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?