From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to prepare for the ministry. Both my speech teacher, Gary Mayberry, and homiletics teacher, Levi Corey, expressed the importance of giving credit to whom credit is due. If a preacher uses the words of someone else, he should always give proper attribution to the person being quoted. When giving a non-personal illustration or a quote from a book or sermon, preachers should always tell hearers (or readers) who said the quote. Not doing so was theft.
My partner, six months pregnant, and I left Midwestern in February 1979 and moved to Bryan, Ohio. Several weeks later, Jay Stuckey, the pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church in nearby Montpelier, asked me to become his assistant, primarily working with the church’s bus ministry and overseeing its visitation programs. The position was a full-time job that paid the astounding salary of zero dollars and zero cents. I didn’t mind. I was thrilled to have my first position as a pastor, even if it paid zilch. I was working for ARO, a large local union manufacturing concern that made industrial air tools, so we had more than enough money to live. All I cared about was serving Jesus.
Several months into my tenure at Montpelier Baptist, one of the church’s deacons came to me and leveled a plagiarism accusation against Pastor Stuckey. Bob, the deacon, accused Jay of lifting illustrations from the printed sermons in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) weekly newspaper, the Sword of the Lord. I already knew Jay was doing this, but said nothing, deciding it wasn’t my place to get involved in this controversy. Bob later confronted Jay, which led to a big controversy. Bob and his wife — both devoted followers of Jesus — left the church, and Jay stopped stealing content from the Sword of the Lord. I resigned from the church a few months later.
Several years later, 2005 found Polly and me living once again in Bryan, Ohio. I had pastored my last church in 2003, a Southern Baptist congregation in Clare, Michigan. In April, 2005, while still living in Newark, Ohio, I candidated at two Southern Baptist churches in West Virginia. Both churches wanted to call me as their pastor, but it was evident to both Polly and me that our hearts were no longer in the work; that we were no longer willing to make the personal and financial sacrifices necessary to continue in the ministry. We moved back to Bryan so Polly could return to her job at Sauder Woodworking in Archbold — a job she holds to this day.
Our focus turned to finding a church to attend; one we could support with our time, talent, and money. One such church was a new Evangelical church plant that was meeting at the local elementary school. We attended this church for about a month. Several weeks in, I told Polly after a Sunday service that there was something off about the pastor’s sermons. Sure enough, he was ripping off, without attribution, Rick Warren’s sermons, word for word.
I have heard a lot of sermons over the years. Some preachers always gave proper attribution when quoting others or alluding to their work. Sadly, other preachers routinely stole the work of others, passing off the stories, illustrations, and anecdotes of others as their own. Others would quote sermons or books without giving attribution, leading unknowing hearers to think that the words were their own.
Let me be clear, if you quote the work of others, you should always, without exception, give proper attribution. To do otherwise is immoral and unethical, and can be illegal. I have been quoted countless times in books, TV news stories, podcasts, newspaper articles, blog posts, sermons, and other media. With rare exceptions, my words were properly attributed by name and, if warranted, by an HTML link back to this site or the relevant material they were quoting. Occasionally, an Evangelical writer will refuse to link to this site out of fear that the Satanic atheist Bruce Gerencser will lead people astray. They mention me by name but don’t provide a link so people can verify the context of the quote.
As a writer, when I quote someone, I mention them by name and provide a link to their quote and website. As far as I know, I have never used the material of others without giving them proper attribution. The moral and ethical rules taught to me as a young college student guide me to this day.
Every Evangelical preacher KNOWS it is moral and ethical to give attribution when quoting the work of others. They know that using the work of others without attribution is theft. One preacher, Dr. David Tee, whose real name is Derrick Thomas Thiessen, thinks he has no obligation to give proper attribution when he uses my writing on his site: TheologyArcheology: A Site for the Glory of God. Over the past three years, Thiessen has used my work countless times, rarely with attribution. He thinks he has a God-given right to steal my work because he uses it to teach others (who those “others” are is unknown). Sometimes, Thiessen will say that a particular quote is from “BG” or BG’s website,” but never links to this site or mentions me by my proper name. I have repeatedly called him out on his unethical behavior, but Thiessen continues to steal my work (and that of Ben Berwick who writes at Meerkat Musings).
Berwick, who is a friend of mine from over the pond, recently addressed giving attribution when using the work of others. In a post titled Etiquette and Professionalism, Ben wrote (see how easy it was to give proper attribution?):
In short, I was (and still am) prepared to be held accountable for what I have to say. I am aware that others can read my blog, and share their thoughts. I cannot prevent people from copying and pasting my words. I am ‘out there’, so to speak, and I am fine with that. What I am not fine with is when people use my words out of context, do not provide credit, and fail to even provide a link to where they got my writing from. I have been guilty of these failures myself, and I now go out of my way to at the very least link to the page or post I’m quoting. That way, people can see for themselves that I am being transparent, and they can judge my arguments with complete context. I believe this is fair for any and all parties in any given discussion or dispute.
People who don’t offer up credit, who refuse to be transparent, and who fail to offer context, aren’t being particularly honest or noble. They aren’t being especially professional. It’s almost as though they are afraid. It’s even worse if they claim to be a professional. It’s one thing to use someone else’s writing for personal purposes as part of a personal disagreement; it is an entirely different matter to claim everything is being quoted as example material, whilst refusing to be truly open about where said material comes from. One could even suggest that fear is a motivator here. There is a fear of being shown to be wrong, or as being deliberately misleading, hence why some people won’t link directly to my site, to give me proper credit for my works.
