‘Christian Influencer’ and Church Planter Dale Partridge Struggles to Overcome History of Plagiarism

Dale Partridge. Courtesy photo

Dale Partridge has made a living for most of the past decade by saying pithily positive things on the internet.

Best known for starting Sevenly, a social-good clothing company that claimed to raise millions for charity, Partridge has attracted hundreds of thousands of social media followers with his knack for spotting social trends and for his nearly endless supply of motivational sayings, perfect for a T-shirt or Instagram post.

Now the Bend, Oregon, serial entrepreneur, social media guru and bestselling author, who left Sevenly in 2014, has reinvented himself as a “revivalistic preacher and church reformer.” While churning out spiritual messages to his more than 600,000 social media followers, he co-hosts two podcasts (“Real Christianity” and “Ultimate Marriage“) and leads a nonprofit called Relearn Church.

In August he told his followers in an Instagram post that if they followed Jesus, they’d been “declared ‘not guilty’ by the highest court in the universe.” He also told them this past fall to not let discouragement defeat them.

Discouragement, he said in a now deleted Instagram post, is a temptation that needs toughness and tenderness to overcome.

“But in any case, discouragement is not to be tolerated or wallowed in,” his post read. “It’s to be fought.”  

This spiritual advice, typical of Partridge, can stand with the words of the best religious thinkers.

Perhaps because, it turns out, his advice came from two top religious thinkers.

The above sentiment about discouragement was borrowed nearly word-for-word from DesiringGod.org, a website founded by the widely read evangelical author and preacher John Piper. The “not guilty” line comes from the late author and theologian A.W. Tozer. (A post on the Relearn Church website was later updated to include the correct attribution and link to Piper’s site.)

A review of Partridge’s writings shows that the plagiarism in these posts is not a one-time mistake. According to critics who have tracked his tweets and Instagram posts, Partridge has commonly passed off quotes from celebrities, musicians, fellow entrepreneurs, authors and public figures including Ricky MartinJohn WoodenRon Finley and Martin Luther King Jr. as his own. Partridge’s habit of plagiarizing quotes even inspired a “Fake Dale Partridge” Twitter account, which reposted Partridge’s tweets from October 2014, along with the correct attribution.

In an interview with Religion News Service, Partridge admitted that he has unintentionally used others’ work without attribution but said the problem is now in the past.

“I have no problem admitting that was a past failure,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s persisting.”

Partridge also said that in his early 20s, he embraced something called “the uncopyright movement,” which put forth the idea that “all ideas are God’s ideas.” That belief, he said, also led him to be careless.

“That is to say, in my previous immaturity, I projected my personal perspective onto other people’s work and allowed a handful of unoriginal pieces of content (tweets, social media sentences, etc.) to be perceived as my own,” he said in an email. “It was wrong and I have repented of it.”

Partridge also said that at times, he was in a rush to post new content online and failed to be careful.

“The intense demand for churning out content as a social media personality and the speed of preparing notes for dispersion online becomes an easy trap to carelessly use a sentence or two from your notes, without citation in your digital content,” he said.

Heidi Campbell, professor of communication at Texas A&M University, said Partridge is one of a new kind of emerging “religious digital creatives.”

Campbell, who studies religion and digital culture, said that some religious digital creatives get their authority from the religious institutions they work for, which demand formal religious training and offer accountability. Others draw their authority mainly from the online platform they build.

Partridge fits in the latter category, using his social media savvy to connect with his hundreds of thousands of followers and to promote his spiritual message.

He told RNS that he’s learned from his past mistakes and hopes people will not hold them against him.

“I learned a lot in my years as a businessman,” he told RNS by email. “I was young and prideful and even hurt some of the people closest to me in that season. However, through painful humility, I have been matured by God. I’m not perfect. I’m still broken like anyone else. But I have grown from that time and I’m trying to learn how to be a man worthy of the calling before me today.”

Nick Laparra, a former pastor and host of the “Let’s Give a Damn” podcast, has had concerns since he started to follow Partridge’s social media after reading Partridge’s 2015 book, “People Over Profit.”

“I just started noticing he was trying really hard to say smart things,” Laparra said. “And then I was like, wait, I’ve heard that before.”

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Source: Religion News Service