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‘Ask Your Husband,’ or his brother? Controversial book pulled after plagiarism charge

A close-up of the cover of “Ask Your Husband.” TAN Books, 2022.

When it was published in February, you might have expected that a book called “Ask Your Husband: A Catholic Guide to Femininity” would be controversial because of the content — A reading of Sacred Scripture and Catholic doctrine which argues that women shouldn’t work outside the home, and owe their husbands a robust version of marital obedience.

If the book were pulled from publication, you might have thought it would be after the publisher faced pushback from scholars taking issue with its provocative reading of the Catholic intellectual tradition.

You would not have predicted that “Ask Your Husband” would become controversial because too many people were eager to be associated with its ideas, and to claim its arguments as their own.

But if you ask David Gordon, that is exactly what happened.

“Ask Your Husband” was withdrawn from sale and publication late last month by its publisher, TAN Books, causing a minor splash in some Catholic circles on social media in the process.

But shortly after it became public that the book had been pulled from publication, David Gordon called The Pillar — he said he was calling to explain what had happened, to “vindicate my rights in my manuscript.”

“Ask Your Husband” was pulled after David Gordon accused his brother and sister-in-law - the book’s author - of plagiarizing a chapter from his own unpublished work. David made that allegation public before contacting The Pillar, raising questions among both its admirers and its critics about what had happened to the book.

The Pillar, always interested in thorough and interesting coverage of the Church’s life, decided to tell the story more completely than what had emerged in dribs and drabs, many of them from David, on social media.

The story David and his brother tell is - if nothing else - a fascinating glimpse into a growing corner of American Catholicism, and into a burgeoning call to restore “Christian patriarchy,” which has gained traction in conservative Catholic circles.

It is also the story of two brothers, and one of their wives, arguing that modern feminism has ruined the family, while disagreeing over how much of that idea they’ve copied from one another.

Of course, they are no ordinary brothers. David and his brother Tim Gordon are public personalities and influential figures among a certain set of young, self-styled conservative, very online Catholics — Tim is a YouTube personality once associated with the polemicist author Taylor Marshall, and David is a writer and editor at the website Church Militant.

The brothers interpret their dispute over “Ask Your Husband” very differently.

And David says the disagreement over the book is a warning about troubling tendencies among far-right conservative Catholic YouTube and social media personalities, many of whom have gained large followings among young Catholics in recent years.

David, author Stephanie Gordon’s brother-in-law, told The Pillar that crucial sections of “Ask Your Husband” were plagiarized from his own unpublished critique of feminism.

“I have been collecting materials for something like that for a little short of a decade…and I was up all night writing this thing, and for or someone to kind of swan in and essentially take my arguments, take all my sourcing, which took years to put together, and claim credit for it is unconscionable. And it feels like a worse betrayal because it was family.”

“I'm going to vindicate this manuscript and they're not gonna get away with this,” David told The Pillar.

“Ask Your Husband” says it is an “anti-feminism book,” which “recommends that women defer to male headship.” It counsels that “silence is an integral part of womanly humility and obedience,” and that “when a woman speaks, she ought to direct her listeners to the wisdom of her husband.”

Stephanie Gordon writes in the book that she is “the vocally supportive wife of a public conservative, Catholic alpha male who has built his career upon, among a few other items, the restoration of the patriarchy,” adding that she aims to “direct my female audience to the wisdom of their own husbands.”

But the book has not received universal acclaim among Catholic women.

Abigail Favale is a Catholic, and the author of “The Genesis of Gender,” a Catholic treatment of the phenomenon Pope Francis calls “gender ideology,” published by Ignatius Press.

In a Catholic World Report review, Favale wrote that “Ask Your Husband” “makes no attempt at a coherent theology of marriage or womanhood.”

Favale said the book’s author “proof-texts, pulling quotes from scripture, magisterial texts, and random websites (gotquestions.org?) to support her claims. She reads the Bible like a good fundamentalist: literally and legalistically. Verses are not contextualized in the scope of scripture as a whole, or even within the biblical book itself.”

“‘Ask Your Husband’ is an earnest attempt to respond to some real problems in our culture, ones that plague many marriages,” Favale wrote. “Yet Gordon’s approach is legalistic and ideological; she snips and twists scripture and tradition to align with her preconceived views, and is ultimately unable to escape the same trap that often ensnares feminists: a tendency to see man-woman relations primarily through the lens of power.”

Favale observed that if Stephanie Gordon “desires a truly Catholic understanding of femininity, she might need to ask someone other than her husband.”

David Gordon says his sister-in-law Stephanie did just that, by lifting a central section of “Ask Your Husband” from his own efforts.