Thus, I cannot take seriously the claims that my writing is used as reference material or examples, when the parties using my writing are afraid to give proper attribution to me. They are unwilling to even use my name, much less provide their audience with context. This is cowardly behaviour. What’s even more cowardly is the way they cry foul when I correct the record by responding. They are aggrieved by how I do not meekly suffer their dishonesty. They resent how I can back up what I have to say. They rage at how I contradict their deceitful narrative, and they lack the courage and conviction to confront me directly.
It seems these parties cannot comprehend that if you talk about me or my views, or use my material to make their points, I have the right to respond. This clearly upsets them, but it is a fact. If they have the right to use my writing, I have the right to respond. If they do not like this, they are free to stop referencing me, but I will not stop blogging, merely because it offends their delicate sensibilities. They will not silence me, however much they might mislead their audience via taking my words out of context, and by failing to give proper attribution.
I have offered to discuss this matter privately, only to be rebuked. I repeatedly this offer via a third-party site, and was rebuked again. I would urge the author of Theology Archaeology (one David Thiessen) to consider how this makes him look. He may skirt around giving me the proper attribution that he should grant, but I am not afraid to name him. His name is tied to his own site and his own words, via my responses, all of which are archived by Google for eternity. It will be painfully clear to anyone and everyone with even the slightest interest in all this as to who is refusing to be honourable, and who is being open and transparent. I urge him to consider discussing this entire matter like adults. I urge him to be professional.
Thiessen responded (all spelling, grammar, and punctuation in the original):
The first example in that quote is that as long as we do not take credit for his words, we are not plagiarizing. Since we mention our source, he has no argument. he just likes to whine and cause trouble.
The second example is that we mention, not demanding that you credit our website if you use our information. We do not dictate to anyone how that credit is to be given. We have never gone after anyone or complained about how they have referenced us.
We do not care as long as someone does not take credit for our words. However, assumptions leaps to conclusions, and distortions without verifying is the Modus Operandi of MM. he continues to assume something not in evidence and then falsely accuses of of actions we did not do.
He is building a mountain out of a mole hill. If he does not like how we give him credit that is his problem. We have linked enough to his website for our readers to know who were are talking about or quoting. Targeting is a strong word as we do not target people but use examples from their words to make points, a fact that continually is ignored.
We are not afraid of his website or our sources, another false accusation. But he is good at making them We have our reasons for why we have adjusted our crediting sources but he won’t accept them and continue to lie about our reasons.
We are not being dishonest so how can he say we are not upholding the principles we claim to uphold? We have not changed his words or said that they are ours so he really has no argument. As we have said, he is the only one to whine and complain about our use of other people’s content.
We have not sniped from the shadows but since he does not accept our reason for quoting his website we won’t repeat it here. The Bible says he who speaks of his own testimony that testimony is not true.
We highly doubt that he is transparent. He is just another unbeliever doing what unbelievers do best. If he were honest, he would state that we do not address all of his content, just the posts that we feel are important enough to mention.
He cannot seem to tell the truth. But then unbelievers do not obey the objective standards for morality, etc., and use their own standards even though they are not better than anyone else’s.
Thiessen thinks the rules don’t apply to him; that he plays by his own rules, and if MM (Ben Berwick) and BG (Bruce Gerencser) don’t like it, tough shit. I have no doubt that Thiessen thinks his peculiar version of the Evangelical God approves of his behavior. He probably even prayed on the matter There’s not much that Ben or I can do about Thiessen’s actions other than to object and ask him to behave in a manner consistent with proper etiquette and his Christian faith. Alas, such pleas have fallen on deaf ears. If I thought filing terms of service (TOS) complaints with WordPress and his ISP would do any good, I would certainly do it, but I suspect doing so is a waste of time.
The Associated Press defines proper attribution this way:
Anything in the AP news report that could reasonably be disputed should be attributed. We should give the full name of a source and as much information as needed to identify the source and explain why the person is credible. Where appropriate, include a source’s age; title; name of company, organization, or government department; and hometown. If we quote someone from a written document – a report, email, or news release — we should say so. Information taken from the internet must be vetted according to our standards of accuracy and attributed to the original source. File, library, or archive photos, audio, or videos must be identified as such. For lengthy stories, attribution can be contained in an extended editor’s note detailing interviews, research, and methodology.
According to the Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning:
Although you should use sources creatively and flexibly to help you generate ideas and sharpen your argument, there are some hard-and-fast rules about the way sources should be acknowledged in your project. Click on the links for more explanation of the various rules.
ALWAYS CITE, in the following cases:
When you quote two or more words verbatim, or even one word if it is used in a way that is unique to the source.
Most writers realize that they must acknowledge a source when quoting a memorable phrase or sentence. They’d be sure to credit Mark Twain when quoting: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” And you probably also understand that you do not need to cite words that are very common to your topic. When writing about Hamlet, you do not need to put the words “Hamlet” or “Shakespeare” in quotation marks, or cite a source for them, even though you may have read sources that use these words. But when a single word or two are used in a distinctive way, so that the author is creating a new concept or applying it to a new topic, you must give acknowledge the source. When John Baker redefines the significance of the mirror test by saying that chimpanzees’ awareness of their reflection is not full consciousness, but a limited “kinesthetic self-concept,” it’s clear that those two words, as specialized terms of art, should appear in quotation marks in your paper. Even though neither “kinesthetic” nor “self-concept” is unusual on its own, as a phrase they belong to the author. But even a single, non-specialist term—such as “consilience”—may become tied to an author (in this case, E.O. Wilson) through an influential publication, in which case you should put the single word in quotation marks, at least in your first mention of it in your text.
Maybe Thiessen is ignorant of these things. If he is, let this post educate him about giving proper attribution. If he continues to refuse to give attribution, he should not bristle when called a thief.
For further information, please read Linkedin’s article, How to Give Proper Attribution When Writing Web Content.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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