TGC Asks Sandy Willson: When Has a Preacher Crossed the Line into Plagiarism in His Sermon?
Note from Collin Hansen, TGC editorial director: This week we're examining the thorny issue of pulpit plagiarism. We'll hear from pastors, ethicists, scholars, and researchers to work toward common understanding on this pressing, perennial dilemma. Next we turn to Sandy Willson, senior pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee.
The issue of plagiarism in preaching has been a “hot topic” in years past, as several ministers have been fired or severely rebuked for crossing the line. But, more importantly, this issue is crucial for the sake of our personal integrity and for the honor of Christ whom we proclaim; therefore, we need to be very careful.
I think there are several issues at stake:
- We must not be guilty of “stealing” from our fellow Christians.
- We must not pretend before our congregations that we have researched or composed something that we didn’t.
- We must not substitute real Bible study and prophetic sermon preparation with “cutting and pasting.”
Here’s how I try to handle it in preaching:
- Any direct quote is always attributed to the author in full.
- Any ideas that I found in my reading that are uniquely attributable to one scholar or author are normally attributed to him.
- If there are a number of unique ideas from one author, I may make a general attribution to his overall influence on my thinking at the beginning of my sermon.
- Ideas that I discovered from several others that were not my own are usually covered by simply saying, “a number of scholars suggest that . . .”
- Books or articles that I have found helpful are often shared with the congregation for their own edification.
- If my sermons are published or sold on websites or CDs, I must be even more scrupulous to acknowledge all of my sources through footnotes and comments in order to avoid “stealing” from my brother or sister.
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