David told The Pillar that a chapter of “Ask Your Husband” was mostly paraphrased and sourced from a chapter he wrote in 2019, for a book he had expected to publish with his brother, Tim - Stephanie’s husband.

The Gordon brothers signed in 2019 a contract to write “No Christian Feminism,” a treatise on feminism and Catholic theology for Sophia Institute Press. Each brother composed four chapters of the manuscript.

But according to correspondence obtained by The Pillar, Sophia decided in March 2020 not to publish “No Christian Feminism,” and released the intellectual property rights for each chapter to the brothers who had composed them.

David told The Pillar that Stephanie Gordon took large swaths of research from his manuscript to produce a chapter of her own book.

The plagiarism, David said, “is extensive.”

“Her entire chapter: The structure, the argument, there being an unbridgeable gap between Christianity and feminism is just my structure. It goes Scripture, patristics, scholastics, magisterium, modern magisterium. And then, of course, mine was more thorough. Obviously I have the theology training and whatnot.”

David, 35, is an attorney, with a masters degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville.

To prove his point, David produced a 28-page side-by-side comparison of excerpts from his own manuscript and his sister-in-law’s. The document identifies sections he says are paraphrased, use similar syntax, and have similar sources — even texts he says are rare.

And David says that “Ask Your Husband” copies verbatim citations which include explanatory notes he inserted when he put them in his own manuscript text — a kind of “smoking gun” to prove his plagiarism charges, he told The Pillar.

But despite the apparent similarities in topic and content, David told The Pillar he thought much of “Ask You Husband” was “claptrap.”

“Most of the book is references to The Simpsons, and Rocky and Bullwinkle, and The Office. And then you have these very deep [sections]. Well, where did you get this idea from?” he said.

David said directly that he doubted his sister-in-law could have read and analyzed sociological scholarship cited in the book, adding that some sections were inconsistent with its overall tone and structure.

“So there’s this discrepancy there, you can tell what was her original thought, because it’s a lot of pop culture tropes that are being regurgitated, and then she’ll throw in something that’s a deeper point,” he added.

“And a lot of those deeper points, it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s her brother-in-law.’ So I don’t think much of the book, to be honest. And I think there’s some really bad advice in there….a lot of it was silliness.”

David told The Pillar he discovered the alleged plagiarism in mid-March, and set to work documenting what had happened. He said he approached TAN Books, which published “Ask Your Husband,” on March 24.

“I took it to TAN. I figured I’d go privately to the publisher. The evidence I’ve compiled is damning.”

“And they were like ‘Yeah, this is overwhelming.’ I spoke to TAN’s attorney on the phone, and I had him look at the side-by-side, and he was telling me on the phone, ‘Oh gosh, this is obviously your work.’”

David told The Pillar that TAN informed him it had “discontinued” the sale and publication of “Ask Your Husband” in light of his allegation.

In response to questions, TAN told The Pillar “it is our practice at TAN not to discuss externally the details related to the discontinuation of particular works. This practice results from, among other things, our respect for our various authors.”

“This limited communication should not be interpreted negatively or positively,” the publisher added.

The company declined further questions. But the book is no longer available for sale either on TAN’s website or on Amazon and other online retailers.

After talking with David, The Pillar reached out to Tim and Stephanie Gordon through their attorney. Tim accepted the interview request, speaking on behalf of himself and his wife — when asked if Stephanie would join the interview, Tim said she would not, and noted that she was eight months pregnant, apparently making her unavailable.

Tim, who released an episode of his YouTube show Thursday about the disagreement over the book, told The Pillar that his wife’s text was influenced by his brother’s research and written work on feminism. But that influence wasn’t plagiarism, he said.

Many of the complaints David raised about Stephanie Gordon’s book, Tim said, were about the use of the same sources: “We’re talking about Ephesians 5 and other things from Scripture. Dave is so asinine. He’s claiming ownership to the eight or nine broadly speaking antifeminist Scriptural pulls that everyone would know.”

Tim told The Pillar he had been advised by an intellectual property lawyer that a 2018 federal court decision, Experian Information Solutions, Inc. v. Nationwide Marketing Services, Inc., applies to the question of whether Stephanie Gordon violated copyright law — and she didn’t do so, Tim said.

There is no legal case against her, he emphasized, because in his view, David’s work is essentially a compilation of facts, and not subject to strong copyright protections.

It is unsurprising the books use a few similar phrases, Tim said, since David’s family was living with Tim and Stephanie when all three Gordons were writing books on the same subject.

“You had three authors writing two companion books practically under one roof; feminism was basically all we talked about in those days,” he told to The Pillar.

