Sunday, August 16, 2009

SOUND OFF: SURFING FOR SERMONS

Jeff Strickler, a religion reporter for The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, recently wrote about a number of online Web sites that provide ministers of various denominations with either outlines or fully written sermons to be delivered as their own. These online offerings are a new twist on the older tradition of printed books of sermons to which ministers can refer for inspiration.

Assuming that the writers of the sermons on these Web sites have given their permission for their work to be used in this way, is it OK for ministers to take advantage of these databases? Does it make a difference whether or not they acknowledge that the sermon is partially or entirely someone else's work?

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Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2009 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

5 comments:

Bill Jacobson said...

Jeffrey,

Considering that the works that the sermons are based upon are 2000 years old, there is little original thought or interpretation that could be spun by the pastor that has not already been done hundreds of times over. Congregations do not expect original thought as much as truth - the same truth that was taught fifty, a hundred, a thousand years ago, so why shouldn't the pastor "stand on the shoulders of giants" in constructing his sermons. If a pastor agrees with the theology and message of a prewritten sermon then he should not be limited by the overly rigid strictures of academia, such as plagerism. Give credit where due but tend more carefully to the message than the means.

William Jacobson
Cypress, CA

Anonymous said...

If credit is given (plagerism is still against the law-isn't it?) and it is not verbatim, feel free to share what others have said before you but tailor to your congregation. Teachers celebrate the use of materials made by others and so do doctors and lawyers. Does that free up the pastor to make more calls to the poor, elderly, sick, and traumatized? I know what I would vote.

Bill Jacobson said...

Plagerism is definitely NOT against the law and never has been... it is an ethical and academic faux pas but not a legal one, unless it crosses over into the realm of copyright infringement.

I agree with tailoring the message to his congregation though.

William Jacobson
Cypress, CA

Sean Chang said...

I believe it is not so much the act itself, but rather the intention that makes the difference.

It is definitely ok to surf for inspiration, and I believe God can speak to us through many channels, including the materials provided online.

What is more important is that the final product come from a personal revelation and not just an outright regurgitation of what can be found online.

At the end of the day, if the act of researching is done in diligence and not out of laziness (simply copying other people's materials), it is actually a good thing.

And what makes a good sermon in the end is not how 'original' or 'creative' it is, but rather how much it helps and blesses the listeners, and whether it brings them closer to God.

Sean Chang said...

I believe it is not so much the act itself, but rather the intention that makes the difference.

It is definitely ok to surf for inspiration, and I believe God can speak to us through many channels, including the materials provided online.

What is more important is that the final product come from a personal revelation and not just an outright regurgitation of what can be found online.

At the end of the day, if the act of researching is done in diligence and not out of laziness (simply copying other people's materials), it is actually a good thing.

And what makes a good sermon in the end is not how 'original' or 'creative' it is, but rather how much it helps and blesses the listeners, and whether it brings them closer to God.

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