“Fabrication” and “Plagiarism” in Baucham’s Fault Lines

I’ve been slowly working on a review of Voddie Baucham’s Fault Lines for several months and have almost finished. However, a few days ago, Pastor Joel McDurmon levelled several serious charges against Baucham which I was repeatedly asked to address. Rather than derailing my review, I’ll provide a short commentary here and then link to this post when my review is done.

Briefly, in his article, McDurmon discusses page xvi of Fault Lines, on which Baucham enumerates the “four key presuppositions” of “the worldview of CRT.” McDurmon highlights several passages in the text and says: “Everything in red is fake: made up by Voddie” (see below). Moreover, McDurmon claims that Baucham plagiarized his statements about “Storytelling/Narrative Reading” from James Lindsay, author of Cynical Theories. What are we to make of these charges? From what I can tell, they are partly true and partly false.

Voddie Fake Quotes HighLight smaller.jpg

To start with, it simply isn’t true that Voddie “made up” everything in red. For example, Baucham’s statement that “Racism is Normal” references page 8 of Delgado and Stefancic’s CRT: An Introduction. Under “Basic Tenets of Critical Race Theory,” these authors write: “First, racism is ordinary, not aberrational–‘normal science,’ the usual way society does business….” Moreover, on page 15, they write: “Is critical race theory pessimistic? Consider that it holds that racism is ordinary, normal, and embedded in society.” Similarly, Ref. 14 under “Convergence Theory” takes us to Delgado and Stefancic’s discussion of “interest convergence.” And Ref. 15 under “Anti-Liberalism” takes us to their statement that “critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order” (which is actually quoted by Baucham verbatim on this very page).

McDurmon’s repeated assertion that the statements in red are “fake” and “made up” depends crucially on the idea that this entire passage is intended as a direct quote rather than a summary of Delgado and Stefancic’s claims or direct quotes interspersed with commentary. Is this plausible? On the one hand, the section is formatted as a blockquote, includes ellipses and brackets as if it were a blockquote, and includes verbatim word-for-word quotations without quotation marks in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th paragraphs. On the other hand, the 2nd paragraph includes direct quotation marks (which would be redundant if the passage were already intended as a block quote) and places a reference at the end of the direct quote (see Ref. 14) rather than at the end of entire paragraph (which would be expected if this were a block quote). So the formatting of the passage itself is extremely confusing and doesn’t make sense either as a block quote or as a summary.

To further support his argument, McDurmon points out that in a earlier sermon, Baucham clearly attributed the statement that “whites are incapable of righteous action on race” to Delgado himself, which is definitely incorrect. This statement is undeniably Baucham’s interpretation, not anything that Delgado actually says. McDurmon takes this as “undeniable evidence of lies” by Baucham. But is it?

For what it’s worth, I think a fairly plausible alternative explanation is that we’re seeing the result of converting sermon notes into a book passage. On this view, Baucham collected direct quotes from Delgado and Stefancic and organized them into four points (whose headings were, in fact, completely appropriate). However, Baucham appended his own commentary onto these quotes (commentary I somewhat disagree with, for what it’s worth) and then confused the quotes and his own commentary during his sermon. This scenario has the benefit of explaining why the formatting of the text is so strange: it was copied from sermon notes, leading to irregularities in quotation marks, reference placements, etc…

Now it is certainly legitimate to criticize Baucham for carelessness and especially for falsely attributing his own commentary to Delgado. However, one need hardly assume that Baucham was intentionally and consciously lying to advance some nefarious anti-woke agenda.

Finally, McDurmon’s accusation of plagiarism seems correct. In the 4th paragraph, Baucham writes that “Storytelling/Narrative Reading is the way black people forward knowledge vs. the Science/reason method of white people.”

McDurmon asks us to compare this sentence to a quote from a New Discourses lecture given by James Lindsay from June 20, 2020: “Storytelling and narrative weaving and counter-stories (stories that counter the dominant narrative) is what black people forward knowledge and understand the world. Science, reason, logic, and “epistemic adequacy” (soundness and validity of arguments) are the ways that white people understand the world.”

The similarities are undeniable. The ideas themselves are fairly common (see, for example, the Smithsonian Institute’s infographic explaining that “whiteness” includes “emphasis on the scientific method” and “objective, rational linear thinking.). However, “black people forward knowledge” is a very unusual turn-of-phrase that yielded zero Google hits prior to Lindsay’s video. Pending further evidence, this seems like a clear case of plagiarism, even though Lindsay himself disagrees.

That said, it’s very important to recognize that plagiarism does not have to be intentional. Baucham explicitly states his debt to James Lindsay just two pages later (p. xviii) and he cites him throughout the book. So it seems extremely unlikely that he was intentionally trying to take credit for Lindsay’s ideas here. Most academic institutions recognize the distinction between intentional and unintentional plagiarism and Christians should surely recognize that a deliberate attempt to deceive is a far more serious offense than an accidental omission.

In conclusion, I’d urge us to consider these charges in light of both grace and truth. I don’t know Voddie well, but I consider him a friend and have always been struck by his kind, gracious manner. His book offers firm, but loving rebuke to people he loves as brothers and sisters in Christ and he’s insistent that we ought to construe people’s motives as positively and charitably as possible. I think the same applies in this case. For what it’s worth, I would advise him to simply acknowledge his mistakes, apologize for not being careful, and correct his errors in future editions.

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