Opinion | When a Preacher Doesn’t Credit His Sources

To the Editor:

Re “Pastor’s Borrowed Words Expose Shortcut in the Preaching Life” (front page, July 7):

I have been a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for 12 years.

As associate pastor of a congregation in North Carolina, I write and deliver sermons a couple of times a month. I’d like to think that I’m a pretty decent preacher, but who knows? In any case, the congregation I serve hasn’t got rid of me yet.

While in theory I do the same work as J.D. Greear and his successor as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Ed Litton, who is at the center of the controversy, I have to confess that the ethos and culture of the preaching profession described in their Christian megachurch world is utterly foreign to anything I’ve experienced.

Ghostwriting? Research consultants? “Eight-man” preaching teams? Forty-five-minute sermons? (Not to mention the indefensible refusal of the Southern Baptist Convention and denominations of similar ideology to permit women to preach.)

Sounds as if the problem may not be plagiarism so much as the turning of Christian worship and preaching into a cult of (male) personality.

Dwight Christenbury
Black Mountain, N.C.

To the Editor:

I am a rabbi and a preacher. One of the cardinal rules we learned in seminary is the rabbinical principle of “b’shem amro” (“in the name of the one who said it”). From the earliest rabbinical period, it was essential to quote one’s source. Not to do so was a grave sin, as theft of intellectual property is considered equal to the theft of physical property.

It is an honor to share the learning and wisdom of a colleague, a teacher or a noted source. To do anything less dishonors the original source and the preacher.

I always look to the wisdom of others as I prepare a sermon, but my community deserves to know where that wisdom came from.

Gary M. Bretton-Granatoor
Brooklyn
The writer serves as rabbi at Congregation Shirat HaYam of Nantucket.

To the Editor:

You write about plagiarism in the pulpit. When serving a church whose congregation included theological scholars, I wrestled with whether, or how, to identify the sources of my references without punctuating my sermons with verbal footnotes.

Seeking the counsel of one of the scholars, I was told, “Most people don’t mind learning that their pastor has read a book!”

Dale K. Edmondson
Oakland, Calif.
The writer is a retired Baptist minister.

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