Sermon Plagiarism

April 24, 2007

Thomas G. Long has an excellent piece in the Christian Century about preachers plagiarizing sermons. The piece is entitled "Stolen goods: Tempted to plagiarize." It is quite lengthy as he carefully tackles this issue from several perspectives. Here are a couple of highlights:

Perhaps as much or more than any other form of communication, preaching depends upon a cord of trust binding together the speaker and the listener, the preacher and hearer. A good sermon consists not primarily in flawless logic, soaring poetry or airtight arguments, but in passionately held truth proclaimed with conviction. To compromise the truth in ways that hearers would consider deceptive makes them reluctant to extend this necessary trust and damages the witness. For evidence, we can point to the hard disillusionment and sense of betrayal experienced by many in congregations where pastors have been caught plagiarizing sermons.

... A good test of this point is to ask, What would happen if the preacher told the truth? "Hey folks, it's been a busy week and I didn't have time to work on a sermon, and honestly, I'm not all that creative anyway. So this is a little something I found on the 'net.'" The fact that the air would immediately go out of the room is a reliable indicator that the tacit agreement of the sermon event has been violated. This is why plagiarists, for all their blather about God's words being free for all, never confess their true sources and always imply that these words are coming straight from the heart.
Amen! We are supposed to be people of the Truth and thus our words must be truthful in all ways. It is sad when preachers do things that would get my students an "F" on their speeches. It is time for us to set the example and be above reproach.