Thursday, August 24, 2006

Rippin' Off The Pastor?

Sermon on the Mount *all rights reserved

Yeah, two posts on religion back to back. Drown me before I get too deep....

Took part in this fascinating thread over at Out of Ur about pastors “plagiarizing” each other’s sermons.

The big beef was pastors using other pastors’ material without attribution.

Most of the Christian leaders who responded sounded like American trade reps in China demanding the protection of “intellectual property rights.” Nobody likes to feel like your creative stuff is getting ripped off, least of all in a highly individualistic place like the US, so I’ve got some sympathy for the patent pending sermons crowd. And actively pretending your sermon is entirely your creative work when it isn't is obviously weak and cheesy.

But is a strong concern for plagiarism really appropriate among pastors? Should folks be making such a fuss about it in the Christian community?

I mean, let’s face it, from one point of view the Bible is the ultimate open source document and the Christian community the supreme wiki-gathering. The whole thing is kind of one long sermon and story that countless people in countless places have contributed to. Even teasing out who is responsible for what in a flow like that seems hard to do.

Both are the products of a communal tradition where contributing selflessly—and even anonymously if Jesus’ teachings are going to be taken seriously—to the good of the whole is one of the greatest values.

No doubt strict attribution is important in a Ph.D. thesis or a news story, but not sure it makes much sense in The Old Time Wiki-Religion :^)

8 Comments:

Blogger Scott said...

I had never thought of the Bible as an "open source document" before, but I think you are absolutely right on. Especially with all of the academic debate about "Q" and the source documents for the Gospels, it seems that the early church - and not just 1st century early - understood the sacred text as an open source document, even if that language is a 21st century one.

1:33 PM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

Thanks for the link. I found myself grimacing when I read "50 top influential Churchs." That just dosnt seem important and it seems misplaced somehow. Sounds like the stock market. Here I was hoping yuppies grew up lol

7:15 PM  
Anonymous Jon said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

It's Christianity Today stuff, 3. I grimace all the time reading mainstream evangelical stuff. It's personally painful and funny at the same time.

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Tyler Watson said...

If sermons are to be God's message to a specific people in a specific time, then it does seem to me that using other peoples' material without some translation or attribution is dishonest or lazy to the people one serves as a preacher. It's accepted that preachers will all use the Bible as their source, but even then, many preachers actually cite the text when they quote it; why not do the same for other materials?

Also, if sermons emerge out of one's cultural norms, then I would also argue that it is best to give some citation of others' work in the sermon. In the US and most of the West, if someone makes a claim without attribution, it is assumed that she or he created that claim. Even if that is not what the preacher intends to communicate, it will be naturally assumed by their listeners.

I'm not saying we always have to reinvent the wheel or give overly detailed and distracting footnotes in sermons. Sometimes other people simply have said things far better than we ever could -- I'm just saying that we should give others credit for their work. In a more theological sense, I also appreciate including the works of others in sermons because then it seems like something more in line with the whole Church and not merely the product of one person's imagination.

I don't remember who said it -- I've heard it was Martin Luther King, Jr., though I have my doubts -- but someone once said something to the effect that no sermon is truly original and if one hears a truly original sermon, it is likely heresy. (Ironic that I don't know the source of that quotation.)

8:03 AM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Really good points Tyler. Can't simply ignore your cultural context as a preacher. Seems like you've gotta find a balance. Part of what worried me about the Out of Ur discussion was the unspoken but potentially signficant undertone of concern for lost income on teaching and preaching materials. Particularly in the mega-church milieu you've got a fairly healthy industry in 'hot' teaching and preaching material and 'powerful and relevant' writing. Some of these jokers make so much off these types of things they forgo their church salaries altogether. Given how little Christian workers normally make I don't begrudge 'em the bucks, but I worry about the effect of all that on the way leaders think about their material.

11:28 AM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

If preachers feel the need for credit then they should find another career. Its not about THEM.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous bookworm brown said...

Just yesterday I was pondering the leap required when I move from

a) I thought of it

to

b) I own it

to

c) you owe me $ for using it

5:34 PM  

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