“Yes, Dave did work hard,” Tim said of his brother, “the person who was first on [feminism] was Dave Gordon. I learned a lot from him.”

But his wife did not plagiarize, he insisted. Tim said he okayed her to use David’s text as a resource for her book while the brothers held a joint copyright over the material — and even if he hadn’t, his brother’s claim is dramatically overstated, he said.

“One can only approximate how much one wouldn’t have known if they hadn’t seen someone else’s citations…In terms of the approximate remediability of pretending to know something you wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t read someone’s work but were going to research the same topic, how much of their sources would you have found?”

“Well … when we’re talking about … scripture and major encyclicals that pretty much everyone that knows anything about this knows, and you talk to the person for a long time, it’s really hard to come to a conclusion other than, yes, Steph would have known where to look in the scripture, because I knew. Steph would have known which encyclicals.”

Tim pointed out that after she submitted her manuscript to TAN, Stephanie Gordon actually asked her publisher to remove reference to “sources most specifically attributable to Dave,” and to add a footnote mentioning her brother-in-law:

for this citation, and a handful of others in this chapter, I am indebted to the early research of my husband and his brother, in an early draft of what became my husband’s book, “The Case for Patriarchy,” and also what will in the future become my brother-in-law’s book, ”No Christian Feminism.”

TAN added the footnote, but did not remove before publication reference to a particular source Stephanie had asked be omitted.

But according to Tim, “neither TAN nor Steph erred by this. It was an imperfected courtesy not legally required in such situations.”

Tim also told The Pillar that the 2019 patriarchy book the brothers had written together for Sophia Institute Press was canceled because David Gordon “got himself kicked off of Sophia Institute Press, after their multiple patient, yearlong warnings for needlessly incendiary tweets.”

If the brothers’ book hadn’t been canceled, Tim said, David’s work on “restoring the patriarchy” would have been published months before Stephanie’s.

But David said his brother’s argument misses the point.

“I did all of the work. That research that she just took represents years of my life. She did not know any of that, independent of me.”

“Independent of doing all of that leg work, she didn't know a thing about this. It’s all my idea — the way I framed it and created it into an argument, into a cogent thought…for someone to waltz in and take that stuff that they don't know about, and to beat me to the punch publishing my own book, filled with my own research, it’s theft of years of my life.”

“When you’re writing something, getting your research together is 80% of the work,” he added.

David told The Pillar he still plans to publish a protracted treatment of feminism, which will include his allegedly purloined scholarship on the subject, and be published by his employer, Church Militant.

The issue is important, he said.

“Feminism is an attack on the God-given structure of the family — the patriarchal headship. It’s meant to take away man’s headship, his properly ordered headship, and it's also meant to take away masculine and feminine roles as assigned to husband and wife.”

A decline of male headship, he said, has led to “the culture…falling too. You go out into public and people’s manners are poor. People seem so depressed. And it’s because their home life was ripped from them.”

“Ask Your Husband” argues that “men should govern women,” that men helping with housework are guilty of “soft transgenderism,” and that a wife should seek her husband’s consent before leaving the house.

But while his views have been criticized, Gordon insists they are not misogynistic.

“Misogyny is a specific intent crime, is it not? So I could say women need to be in the home either because I truly believe that it's best for women that they're in the home and I love them and I respect them and I think they're of equal dignity with men. Or I could say women need to be in the home because I hate them and I don't want to see them in society.”

“It’s silly to say that ‘Dave Gordon is a misogynist’ and it’s rash, imputing to me a motive…It’s as silly as saying that I’m racist because I don’t believe in affirmative action. I think it’s best for women, and they’re happiest, when they’re in their God-given roles — which the popes have spoken about in an unbroken lineage going back to St. Peter.”

“I think I’m a great champion for women. And if people don’t like my tone, whatever. I'm sick of the neutered emasculated tone that I'm forced to listen to…There's a method to my madness,” he told The Pillar.

The plagiarism charge is a noteworthy split among the self-identified “retrograde” conservative Gordons, who are known among some Catholics for Tim's polemical social media presence and his “Rules for Retrogrades” YouTube show.

Tim Gordon has nearly 40,000 YouTube subscribers, and his weekly livestreams regularly draw tens of thousands of viewers.

Tim rose to popularity among some conservative and traditionalist Catholics when he began appearing regularly in 2018 on the livestream show of well-known YouTube provocateur Taylor Marshall.

Tim appeared regularly on Marshall’s YouTube show until early 2020, with the pair calling themselves TNT - Taylor and Tim. But in an April 2020 tweet, Tim said that his contract with Marshall was not renewed “against my wishes.”

