After being exposed last week for once again plagiarizing sermons, Michigan pastor Zach Stewart is back in the pulpit—ironically launching a series on honesty.
Meanwhile, Andy and Sara Traub, a couple who blew the whistle on Stewart, say they’ve received a fake legal threat. They’ve also received a call from police, accusing them of harassing Stewart’s new church—Twin Oaks Christian Church in Woodhaven, Michigan.
The couple adds that when an elder from Twin Oaks finally contacted them, he told them that plagiarism was a “gray area.”
An old habit
The Traubs first learned about Stewart’s habit of plagiarizing sermons when a church member at their former church—Franklin Christian Church near Nashville, Tennessee—exposed him.
According to an article by Bob Smietana last week, when church member Colleen Reese looked up a sermon series from Stewart, she discovered an almost identical sermon series online published three years earlier.
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It was the tip of the iceberg. After a few more searches, Reese discovered that Stewart had plagiarized hundreds of sermons, many written by disgraced celebrity pastor, Mark Driscoll.
When Reese shared this news with Franklin elders, the leaders confronted Stewart.
The news devastated the church, the Traubs say.
“There was this big fall-out at our church,” Sara Traub said. “We probably went from about 1,000 people to about 500 people. There was so much damage. And just people hurt.”
Stewart left the church in 2016 without offering an apology.
Old habits die hard
In March, Andy and Sara Traub discovered Stewart was pastoring a church in Michigan and had renewed his habit of plagiarizing.
While exploring the church’s website, the Traubs say they found several sermons that plagiarized Driscoll’s work. In the sermons, Stewart copied Driscoll’s wording and even his gestures. He gave Driscoll no credit.
After Smietana contacted Stewart about the plagiarized sermons, nine of Stewart’s sermons vanished from the Twin Oaks website. Two upcoming sermons on the site once had identical titles to Driscoll sermons. However, these titles were changed to be original.
The couple said they wanted to make sure that Twin Oaks didn’t have to suffer years of deceit, so they decided to speak up.
“If we can warn them now, we can save them all this pain from finding out on their own,” Sara Traub said. “Our motivation was to help, out of love of the body.”
Evade and attack
Andy Traub first tried to warn the congregation at Twin Oaks by writing a review on Facebook.
“Pastor Zack is still using sermons he stole years ago and pretending he wrote them,” Andy Taub said on the Twin Oaks Facebook page at the end of March. “Same old bag of tricks.”
Twin Oaks responded by deleting its entire Facebook review section.
The day after posting the comment, the Traubs said they received a legal threat on Facebook Messenger from someone who claimed to be a church elder and lawyer named “Kenneth Smith” from the law office of “Duncan and Smith.”
“What we are seeing is that this is an unhealthy pattern that you have displayed that will require legal action from us,” reads the message, which the Traubs shared with The Roys Report.
When The Roys Report asked Twin Oaks if Kenneth Smith was an elder, the church refused to comment.
The Traubs said the threatening message included several private incidents that occurred at Franklin Church that few people besides Stewart would have known about.
For example, it mentioned a phone call Andy Traub had made to a Franklin church family who had invited Stewart to live with them after he resigned from the church. Traub said he had asked the family why they had taken Stewart in when they knew he had deceived the church.
When the Traubs contacted the Twin Oaks to inquire about Kenneth Smith, church elder Jack Catton and Stewart filed a police report against the Traubs.
According to the police report, Stewart told police that the Traubs had tracked him from church to church, attempting to get him fired with “false” plagiarism accusations.
Police called the Traubs on April 7, warning them that they could face harassment charges if they continued to call Twin Oaks, Andy Traub said.
Reconciliation or another cover-up?
On April 28, Twin Oaks elder Jack Catton asked the Traubs for their side of the story. The Traubs say Catton also told them not to comment or encourage others to comment on any church Facebook posts.
“My job is to protect the membership first,” Catton said in a text message the Traubs shared with The Roys Report.
In a phone call with her, Catton also claimed that plagiarism was a “gray area,” Sara Traub said.
“There are no immediate consequences (for Stewart),” Andy Traub said. “Instead, they call my family and harass me and tell me that I’m harassing the church, when in fact, I’m just trying to do the Biblical thing.”
Stewart remains the lead pastor of Twin Oaks and the church apparently has taken no disciplinary action against him for plagiarizing.
Jackson Elliott is a Christian journalist trained at Northwestern University. He has worked at The Daily Signal, The Inlander, and The Christian Post, covering topics ranging from D.C. politics to prison ministry. His interests include the Bible, philosophy, theology, Russian literature, and Irish music.