Friday, November 29, 2013

Plagiarism... yes, it is THAT serious

In the past 6 months I found myself in two incidents where I had to take a stand on the issue of plagiarism. (for the sake of clarity, it was NOT any members of the pastors/elder team that I was a member of)  The offenses were blatant and the offender (reluctantly) admitted to the acts and his intent to plagiarize. I was saddened and disturbed not only by the acts committed but by the lack of weight of concern of those who knew about it.

In my years of secular university and Bible college, the severity of plagiarism was regularly discussed. Plagiarism was grounds for dismissal and could disqualify a person from vocational ministry.

"plagiarism...subverts God's work in and through you... If you use the work of others, you are not a teacher, and you should quit your job and go do anything but speak."
- Mark Driscoll

An act of plagiarism commits at least two sins simultaneously. The first is stealing. Taking another's (intellectual) property without their permission. The second is lying. There is the assumption that the words that a person is speaking are their own unless they say otherwise. When the plagiarist uses someone else's words without informing the listener, They (the offender) are telling them (the listener) that those are original words.

It's possible that the more a person reads and studies, the more they are influenced by what they read. There are occasions when someone truly doesn't know whether the thought they had was actually something they learned in the past (a limitation of their memory) or something completely original.  This situation is usually pretty easy to identify by the context and chronology of events. We can certainly extend grace in these cases. Point out the issue to the person with the intent to help them be more diligent in the future.

Repeated and deliberate plagiarism is an entirely different matter. It is premeditated and is rooted in laziness, self-promotion (pride), or being unqualified... sometimes all three.

"Taking over another sermon and preaching it as if it were yours is always and unequivocally wrong, and if you do it you should resign or be fired immediately."
- D. A. Carson

"re-telling personal experiences as if they were yours when they were not makes the offense all the uglier." - D. A. Carson

Plagiarism has no place among believers and certainly not with those who have been called to teach God's Word. A pastor, elder, or ministry leader who commits adultery is taken out of ministry because of their "moral failure" and yet plagiarism is not seen as a similarly disqualifying moral failure.

God's Word calls Satan the "father of lies" (John 8:44).  The Lord hates a lying tongue and it is an abomination to Him (Proverbs 6:17).  Scripture is clear, whenever someone lies they are engaging in satanic activity. How can someone who regularly engages in satanic activity be a faithful shepherd of a flock?

In these last days, I've seen how easy it is for once-faithful teachers and servants to drift away. None of us are immune. The drift is subtle, almost imperceptible, and it grows over time. We need to stand firm and not budge. When we stand firm we may be accused of being hypersensitive and blowing things out of proportion. But if we don't stand firmly on what God's Word is clear on (like lying being an abomination) then we too run the very real risk of drifting away. I've seen it time, and time, and time yet again.

God is faithful. And those who diligently seek Him and stay close to Him will be guarded against that drift. That is my prayer for all who are called to be His servants.

D. A. Carson quotes taken from "Pulpit Plagiarism: Where do You Draw the Line"
Mark Driscoll quote taken from Chris Rosebrough's Facebook timeline