Friday, October 03, 2008

I Was Plagiarized

With the availability of sermons and sermon helps over the internet—for free—the problem of pastoral plagiarism is more pronounced than ever. I was plagiarized, and I know it because the guilty party proudly, if utterly ignorantly, proclaimed it to me face-to-face.

A little over ten years ago I taught a series based on Summit Ministry’s Understanding the Times curriculum and added my own module on truth in a postmodern world. A pastoral friend three hours north of me thought it sounded like a good series, his mom sent him the tapes, and he taught my material class for class. As fate would have it, a member of his church was an editor for a pastoral magazine. He asked my friend to write an article based on the postmodern material. And here is where it gets fun.

My friend told me the story, said he was about to send the editor to me (because he knew he didn’t do the work and probably couldn’t have) until he heard the article paid. Then, he said, he went ahead and wrote the article. There was jovial laughter all around.

Just this past month, his article appeared in the footnotes of our denomination’s latest journal in the Editor’s Letter at the front of the edition. My old friend is now being cited as a kind of expert/good source on this issue.

What should I do? Reactions from friends and family range from writing him a frustrated letter and demand he clear the record to suing him for (what is likely provable) plagiarism. Chances are pretty slim my plagiarizer will be tapped as an expert on these matters and asked to write more articles on the subject, but what if he is?

I don’t know yet what benefit I will receive by pressing this issue. I must admit I am frustrated at what plagiarism has done to my material, but I’m not sure any official action will gain me anything. On the other hand, I believe this is a serious issue among most pastors. Maybe I am a little cynical at times, but I don’t think most evangelical pastors have the chops to do their own work and apply it to their own congregations. If the tape, CD, podcats and mp3 market disappeared tomorrow, how many pastors would have anything to say the following Sunday?


Joshua Duncan said...

I do think you need to let your friend know that plagiarizing is not a joke. Lawsuits are out of the question, I think (1 Co. 6 is still there, after all). I would let him know that it disturbs you. Let him know it's not about money, but honesty.

Rebecca in TX said...

I don't think you should let this pass as he has broken not only man's law but God's law as well. I would definitely go to him to work it out. If it were me I would require him to make it right by going to the magazine that published his article to come clean with them as well as the denomination journal. If he refuses your efforts to work it out with you I think you are forced to take him to court. Our God is is just. He punishes lawbreakers in Hell for eternity. Justice matters!

Phil Steiger said...

I appreciate your thoughts on this. I continue to receive advice along thse lines, and I might just take it up and write a letter to my friend.

Shane Ogle said...


I can see the moral dilemma -- in that -- your friend stole your material, passed it off as his own -- and is now touted an expert. I think the last point being the kicker.

However, I do recall a time in Bible College (Central Bible College, Springfield, MO) when a student spoke in senior chapel. The student preached all of Prof. Terry Bleek's material. Many of Bleek's students were deeply angered and went to him. They asked Prof. Bleek if he was angry about this great injustice. Bleek responded, "No, for you see it was not my material --it was God's. And it became this student's. He owns it -- in his heart. Let him preach it!" (I paraphrase).

I have pastors all the time call me for info. Some on Saturday night -- and even on Sunday mornings. My wife says I am not really helping them -- but I can't help but freely give what God has freely given me. It's not really mine -- I only hold it for awhile and then give it away.

Psalm 119:54-56

*I personally leave the other up to the person and God (unless the other person steals it and says that now you can't use it -- that's a whole new dynamic). Just my thought - based on what i read on this blog -- I know you will make the right decision.

God bless,