The amazing Sarah Pulliam Bailey was tasked with writing the article I referenced in the previous post about Lifechurch.tv pastor Craig Groeschel's plagiarism, as well as that of UFC Pastor Marc Driscoll. First, my quibble with her vocabulary: Murphy, who emailed me after the previous post, did not "suggest" that Groeschel had plagiarized. He gave incontrovertible evidence that Groeschel had plagiarized. In fact, it's pointless to use the word suggested, as the evidence given by Murphy makes this such an obvious case that Groeschel would fail a college comp class and be referred to the VP of Academic Affairs for such an egregious example of plagiarism. Turns out, Lifechurch.tv has less thoroughgoing ethics than the average community college. Good to know the state of the kingdom, eh? Quibble number two, which authors are never responsible for: the title. The internet is not responsible for an increase in plagiarism; pastors are responsible for plagiarizing. That the internet makes it easier, if less easy to get away with, is an easily observable fact, but the fault lies not with technology, which is always morally neutral, but with the men and women who plagiarize because they are lazy or dishonest.
The reasons offered for the plagiarizing are so bad it's hard to take them seriously. That professors and theologians and pastors don't know the difference between public domain material like Dr. King's I Have a Dream speech and published material not in the public domain is astonishing. That the Church doesn't insist on a higher standard of ethical behavior is equally astonishing. That Groeschel won't simply admit he plagiarized ought to disqualify him from the pulpit, but that's not the way celebrity Christianity works. What matters is not the Sermon on the Mount; rather, it's how an individual congregant feels about his pastor. The irony of a religion based on ethical monotheism ignoring ethics will be lost on the average congregant, as evangelicalism long ago transitioned to some form of moralistic, therapeutic deism (that's Christian Smith, by the way--see how easy attribution is to pull off), but it's not lost on outsiders who judge the faith and the faith's practitioners by what they actually do, not believe.
Duke has always been one of my favorite theological centers, but if Richard Lischer is representative of the sort of thinking going on there now, they should either shut down or fire someone who rattles off this sort of nonsense: “It’s the nature of preaching. It’s like singing a song. You don’t just sing it once to never sing it again,” Lischer said. “It’s not so much cheating as it’s demonstrating a continuity with people who came before.”
Professor Lischer should teach Comp I or II. I'd love to see his face when a student says, "I didn't plagiarize The Economist. I was singing a song. You know, demonstrating continuity with those who came before." The Church, which pretends to be a moral beacon in this world, might want to actually try being a moral beacon on issues like plagiarism, intellectual property, and honesty. Jesus died so lazy pastors could use crib notes. That's a fitting epitaph for modern evangelicalism, I suppose.