Sermon Plagiarism

It has been several months since I have had to preach a weekly sermon, but I write a short mediation on Scripture each week. Each week I spend time reading and meditating on a Scripture passage from the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday. I consult commentaries and other sources for inspiration, and I draw from my own experience. As a preacher and teacher, I believe that each time we put pen to paper to climb in a pulpit, the message must have relevance to the reader or hearer’s daily life.

A new controversy has emerged in the preaching world, plagiarism, and it has given me pause for thought. I have never preached another’s sermon and passed it off as my own, but I have quoted from commentaries and other sources and have not been diligent in citing those sources. In my not citing these sources, it might appear that these words are my own when they are not.

Recently, the Rev. Ed Litton, the newly elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention, has become embroiled in a controversy that has been dubbed “Sermongate.” Some allege Rev. Litton’s sermons are not entirely his own and that he has “borrowed” whole passages from others. Several Youtube videos have appeared comparing Rev. Litton’s sermons with others. His congregation, Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, has removed several sermon videos with the notice that the sermons were removed because some had been “going through sermons in an attempt to discredit and malign our pastor.”

There does seem to be a political motivation afoot to discredit Rev. Litton, as outlined in this article in the New York Times. The more conservative arm of the SBC is not happy that Rev. Litton was elected as President and, it appears, will stop at nothing to discredit him and try and force him to resign. Be that as it may, it still opens the discussion on what is and is not appropriate in sermons.

In the New York Times article I linked to above; several preachers are quoted as saying pulpit plagiarism is “despicable” and “unthinkable,” and one Florida pastor who is also a critic of Rev. Litton is quoted as saying, “This is an issue of morality, and it’s an issue of Christian virtue.” So, I must ask, would any of their sermons stand up to the scrutiny that the sermons of Rev. Litton have?

One thing is clear; I will certainly be a lot more careful when I write, deliver, and then post sermons.

Ruth Graham, “‘Sermongate’ Prompts a Quandary: Should Pastors Borrow Words From One Another?” The New York Times. Accessed July 9, 2021

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