You are hereAlmost 6,000 pastors take a serious pledge

Almost 6,000 pastors take a serious pledge


Articles in the LOOKOUT section of this website span a number of decades and are re-published on behalf of Adrian van Leen for research purposes. Original dates are being added to articles so as to place them in their correct historical setting(s). Adrian has endeavoured to be as fair and accurate as possible at the time of the original writing, but please note that the original article information may no longer reflect the subsequent or current actions, values, beliefs, positions, opinions, teachings or policies held by individuals, groups and/or organisations referred to in the original published article at the time of writing. As people change and move on, the same often applies to related Internet links; some links referred to in articles may have been changed or may no longer be available online.

LOOKOUT represents the ministry of Adrian van Leen and Lookout Ministries Inc. and therefore remains the intellectual property/copyright of Adrian van Leen and Lookout Ministries Inc.

ALMOST 6, 000 TAKE THE PLEDGE

Have you ever signed a pledge - and meant it?

As a teenager, I remember discussing, and then signing, a temperance pledge. That’s one pledge not too many people are ready to sign these days, in spite of increasing evidence of the problems and dangers of alcoholic beverages. In mid-2008, just ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games, Chinese athletes signed pledges, declaring that they would not be using performance enhancing drugs. Following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, many Indians pledged support for those affected by the attacks. America, especially, has a long history of its citizens signing patriotic pledges of allegiance. In many countries, people have been signing pledges calling for justice for workers facing poor working conditions and unemployment. Children are signing special school pledges, Internet and ‘Real World’ (safety) pledges, while, in recent years, some teenagers and young adults have been signing virginity and fidelity pledges.

Early this year (2009), a new pledge came online, and has already been taken by some 6 000 Pastors.

What were these Pastors pledging? That they would maintain integrity in the pulpit. Why did they do this? Isn’t it something we should expect, if not take for granted? Sadly, pulpits around the world, are reflecting an acceptance of theft, lying and cheating! That may sound harsh, but it’s a growing reality that has existed for centuries, but has almost exploded as a result of the Internet.

Dr Scott M. Gibson, professor of preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the USA, is a scholar and biographer of A.J. Gordon, an American preacher, hymn writer and missionary promoter. Gibson was quoted by syndicated religion columnist, Terry Mattingly, explaining that A.J. Gordon visited England in 1876, and ‘anonymously’ visited a church for Sunday worship. When the person in the pulpit preached, Gordon received quite a surprise, if not a shock. He recognised the sermon. It was one of his own sermons that he had published some time before. But the preacher didn’t not acknowledge Gordon as the author of the sermon, he preached it as if it was his own. He had stolen another man’s work and material. He must have had a moment of some discomfort when Gordon introduced himself to the preacher. (http://www.lookoutmag.com/pdfs/297.pdf - Scott Gibson has also published : Should We Use Someone Else’s Sermon?: Preaching in a Cut-And-Paste World, 2008, Zondervan)

That was long before the era of the Internet. The problem of plagiarism has ‘exploded’ since then.

Comments such as the following are increasingly made in forums and blogs: ‘I just recently discovered my pastor is plagiarizing almost all of his sermons and has been since before I started attending this church four years ago. I am completely devastated by this discovery and really don’t know what to do. I feel plagiarizing is a sin. It is simply stealing and leads to lying.’

Students, especially from High School and College level up, are constantly having drummed into them the evils of plagiarism - stealing someone else’s work; not acknowledging sources; pretending the work is one’s own, when most, or all, as come from someone else. Most Universities have strict protocols for dealing with plagiarism - which often mean failure and expulsion.

When such students discover their pastor’s sermon(s) are straight off the Internet (or completely out of a book) but presented as his own, God inspired, work - it can be extremely disillusioning and devastating.

Thomas G. Long, professor of preaching at the US Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, tells of a theological student whose class preaching assignments had been consistently poor. In his last course opportunity to show improvement, the student preached his best-ever sermon. Long stated that it was: ‘a stunning sermon, both profound and lyrical. It was unexpectedly excellent.

Too good, in fact. Sadly suspicious, I plugged one of his more delicious phrases into Google. Alas, up came the whole sermon on a church’s Web site, preached by the pastor of that church many months before. It was an unfortunate but clear case of plagiarism. That was not, however, the whole story. My search actually produced dozens of hits, disclosing that, evidently, my student was not the only preacher to find this particular sermon compelling. A number of others, all with their sermons posted online, had lifted paragraphs and pages from the original sermon, mostly without credit. In a last and unexpected twist, this much-copied sermon itself turned out to contain a long section cribbed without attribution from a Living by the Word column in this very journal. With a few clicks of the mouse, I had uncovered a crime wave of homiletical petty larceny.

The stealing of sermons is nothing new, of course, and the legends of such mischief abound. Typical of the genre is the story of Ernest T. Campbell, now retired as pastor of New York’s Riverside Church. He was once invited to fill the pulpit of a church in a distant city, and he chose to preach "Adam’s Other Son," a creative sermon on the biblical character Seth, one which bears the unmistakable mark of Campbell’s style and which Campbell had published in a sermon collection. As he preached that Sunday, however, he had a sense that something was awry. "My sermon," he said later, "was landing like marbles on a tile floor." After the service, he was told that a young associate pastor had preached the same sermon nearly word for word the week before. No wonder the congregation had sat in shocked silence, convinced that the celebrated guest preacher had stooped to pilfering another pastor’s material.

