister and elders were approached by certain ministers from Thomas’ own church to communicate their desire that this be pulled down, which put Anderson in a stressful situation of his own.  Then there is Thomas’ own posture of victimhood and persecution that he has adopted.  He has spoken of the spiritual attacks he is under by anonymous parties, yet as far as this writer can tell, Anderson posted the original material which is in the public domain and is therefore available to all who have 10 minutes to look into it.  And then there is the minister from Vancouver who reached out to Thomas’ presbytery and attached his own name to his complaint and followed the proper Presbyterian process.  Yet, in all of this, Thomas and his elders have framed matters as anonymous “attacks,”  creating a picture of a wicked cabal functioning behind a clandestine curtain, pursuing their beloved minister with the aim of destroying him.  The following is a letter that went out from Thomas’ session to the entire church, and it’s worthwhile noting the posture assumed, the details that are left out, and the questionable claims that are asserted.
The first thing to note is that Thomas has not been “exonerated.” This language is bandied about quite frequently.  To be exonerated requires an official investigation, a thorough examination, and this process is still underway.  Note, what the letter does not say. It fails to point out what one of the editors for the publisher claimed, namely, “the ‘word’ plagiarism is not being thrown around casually. Derek himself has accepted that he is at serious fault… I have personally examined the plagiarism, along with the other editors of the REC, and it is serious and substantial.”  This is a message that hasn’t been presented publically by Thomas and his church.Rather, what can be detected in the first and last paragraphs of the church letter is a defensive position that suggests the motivations behind the claims are less than honorable.  Note also the following claim: “We are committed to defending our senior minister against these attacks.”  This is speculative, deflective and uncharitable to those seeking truth and clarity through the proper channels.  Why not look at the charges and address the new material that has been brought to light in relation to the plagiarism of the Acts Commentary?  Why has the session investigated the claims about the plagiarism but not the plagiarism itself?  Apparently, RTS has done the same thing.  They formed a study committee but never allowed the faculty to see the plagiarism.  Why is there such secrecy and an agenda to hide these findings under lock and key?  Might it be that if people actually saw the plagiarism itself, matters might be much more clear and definitive?  It will be fascinating to see the direction the study committee of Thomas’ presbytery takes.  Until then, questions linger, confusion persists, and trust is put in doubt, especially with letters like this one.

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