Oh Jung-hyun, pastor of SaRang Community Church and one of the country's most influential Christian leaders, faces suspicions that he copy-and-pasted his way toward attaining a theology thesis.
This is not the first time the 57-year-old has been accused of academic fraud. He is currently under a six-month suspension imposed by the church in March, preventing him from giving sermons, after he admitted plagiarizing Michael Wilkins' book "Following the Master'' in process of getting a doctorate of philosophy from South Africa's Potchefstroom University in 1998.
According to documents obtained by The Korea Times, Oh appeared to have again liberally borrowed from "Following the Master'' and his disputed paper submitted to Potchefstroom University in a study that earned him a Doctor of Ministry from Biola University in 2005.
Oh didn't answer repeated calls for an interview.
Brenda Velasco, assistant director of public relations at Biola, refused to comment on how the school will respond to the case, simply saying "Pastor Oh's situation is under review." In its policies, however, the private evangelical Christian university located in Southern California states that it "sees any form of plagiarism as a serious problem with serious consequences."
It also states, "If a faculty member discovers evidence of plagiarism or academic dishonesty, the instructor should confront the student with the seriousness of the charge and report the infraction to the department or program chair."
"The Korean Immigrant Church in America: Discipleship in the 21st Century," Oh's thesis submitted to Biola University's Talbot School of Theology and approved by the school's former dean Dennis Dirks and director Gary McIntosh, has a total of 194 pages.
More than 100 of them contain lengthy passages and sentences that were apparently taken from "Disciple Making Preaching in the Light of the New Testament: An Exegetic ― Homiletical Study," Oh's study submitted to Potchefstroom University.
"This looks egregious to me and would likely not be ignored at most universities. That the Biola thesis shows self-plagiarism in literally 65 percent of its pages is not a simple editing mistake or an isolated event,'' said Timothy Rich, professor of political science at Western Kentucky University.
Lara Zwarun, professor of communication at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, agreed.
"If you are earning a degree for which one of the requirements is original research, and you are passing off work you have previously done as work you have done fresh for this degree, that's dishonest,'' she said. "And of course, if the previously done work was itself plagiarized, that's a double problem."
Following Oh's previous scandal, Potchefstroom University admitted that "plagiarism indeed occurs in the thesis" but refused to cancel his degree.
Many professors see the issue as part of a bigger problem of rampant corruption throughout the South African educational system.
"While all schools have a strict policy regarding plagiarism, how closely it's adhered to is the problem,'' a former university professor from Johannesburg said on condition of anonymity.
Students have very similar views.
"I think the issue is fairly rampant as a system to check (for plagiarism) is not really in place to prevent it. Although some courses check for plagiarism a lot of them don't," a University of Cape Town graduate, who refused to be named, said.
After the fact was revealed, SaRang Community Church's highest policy-making body decided to give Oh the 6-month suspension. Oh has not received any additional penalty in light of the new plagiarism case.
The internal conflict, ignited by Oh's plagiarism, is still is far from being resolved as a group of pastors and church members believe the suspension was merely a "slap on the wrist." They are asking for Oh to truly repent and to step down as the pastor-in-chief.
Oh had said he would retire if his doctoral thesis was found to be plagiarized.
Protesters have held a demonstration every Friday in the churchyard against Oh's return to the leadership since February.
Oh is expected to return to the church next month.