Tim tweeted that he wasn’t “certain why Taylor opted for non-renewal during the peak of TNT popularity,” and said that Marshall’s evolution regarding SSPX was likely a factor.

Marshall was at that time gravitating toward the Society of St. Pius X, a traditionalist society in an irregular status in the Church. Tim and David Gordon urged that attending Mass and receiving other sacraments from the SSPX could put a soul in peril.

Amid the split, Tim was fired in June 2020 from the Catholic high school where he taught religion, after posting on social media that Black Lives Matter was a terrorist organization which aimed to incite violence.

An online support campaign that emerged after the firing raised his profile, and along with his brother David, Gordon wrote books and developed his own YouTube following, Tim launched a show for “parish orphans and retrogrades,” and the brothers authored a “Rules for Retrogrades” handbook together in 2021.

At around the same time, David was hired as a copy editor and writer for the Church Militant website.

Advocating for a restoration of “Christian patriarchy” has been a central theme for the brothers.

TAN published Tim’s “The Case for Patriarchy” in 2021 — largely developed from the chapters he wrote for the book he expected to co-author with his brother, Tim said.

David published a June 2020 Church Militant essay which argued that “Christian feminism” - a notion advanced under the aegis of Pope St. John Paul II - “is a flagrant lie — it's smoke and mirrors intended to beguile credulous Christian men into an emasculated stupor.”

But while both Gordon brothers have made their living in far-right circles of the Catholic internet, David said his plagiarism charge is about more than his own corner of Catholicism, and about far more than a dispute between brothers.

He insists the allegation is “important to the Catholic world,” because it represents a trend he finds troubling.

“Because all of the temptations that you would expect to be at play within, like, the Catholic Twittersphere, YouTube, the one-man apostolate that is so popular now, all of those temptations towards monetization, towards fame, towards glory in the eyes of your 7,000 fans or whatever it is, they're all there.”

“There's a race to the bottom. There's a race to create catchy headlines. There's a race to put out product and sell merchandise to cult-like fans, to Jonestown-esque fans, who will defend you no matter what you do. And people will stoop as low as stealing your brother's work.”

“That shows the extent of the danger of the one-man apostolate, because there's all the temptations out there,” he said.

Tim Gordon told The Pillar that his brother’s frustration is personal, and misguided.

“All this heartache, headache, and drama stems from the simple yet perplexing fact that after David was let go by Sophia on February 24, 2021, he in a prolonged, irrational fit blamed two innocent parties: me—who had gone to bat for him for over a year, and had originally brought him into my Sophia publishing contract—and Sophia Institute Press, rather than himself,” Tim said in an email.

“More bizarre still—people simply won’t believe this—is that to my recollection at no time on the day Sophia severed him, or anytime thereafter, would he take my calls (or call me back). Steph and I tried calling, texting, and to get mutual friends and colleagues to mediate the dispute, or just to convince him to pick up the phone and return my calls. He refused every time,” Tim wrote to The Pillar.

“Instead he chose to send a profoundly misleading 28-page document falsely alleging plagiarism and copyright infringement (and failing to emphasize the key fact: that Steph secured legal permission to our citations when she wrote AYH!) to media and to feminist opponents of ‘Ask Your Husband.’”

David Gordon said it would have been futile to contact his brother about the dispute.

“He is after fame and fortune and spotlight and this is really low,” he said.

“And this is the danger of when you kick this away from the magisterium, members that are clerics have grace of state that helps to prevent some - not all - of the greed from setting in.”

“When it's just laymen running these one-man apostolates, which are very much self-promoting and self-glorifying, there's a danger of people falling into serious grave mortal sin in order to get more money. And it needs to be exposed,” David said.

“I've had temptations myself — I think I've treated Pope Francis a little bit harshly, when I've spoken about him, partly because I want to keep something interesting. I've had to make confessions like that.”

The Pillar asked whether that warning could apply to David’s own employer, Church Militant, run by the demagogue Michael Voris, who is himself no stranger to controversy.

David said he would not answer questions or speak on behalf of his employer.

Tim, meanwhile, told The Pillar that “Ask Your Husband” will soon be available for its eager readers.

“A version of ‘Ask Your Husband’ incorporating Steph’s attempted…redactions will again be available for internet purchase, in a small matter of weeks. We expect this important work’s voluminous sales to continue at that time,” he told The Pillar April 7.

But David said while he is glad that “Ask Your Husband” has been pulled from publication, his efforts aren’t over.

“If they try and publish this elsewhere, it will be over my dead body. I will sue them…and I’m gonna do this as a hobby and then let them rack up the $300,000 bill or whatever it's going to be. I'm going to vindicate this manuscript.”

The dispute, it seems, ain’t over yet.

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