Plagiarizing priests push out parishioners

Priests who have been plagiarizing sermons from the internet have caused 17 families to leave St. John’s Anglican Cathedral in Hong Kong according to The South China Morning Post:

St John’s Cathedral appears to be fighting a losing battle against plagiarising priests – a practise that has already led 17 families of believers to leave the Anglican church.


A former parishioner at the Emmanuel Church in Pok Fu Lam, a St John’s affiliate, said four priests were guilty of using sermons from the internet and preaching them as if they were their own.

He said they had been doing so for 18 months.

The Very Reverend Matthias Der, the new dean of the cathedral, confirmed that some priests had persisted with their plagiarism despite his warnings against the practice at his first meeting with them in September.

Do you use ideas from sermons on the internet? Do you attribute or not?

Category : The Lead

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10 Comments
  1. C. Wingate

    Perhaps it is just me, but I feel I am in need of a good sermon more than I am in need of an original sermon.

  2. Matthew Buterbaugh+

    I tend to read and listen to a lot of things in preparation for a sermon. Some of these things are other sermons, some are commentaries, stories, Wikipedia articles, etc. Sometimes, I can’t even remember where I read something that ends up in a sermon.

    I guess I have to lean on the side of saying that this is a spiritual exercise and not an academic paper. It’s good to give credit where credit is due, but the purpose is to help feed people spiritually. If we really want to attribute things correctly, we should just say it all comes from God, and call it a day.

  3. Matthew Buterbaugh+

    P.S: If you happen upon something I’ve said that you like, please feel free to use it, without attributing it to me. I don’t need a pat on the head for originality, either.

  4. John B. Chilton

    Let’s be clear about what the accusation is. From the article: “A former parishioner at the Emmanuel Church in Pok Fu Lam, a St John’s affiliate, said four priests were guilty of using sermons from the internet and preaching them as if they were their own.”

    So what it sounds like is they are finding a sermon that fits and reading it. It’s not as if they are reading from several sources or incorporating their own ideas to construct a sermon.

    Yes, sermons are not like academic papers. But simply reading a sermon as if it was your own ain’t right.

    The same could be said of a college lecture. No one expects you to footnote your sources. Instead it’s expected that you have embodied your sources. But simply reading someone’s lecture isn’t allowed — as if you’d even want to read your lecture or anyone else’s.

    We might ask why the priests are doing this. Are they lazy and/or crooked? Has been part of the culture of that church? Are they overworked and resorting to cutting corners out of necessity?

  5. Rod Gillis

    If you use ideas developed by others, benefit from the research of others, research for which they are entitled to remuneration, then credit is required. It’s not that difficult. In oral delivery it’s simply a matter of saying something like “This past week I read biblical scholar Raymond Brown and his makes this helpful observation …’ If you make a manuscript of your sermon available, in hard copy or on-line, then footnote the sources you have used. Plagiarism is an ethical issue. Preachers ought to be found ethical.

    Using scholarly material or material from any copyrighted source for sermons is no different than the use of music under license in worship.

    As an aside, how could a sermon really be a sermon if its courtesy of the rip and read syndrome? Where is the personal witness to the good news in that?

    Preaching/homiletics is a central responsibility of ordained life, even one does it badly, do it honestly.

  6. Sara Copeland

    Some priests give better sermons than others, and as a parishioner, I’m okay with that. I don’t expect every sermon to be the best I’ve ever heard, although I certainly hope for a wonderful sermon every Sunday. However, if I discovered that a priest was offering up plagiarized sermons, that would seriously damage his/her credibility. I would wonder what other aspects of the job weren’t being fully administered. Whatever happened to thou shalt not steal?

    Sara Copeland

  7. Gregory Orloff

    Something doesn’t add up here. I find it hard to believe 17 *families* (not *individuals*) left their church over “plagiarized sermons” alone. There must be more to the story behind their departure.

    I’ve never asked the presbyters at the Episcopal church I attend if the sermons they preach are their own original material. And they’ve never begun or ended one with a claim that it was original. It never crossed my mind to ask or suspect otherwise. I guess I’m too busy concentrating on the content and getting something out of what they have to say. (And I must say, the church I attend has excellent preachers.)

    Good heavens, according to Article 35 of the Articles of Religion in the Book of Common Prayer, the Church at one time had books of prescribed homilies to be read by the clergy to their congregations!

  8. Rod Gillis

    Re, Gregory Orloff,,Gregory agreed the homilies were official texts, public documents really, mandated to be read in churches by lawful authority. There was a practice in days of yore that licensed lay readers would “read ” sermons that had been written by someone deemed competent. Again, without the pretext of the sermon’s being one’s own.

    But, allowing hearers to conclude wrongly that the material is one’s own, or passing off someone else’s work,in whole or in part, especially though not limited to copyrighted material, is a different issue.

    I’d encourage parishioners to take time to ask their preachers questions at coffee hour about the morning’s sermon, the texts of the day etc. Makes for interesting conversation.

  9. Gary Paul Gilbert

    I remember when I taught writing at NYU that some students plagiarized because they did not know how to do otherwise. In some cultures to offer one’s own opinion would be considered very rude, whereas copying what an authority says is considered ethical. It took me a while in counseling students to find ways to get them to express their own opinions. Narratives of research are one approach. Instead of offering conclusions the student has to tell how they went about their research and which authorities they found more persuasive and why.

    When I was in grade school in Maine, I remember doing assignments where we simply copied stuff out of the World Book Encyclopedia. The teachers encouraged copying.

    Real education happens when students are asked to consider what experts say but also offer their own take–respectfully.

    the real problem with plagiarism, as one professor told me, is that one has to be a great writer to pull it off. Usually, the copied passages are brilliant while the student’s own writing looks even worse next to the copy.

    I don’t know how any of this relates to the priests in question. But my guess is that poor writing skills would play a part because I don’t see how anyone would find it fun simply to read what someone else has written.

    Another question would be how most social interaction is clichéd. If a sermon can be copied off the internet and read convicingly to the congregation, then I wonder about the quality of the communication in the congregation. The more the writer/preacher knows the audience, the more likely the content of the sermon will be very much adapted to that specific context, rendering any readymade text inappropriate. Granted most communication does not achieve this effect.

    Gary Paul Gilbert

  10. Padre Michael

    Not everyone is a great or even competent preacher. I know some ordained folks who only preach on occasion, and they will offer someone else’s sermon with full attribution.

    A sermon is the Word of God filtered through the life, the experience and the wisdom of the preacher. My parishioners expect me to spend a part of my week meditating on the Gospel and preparing a message to be heard in the context of our community. If that’s not what I’m doing, I’d darned well better let them know.

    Michael Rich

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