Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Disclaimer

It is with heaviness of heart that we must inform our readers that the integrity of this blog was recently compromised in a very serious manner. We find it necessary to make a strong public statement that disassociates Discernment Ministries, The Discernment Research Group, author Warren Smith, and Herescope from the recent publications and radio interviews which used our material without our knowledge and consent, and without proper legal attribution. This concerns the ongoing series of articles we have been publishing on Oprah Winfrey and her recent foray into open New Spirituality advocacy.

Herescope is one of the publishing arms of Discernment Ministries. The Herescope blog is an online journal that seeks to hold to the highest standards of scholarly research and integrity. Many individuals, churches, other ministries and groups have been able to use our research to warn others about heresies coming into the church, and we praise God for that. However, it has come to our attention that some of our articles have been used without our knowledge or consent in a manner that is unethical and dishonoring to God.

Recently a link to a YouTube site proclaiming “Oprah's Church Exposed” was widely disseminated via email and the Internet. We do not know the original source of this viral networking event. This sensationalist-style video referred recipients to a book entitled “Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid: Oprah, Obama and the Occult” authored by a woman by the name of Carrington Steele. We listened to several radio interviews done by Ms. Steele and were shocked to realize that these were being used in a malicious way against the Barack Obama campaign. It appears that this video and book were produced for the purpose of influencing the upcoming presidential elections.

We wish to make it clear that the articles we publish on this blog are for the sole motivation of leading the spiritually lost to salvation through Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We do not engage in this activity for political purposes or motivations. We also do not condone or support those who would use our work in this manner by quoting it, linking to it or plagiarizing it. It has indeed been perplexing that Oprah Winfrey would begin engaging in such potentially controversial New Spirituality proselytizing just at the same time that she has been an immensely popular supporter of Senator Obama’s campaign. Realizing the bad timing, we took great pains to steer clear of the political ramifications of Oprah’s endeavors, choosing to maintain our focus on the more serious ramifications of leading people spiritually astray.

Over the past few years Herescope has experienced ongoing difficulties with the unauthorized use of our materials by other websites and blogs without proper attribution, citation or links to our site. We have endeavored to praise the Lord that His Truth is getting out anyway, as Paul did in Philippians chapter 1, when he wrote of those who had motives of envy, greed or contention, yet proclaimed “What then? Notwithstanding every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice.” (vs. 18)

However, in the case of Ms. Steele, published materials from this blog have been used in a manner which distorts our original intent, and has questionable motives. This we cannot countenance. We publicly repudiate any use of the Herescope published articles in this manner and for these purposes by Ms. Steele, her radio interviewers, and whomever else may be promoting her from behind the scenes. We have had nothing to do with this and, in fact, we have been seriously compromised by her activities.

The Discernment Research Group takes great pains to document its research and to present solid, credible factual information. We encourage and expect other Christian groups to uphold a similar high standard of integrity. In the case of the recent activities and materials promoted by Ms. Steele, we are grieved that even the most basic legal standards of integrity, accuracy, and attribution have not been upheld.

If you have previously sent out the link to the YouTube segment to your friends, lists or groups, we suggest that you consider letting them know the truth about this matter. Below we have appended (with permission) a link to Lighthouse Trails’ recent statement on this same issue. A link is provided here to a sampling of the plagiarized materials found in Ms. Steele’s book.

BOOK REVIEW: An Honest Look At "Don't Drink the Kool-aid"

Source: Editors at Lighthouse Trails

On March 3rd, a book titled Don't Drink the Kool-Aid was released by author Carrington Steele. The book, subtitled Oprah, Obama and the Occult, seeks to document Oprah's ties to the occult and the New Age religion. Since its release, Steele has had several radio interviews, and a promotional video on YouTube has received over two and a half million hits. Steele's efforts to alert Christians and the public are noteworthy. However, after a thorough examination of this book, Lighthouse Trails must issue a public warning.

Last week, Lighthouse Trails was contacted by two other ministries who brought up issues regarding the use of their material in Steele's book. Upon reading Steele's work ourselves, our editors discovered that the 80-page book was filled with verbatim passages copied from other writers material, which was presented as Steele's own authorship. Because of the sensationalistic overtones of the book (e.g., comparing Oprah to Jim Jones who gave poisoned Kool-aid to over 900 people), and because plagiarism most often ignores the original context and authorial intent of the material copied but is not ethically credited, Lighthouse Trails cannot, in good conscience, promote Steele's book.

