Of the readers who responded to an unscientific survey on my column's blog, 61 percent believed that it was OK for ministers to use previously written sermons downloaded from online sources only if they acknowledge to their flocks that the sermons are partially or entirely someone else's work. Only 23 percent believed that it is OK to deliver the sermons as their own, assuming that the original writers have given permission for their work to be used in this way, while 15 percent said that it is never OK to deliver someone else's sermon as your own, with or without credit.
Kristie Rutzel, director of marketing for sermonsearch.com, one of the sites that provides sermons, writes that the goal of her company is to "provide inspiration" for pastors, not to rip anyone off. Most of my respondents agreed with her perspective.
"Congregations do not expect original thought as much as truth - the same truth that was taught 50, 100, 1,000 years ago," writes William Jacobson of Cypress, Calif. "So why shouldn't the pastor `stand on the shoulders of giants' in constructing his sermons?"
"It is definitely OK to surf for inspiration," Sean Chang writes, "and I believe that God can speak to us through many channels, including the materials provided online."
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Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, 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.
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