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Ministers Charged with Sermon Plagiarism

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Reports about ministerial plagiarism are making headlines in the wake of plagiarism charges against high-profile historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose.

The New York Times reported this week that Edward Mullins, reactor of Christ Church Cranbrook, in Bloodfield, Mich., has been suspended for 90 days for allegedly plagiarizing sermons and articles in the church’s newsletter.

Church staff members and parishioners made a number of accusations against Mullins in a letter which was also received by the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan.

The letter charged in part that “the plagiarism of his spiritual messages causes us seriously to doubt his fitness for the ordained ministry,” the Times reported.

The Detroit Free Press, which first reported the suspension, said the diocese’s action “thrust the church into a national debate over the ethical boundaries of sermon-borrowing.”

In a letter to Mullins, Bishop Wendell Gibbs said that plagiarism “could constitute violations of your ordination vows and conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy,” according to the Free Press.

The Episcopal Diocese of Michigan is investigating the charges.

The rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in Clawson, Mich., defended his colleague at the affluent Christ Church, saying, “If plagiarism of the sort that Ed Mullins is accused of is punishable, there would be no one preaching on Sunday,” according to the Times.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported late last year that the pastor of 1,800-member Central Presbyterian Church had resigned after he admitted to sermon plagiarism. He confessed to using the sermons of Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

Enoch Oglesby, a professor at Eden Theological Seminary, told the Post-Dispatch that he makes a distinction between repeating a good story in a sermon and verbatim preaching of a sermon that belongs to another person.

“In the age of the Internet, cribbing sermons is easier than ever. But so is getting caught,” the Post-Dispatch said.