Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Plagiarism in the Pulpit - Some Further Conditions

In my last post, I gave some general questions regarding pastoral plagiarism (link to post). People provided a variety of responses, but let me add a few more constraints to the question.

Suppose that one came across two sermons from Pastor X, an experienced "senior pastor" type person, which appear to consist to a large extent of the same thoughts and expressions in the same order as two corresponding sermons from Pastor Y, who is geographically remote (i.e. not in the same town).

In other words, in this imaginary situation, there are two sermons from Pastor X that look as though they are essentially just a slightly altered edition of the sermons from Pastor Y.

Let's assume that the differences in terms of rewording things, omitting things, and adding a few new thoughts are enough to avoid any charges of copyright infringement.

Let's assume, however, that the level of similarity is enough that if Pastor Y turned in these sermons as part of a seminary assignment, and Pastor X turned in his sermons to the same professor, the professor would be inclined to view the situation as "cheating."

Let's further assume that the sermon, in its edited form, was really good and greatly blessed the congregation of Pastor X.

Is this sort of behavior acceptable? Does that final stipulation that the sermon was a great blessing make a difference? Does the fact that the number of "plagiarized" sermons is 2 not 1 make a difference? Does the fact that the number of "plagiarized" sermons is 2 not 5 or 20 make a difference?

What if it turned out that Pastor Y had told Pastor X, "it's ok to use my sermons, and don't worry about crediting me"? Would that change matters?

Alternatively, what if Pastor X's rationale was this: "I'm busy - it's a good sermon - and there is no reason to reinvent the wheel." Would that be a sufficient rationale? If not, why not?



Rod Taylor said...

This is a complex issue which gets down to the heart of the pastor who is doing the borrowing(and thats beyond our ability to answer)--The number of Sermons "plagiarized" or "used with permission" would certainly make a difference as to Pastor Xs ability to teach but I still believe that as we prepare our messages we are obviously praying for Gods wisdom and reading His Word but the resources we use are going to influence how we put the Message together. And if a particular Pastor has Exposited the message well I dont feel I am somehow falling into sin if "I dont reinvent the wheel".Some times it is difficult to say things better than someone else and if they said it well then why try? If I begin to rely on certain men rather than the Word and Prayer to put all my messages together or just purchase off the internet then I would obviously call into question my own faith and daily walk with God

As I said this is complicated--I look back at my answer and dont like what I said--I may need to do a Sermon series on it--You know any good resources I can check??

Anonymous said...

Preaching is different from, say writing a book. The point of preaching should be to be faithful to the Word. I am not convinced that copying another pastor's sermons is particularly bad, if the sermons are good.

It may not be a wonderful situation for a church if their pastor doesn't bother to write his own sermons, but "plagiarism" as a specific concern is less important in this context.

If, however, the pastor concerned wrote a plagarised book, passing it off as his own especially if he was getting a financial profit from it I think the situation would be different.

Anonymous said...

One assumes that Pastor X's consistory/deacon board/session/congregation is paying X to do original sermons. They give him a certain # of hours a week for sermon prep. He doesn't need 15 hours a week but a mere 2 if he's just revising Pastor Y's sermons. This gives X lots of extra time for other things, maybe including golf. Shouldn't he make this clear to those in leadership in his church? Maybe he does he has so much extra time for other things that they consider him the SuperPastor!

Christopher said...

For me, throwing out these "situations" doesn't change things. Deacons were ordained so that the pastors could spend time in the word and in prayer. I just don't see how borrowing, regardless of the situation, changes anything. I think a pastor should feed his sheep from his own field.

Turretinfan said...

"As I said this is complicated--I look back at my answer and dont like what I said--I may need to do a Sermon series on it--You know any good resources I can check??"


Anonymous said...

What do you call when they buy their sermons? Some do this, you know. Places like Willow Creek and Saddleback have places sites where you can buy sermons and all the bling that goes with it such as video clips, etc.

Peter Pike said...

I believe it's wrong to pass off something as your own when it is not. This is not to say it's wrong to preach another's sermon, *IF* the audience is aware you're not doing original material *AND EITHER* you have permission to do so *OR* what you're copying is in public domain.

But maybe I'm a bit obsessive on this. I mean, I even credit commedians when I pass on jokes (e.g., I would start out with: "Did you hear the joke Mitch Hedberg said about a duck eating bread?")

To me, it's both an issue of respect for the person who did the footwork (if they're good enough to copy from, they're good enough to be recognized for it) and a matter of integrity, by keeping others from having a false concept of who you are.

Kurt K said...

@Peter Pike

Triabloggers can joke? When did this happen? ;-)

I definitely believe in citing sources in all cases of direct quotation, sermons included.

Good series, TFan!

Anonymous said...


I can think of something I think is worse than plagiarizing someone else's sermon. Years ago Billy Graham decided to preach one of the most famous sermons in history. It was Jonathan Edward's sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". He attributed the sermon to Jonathan Edwards and then proceeded to change points in the sermon to which he had doctrinal disagreements.

I think it is more wrong to attribute things to a person which they didn't (and wouldn't) say, than to copy a really good sermon without giving credit. Most people hearing that someone thought enough of their sermon to "reuse" it would be tempted to become proud.

Steve M