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‘If You Have Eyes, Plagiarize’: When Borrowing a Sermon Goes Too Far

After RNS reached out to Stewart, nine of his sermons — including the two on Proverbs — were removed from the Twin Oaks website. The titles of two upcoming sermons, which were identical to other Driscoll sermons on the Book of Proverbs, were changed. A number of sermons were also removed from the church’s YouTube channel.

Andy Traub, a former Franklin Christian member, said that Stewart’s departure left church members confused and hurt. People benefited spiritually from the sermons, no matter what the source.

Traub was particularly troubled by his former pastor’s use of personal stories in plagiarized sermons, telling the stories of other pastors as if they were his own. Church members were left wondering who Stewart really is. “Every story he told was somebody else’s story,” said Traub. “The hard part is that nobody knows Zach Stewart. When somebody lies all the time, what do you do?”

Preaching other people’s sermons can be done in an ethical way, said Gary Stratton, dean of the school of arts and sciences at Johnson University, a Christian school with campuses in Tennessee and Florida. And it can be effective.

He pointed to the case of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, whose heart was “strangely warmed” after hearing someone read from Martin Luther’s preface to the New Testament Book of Romans. Stratton said that Wesley went on to supply new Methodist preachers with a set of sermons to preach before writing their own.

Pastors often cite other preachers or books they’ve read during sermons, and no one bats an eye. “That’s what is so mind-boggling for me,” Stratton said.

Reese, who left Franklin Christian a few months after the plagiarism debacle, said she and some friends have kept an eye on Stewart since she left. She recently told her story on the Untangled Faith podcast with her friend, author and former Franklin Christian Church member Amy Fritz.

Reese said that the truth of the Bible can still come through, even with a pastor who plagiarized. But that does not make it right.

“God also will not be mocked,” she said. “And that’s what he’s doing.”

This article originally appeared here.