Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Plagiarism in the Pulpit?

The Christian German-language online news portal idea.de has a story about plagiarism in the pulpit. Seems many preachers do a lot of "borrowing" from the Internet. I know my pastor does, I sometimes note down a few good words from his sermon and google where he got this one from.

It seems, though, that there are portals that are expressly made for copying sermons from: Göttinger Predigten, for example. They even now have a weekly Lutheran sermon in English available free of charge.

idea.de goves the theological basis for sermon reuse:
  • Jesus notes in Matthew 10:8: "Freely you have received, freely give." [Note: this is, of course, the basis for the Open Access movement]
  • Irenäus von Lyon (135-202) noted that a preacher is not the owner of his sermon, since God is the Creator.
  • The Heidelberg theologian Rudolf Bohren records in his book on sermons, Predigtlehre: "Since there is no intellectual property in the Church of Jesus Christ, I am free to take from others what I need." He also advises that "an ungifted preacher will work much more and better if he uses a good sermon from someone else than if he fails with a self-written one."
  • The Lutheran pastor for City-Church and Publicity in Esslingen, Peter Schaal-Ahlers deduces from this: Plagiarism from the pulpit contributes to quality assurance within the German Lutheran Church.
I don't think it is a problem to get inspiration from other's sermons, but to copy & preach does seem a bit distasteful. In any case, an interesting defense.


  1. There was an article, back in March, in the Irish Sunday Tribune about the possibility of Catholic priests who download sermons from the internet being prosecuted for plagiarism. The warning comes from a Polish priest, Father Wieslaw Przyczyna, who has co-authored a book called "To Pinch or Not to Pinch". He urges seminaries to give instruction on copyright to student priests.

  2. I have a relative who works for a company here in the U.S. that provides homily-preparation aids for priests. They go through the readings for the week, suggest connections or themes, provide examples from current events or seasonal considerations that might be used to create a homily--providing writing prompts, basically. The fact that they have a substantial subscriber base means there must be a lot of priests out there who feel at sea when it comes time to construct that homily every week.