Pulpit plagiarism may not be new, but there is plenty of evidence that the practice is spreading and that the kerosene on the fire is the Internet. Not only are thousands of sermons available for the snatching on church Web pages, but scores of commercial sites hawk complete sermons, illustrations, outlines, images and PowerPoint accompaniments for a fee.’

(All of Professor Thomas Long’s article, Stolen goods - Tempted to plagiarize, is worth reading: http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=3195)

There are now increasing numbers of preachers who have placed their sermons on the Internet for the benefit of others, who weren’t there to hear them at Sunday services, who are also ‘Googling’ their own sermons to see who has taken the message God gave them, and who are pasting them onto their own website as if they had proclaimed the sermons. That may catch those who have been foolish enough to take plagiarised sermons and put them on the Internet as their own work, but it doesn’t really reveal how many more (and probably there are MANY more) who have preached another man’s sermons at their church worship services with absolutely no acknowledgement of them coming from other people.

Even more concerning, for plagiarist preachers, there are increasing numbers of computer savvy church members, Googling key words and phrases from the sermons they hear on Sunday’s - and some are finding a disturbing and discouraging trend - that of increased plagiarism in the pulpit. What would you discover/uncover if you began Googling key words from your preacher’s Sunday sermons?

In the USA, a number of prominent preachers have been caught out with plagiarised sermons and have ended up resigning, or were ‘encouraged/helped’ to resign; at least one of them, after preaching from the same pulpit for fifteen years. The disgrace of their plagiarism damaged their reputations and raised serious questions about their integrity. (One sermon, plagiarised and republished on the Internet by quite a number of preachers, was actually entitled: ‘Integrity’!!)

Busy preachers, always on the lookout for good sermon materials, can be tempted by the multiplicity of websites that are now offering both free and commercially priced sermons, outlines, power point presentations and more. In the few weeks before Easter, many such websites, especially the commercial ones, were offering ‘Easter Specials’ for busy pastors wanting ‘good’ Easter sermons.

The increasing problem of worldwide (and church - denomination-wide) sermon plagiarism, led Sermon Central. com to issue the Pastor’s Pledge, and encourage the pastors, who use their both free and/or paid sermons resources, to sign the pledge. Ron Forseth, general editor for SermonCentral.com, stated:

‘We introduced The Pledge because we think preachers must engage the Bible in their sermon preparation and not simply short-cut the process using someone else’s study. Our site is a valuable supplement—but not the primary source for a sermon. God’s Word is.’

His boss, president of Outreach, Inc. which owns Sermon Central. com, Scott Evans, further explained:

‘SermonCentral.com offers an unprecedented opportunity for pastors to share their thinking on various passages of Scripture and relevant topics. We want to strengthen the quality of preaching in pulpits around the world. The Preacher’s Pledge is helping to do that by affirming pastors that keep their messages purely and intentionally biblical. With every sermon on our site, we encourage pastors to affirm The Pledge.’

The Pledge states:

‘I will make the Bible my primary resource in sermon preparation and preaching.
I may use other resources such as commentaries and web sites to enhance, not replace, my personal interaction with Scripture.
As I study I will strive to accurately understand and honestly apply God’s Word, allowing Him to uniquely proclaim His truth in a relevant way through me.’

(http://www.sermoncentral.com/preacherspledge.asp)

In 2008 Poland’s 28 000 Roman Catholic priests were warned about the evils of plagiarism through an official RC Church published book: ‘To Plagiarise or Not to Plagiarise?’ and through State law. Polish priests who plagiarise can now be fined or imprisoned for up to three years! Apparently, so far, no one has been fined or jailed, but the message is clear: Plagiarism is a serious NO! NO! for Polish pastors and priests.

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/26/poland.religion?gusrc=rss&feed= networkfront; http://www.brisbanetimes. com.au/news/world/thou-shalt-not-steal--your-sermon/2008/05/06/1209839604551. html)

(The following articles are insightful and helpful - worth reading:

Tony Rose’ article: Sermon-Copying - When the World has more Integrity than the Church: http://galatiansc4v16.word press.com/2009/02/13/sermon-copying-when-the-world-has-more-integrity-than-the-church/;

Integrity in the Pulpit by Dean M. Christensen - http://www.christian standard.com/articledisplay.asp?id=124;

To Cite or Not to Cite: An On Preaching Column by Scott Hoezee – http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/onPreaching/viewArticle.php?article_id=13;

Brent Kercheville’s brief comment: The Preachers’ Pledge: http://www.christian monthlystandard.com/index.php/the-preachers-pledge/

Dennis Swanson serves as the Seminary Librarian for The (John MacArthur) Master’s Seminary in California - his blog article on plagiarism, Plagiarism and Preaching, is hard-hitting: http://www.narnia3.com/mt/Blog/Archives/000072.html

Of general interest: http://www.library. ualberta.ca/guides/plagiarism/; http://www.rbs2.com/plag.htm; http://scholar. surfwax.com/reference/pgarticles.htm)

(First published in TAKE A CLOSER LOOK, Vol. 30 No. 2; Mar-Apr 2009)