“You shall not steal." Exodus 20:15
Plagiarism is defined in dictionaries as the "wrongful appropriation," "close imitation," or "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions," and the representation of them as one's own original work, but the notion remains problematic with nebulous boundaries.
I woke up early this morning thinking about the comments yesterday regarding pastors who plagiarize. Would this be considered abuse? Is this okay? Is this one of those "love-overlooks-a-multitude-of-sins" ideas and we just need to ignore it? Or is this something that should be addressed? How would we address it?
It struck me that the anonymous poster asked this question here because I probably would not have put "plagiarism" in the spiritual abuse category. But at the same time, it rang some bells for me because I recall hearing about plagiarism from our former pastor.
The story is that the men were at the mens' retreat and one of the men looked up something on the pastor's laptop (with his permission). One window on the screen showed a site with sermons and this man recognized the sermon - word for word. Interestingly, this man left the church for a time around the same time we left, but then returned and as far as I know is still there. So, he knowingly went back to a pastor who plagiarized.
That brings up another point. If you knew that a pastor was plagiarizing sermons, would that be a deal breaker for you? Would you leave?
I love what Barb Orlowski's thoughts on this topic:
Agreed with the observations above, re 'willfully borrowing without giving credit.' I would like to add that the preacher is also missing the opportunity to wrestle with the text, experience some sweet direction from the Holy Spirit as they prepare, draw from their own past experiences, and be a part of weaving a word tapestry during the preparation. They are missing how things 'come together' and the other insights that are seen while they work it through.
They are missing the opportunity for preaching their prepared message at that moment in history for those gathered there. They are missing the opportunity of seeing the Ah hah moments in people's eyes and the expressions on their faces from their labor of love. They are missing the opportunity of witnessing how the worship leader and others involved in the service, work with similar and often unspoken worship songs and Scriptures, that so dove-tale with what God has sovereignly put on their heart.
Yes, everyone gets busy, but taking short cuts when this is your job/calling is missing out on so much and is being less than authentic in the same instant. Their vision is sadly tarnished and their work ethic needs restoration.
To me, it is blatant stealing. It is stealing someone's hard work, their thoughts, their effort and taking it as your own. Christians must acknowledge what God says about stealing. Even the secular world has moral standards on stealing. An acquaintance I know nearly had her degree revoked because of plagiarism.
My thoughts are that if a pastor feels that plagiarism is okay, what other areas in his life is he making moral compromises? This is one bit of rotten fruit that should not be overlooked.
In closing, let's take a look at what a popular pastor has to say on the subject.
Pastor D.A. Carson did not mince words on plagiarism. I've quoted a bit from Carson below. Be sure to check out the whole article: 5 Leaders Examine Plagiarism in Preaching
Question: When has a preacher crossed the line into plagiarism in his sermon?
D. A. Carson:
First: Taking over another sermon and preaching it as if it were yours is always and unequivocally wrong, and if you do it you should resign or be fired immediately. The wickedness is along at least three axes: (1) You are stealing. (2) You are deceiving the people to whom you are preaching. (3) Perhaps worst, you are not devoting yourself to the study of the Bible to the end that God’s truth captures you, molds you, makes you a man of God, and equips you to speak for him. If preaching is God’s truth through human personality (so Phillips Brooks), then serving as nothing more than a kind of organic recording device in playback mode does not qualify. Incidentally, changing a few words here and there in someone else’s work does not let you off the hook; re-telling personal experiences as if they were yours when they were not makes the offense all the uglier. That this offense is easy to commit because of the availability of source material in the digital age does not lessen its wickedness, any more than the ready availability of porn in the digital age does not turn pornography into a virtue. (Occasionally preachers have preached a famous sermon from another preacher, carefully noting their source. That should be done, at most, only very occasionally, but there is no evil in it.)
photo credit: jaymiek via photo pin cc