While we regret to issue this finding because we do believe that Oprah Winfrey's efforts to convert the public to her New Age beliefs must be exposed, we fear that Steele's book could negatively reflect upon and misrepresent long-standing and reputable ministries. In addition, because the author also plagiarized some secular sources (such as CNN, Fox News, and Rolling Stone magazine), we believe this book may, in addition to being a poor Christian testimony, be legally problematic. Particularly, the fact that one paragraph in a book we publish, A Time of Departing, was illegitimately copied in Don't Drink the Kool-Aid and passed off as Steele's own writing, has forced us to speak up.

Some of the ministries whose research and writing were plagiarized include Let Us Reason Ministries, Herescope (Discernment Ministries), Apologetics Resource Center, and Lighthouse Trails Publishing. Material was also lifted from the websites of Oprah Winfrey,The Secret, Washington Post, A & E Television Networks, and CNN and presented as the author's own writing. For a partial list of these instances, please click here.

On April 7th, Lighthouse Trails spoke on the phone to Carrington Steele, and we expressed our concerns over the book. Steele said that she had done the book with a pure motive and thought she was within the guidelines of the Fair Use Act when using the material of others. Steele said that she had previous editorial experience (her website says as a magazine editor). Lighthouse Trails explained that the Fair Use Act pertains to quoted material that does not require the original author's permission if it is properly footnoted. It does not mean that sections of copyrighted material can be used verbatim without proper citation of the original source. Unattributed use of another's writing that is passed off to the public as one's own is plagiarism. Kirsch's Handbook of Publishing Law(the industry standard for copyright issues) explains that copyright infringement occurs when the material used is under legal copyright. Kirsch's Handbook states that verbatim copyrighted material must be credited.

When Lighthouse Trails spoke with Carrington Steele, she stated she had done both the writing and the research on the book without help or support from others. However, it was pointed out to her that she often said "we" and "us" in her interviews, and we wondered to whom she was referring. At this point, Steele said she could not answer that question, saying she was not at liberty to say. We found this response to be curious and disturbing.

Because the chapter on Barack Obama did not contain any documentation that he was involved in the occult or the New Age, Lighthouse Trails asked Steele if there was political motivation involved. What's more, the chapter on Obama did not seem to fit in with the rest of the book. Steele said she was not politically motivated. However, with Obama's name on the cover of the book and with a chapter especially devoted to him, yet with no evidence demonstrating his connection to the spirituality of Oprah and other New Agers,Don't Drink the Kool-Aid gives the appearance of having political overtones, even if Steele did not intend this.

While Lighthouse Trails is not attempting to defend Obama and his beliefs, and while we have grave concerns over the current political state of our country and our world, we must make it clear that our efforts and our research are to defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We make every effort not to propagandize political actions by mere associations. Our research does at times address political figures but strictly from the stand point of relating their spirituality to the Christian faith.

Furthermore, in our own research we have made every attempt to steer clear of personal indictments against any author or teacher we critique. Rather than trying to vilify a person, we choose to focus on that person's public teachings. That's why on our website and in our books, while we do question and dispute the teachings of popular Christian figures, we attempt not to draw notice to their personal lives and pass judgment as to whether or not they are truly Christian. We steer clear of trying to evaluate motivations but focus primarily on public teachings. The personal issues Don't Drink the Kool-Aid references--abused pasts, divorced parents, and other personal matters--are inappropriate for a book that attempts to evaluate the spiritual teachings of others.

We must also state, that while we are truly concerned about the significant influence Oprah Winfrey has over millions of her viewers, we are equally concerned about Christian leaders who are promoting a contemplative spirituality, which possesses the same panentheistic roots as the New Age spirituality that is promoted by Oprah. Thus, it would be erroneous to only focus on Oprah while ignoring the reality that many Christians are also accepting this New Age spirituality. In the latter case, and according to Scripture, leaders who mislead believers by introducing New Age spirituality under the cover of Christian pretense are especially accountable to God.

In conclusion, if Don't Drink the Kool-Aid had been written by a university student, he or she would have been severely disciplined for their plagiarism. While this report is not written with the intent of hurting Carrington Steele or refuting her basic message of Oprah's New Age propensities, we had no other choice than to go public with our serious concerns. Our prayer is that the gospel message be proclaimed, spiritual deception be exposed, and many who now follow the path of New Age spirituality will have their eyes opened.
In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. (II Corinthians 4:4)