Rethinking Plagiarism

Last week, in the wake of General Conference, there was a mini-scandal: it appears that in Elder Bednar’s talk “Put on Thy Strength, O Zion,” he borrowed his interpretation of a parable from a 2016 article, sometimes even using that author’s precise words. He didn’t flag his intellectual debt in the oral version of his talk, though, and the original published version also failed to use quotation marks or footnotes for many of the ideas.

Now, I realize I’m idiosyncratic, but the first person who comes to mind when I hear about a plagiarism scandal is my friend and colleague Brian Frye, Dogecoin Professor of Law & Grifting Spears-Gilbert Professor of Law at the University of Kentucky Rosenberg College of Law.

Professor Frye is the preeminent plagiarism apologist in the legal academy. And his apologia pro plagiarism forces us to confront the question, why is plagiarism wrong? While the answer seems self-evident, he makes it clear that the question of the wrong of plagiarism is a lot murkier and harder to pin down.

Brian argues that, in academia at least, the norm of attribution is purely compensatory: we produce knowledge and share that knowledge broadly, without explicit compensation for our production. Except that we are compensated:

Of course, academics aren’t really altruists. We just expect compensation in a non-monetary form. We demand attribution, the coin of the scholarly realm. We fill our purse with citations, and dole them out liberally, in the hope they are fruitful and multiply, and return tenfold. Every cite is sacred, every cite is great, and if a cite is wasted, we get quite irate. We encourage copying, so long as we get credit, but if someone copies without giving credit, we consider that person a thief. Or rather, we call that person a “plagiarist,” a “kidnapper” of ideas.

Note that here I didn’t plagiarize Brian; I attributed his words to him. And he’s not against attribution (though he doesn’t demand it). Rather, he believes that attribution should be in the service of helping readers, not paying rents to landlords. After all, plagiarism doesn’t violate the law. There’s no criminal or civil cause of action. Rather, it allows academics (and presumably others) to claim property rights in ideas that we can’t claim legal property rights in.

In fact, there are areas in which we explicitly want plagiarism. The legal profession is a big one. In transactional law, when we form a new entity or draft a new partnership agreement or write a new disclosure document, we generally don’t start from scratch. Rather, we look on the network and try to find a similar document someone at the firm has used before. We take that document and make necessary changes (small and large) to fit the current transaction. And that’s what clients want! It would be insanely expensive to produce a new partnership agreement from scratch every time they wanted to form a new partnership. It would risk introducing mistakes into the document. It would be inefficient.

Do attorneys make attribution in those documents to the attorneys who came before? No. Why would they?

Norms against plagiarism, then, are situation-dependent. And it’s worth noting that, Brian’s scholarly pursuits notwithstanding, legal academia is citation-heavy. Law review articles have footnotes, if not for literally every sentence, for nearly every sentence. Other academic disciplines act similarly, albeit (in most disciplines I’ve read) with significantly fewer footnotes than I use.

But have you read a work of popular history lately? Most don’t have footnotes or endnotes; some include sources for each chapter at the end of the book. Poetry? No citations (except in critical editions written after the poet is important enough to become part of The Canon).

Jazz? None. (Seriously. One of the fun things about solos in jazz is that the soloist will often quote other melodies and songs in the course of their improvised solo. But it’s on the audience to catch the quotation and understand where it comes from.)

Now, I’m not making any judgment about whether Elder Bednar’s talk should have been better-footnoted. Honestly, I’m not sufficiently familiar with the published sermon genre to have a strong opinion. The fact that LDS General Conference talks tend to include footnotes suggests a norm toward citation, at least in the context, but even if there is such a norm, what’s the norm in service of?

If I go with Brian’s analysis—and I think he’s relatively convincing—then we want to encourage citations where those citations will help the reader’s understanding/further research/etc. But we should probably be indifferent where it’s merely the product of intellectual landlordism.

(I will note that I do think there are compelling reasons to discourage students from plagiarizing; students are developing their writing and reasoning skills, and being able to separate their ideas from others’ ideas, credit others’ ideas, and build on them is a legitimate pedagogical goal.)

At the very least, there’s value in trying to articulate why a thing that we believe is wrong is, in fact, wrong. And there’s a ton of value in being forced to confront our assumptions and realize that those things we think are self-evident are, in fact, not objective Truth but, instead, cultural norms.

And there’s definitely value in reading Professor Frye’s provocative art/scholarship.

(If you’re interested in his quick take on this mini-scandal, it’s worth noting that he was scandalized … that the plagiarism was at best half-hearted.


  1. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I can’t get worked up about this. I’m fine with him using someone else’s ideas, or even words, to convey principles he thought the audience would benefit from. That’s fine. But if he was borrowing those ideas and words in an effort to look smart and insightful to his audience, I’m not OK with that. I don’t accuse him of that, though.

    I know I resent the amount of time I am forced to spend paying those landlords by citing their work. And having to do so really does constrain the effectiveness of the writing. I could be much more direct and clear if I could write unencumbered by the requirements of citations (most places I publish aren’t keen on footnotes, which can be more flexible). I find that I’m not as bothered by those who don’t cite my work as I am by those who cite my work but mostly misrepresent my ideas and twist them to support an argument that is not consistent with my work. I wish they wouldn’t cite me at all. I imagine many of those cited by our General Authorities might also wish they weren’t cited, at all, in the arguments being made.

  2. I’ll bite. Granted that plagiarism is a complicated subject and I wouldn’t make it a one-word condemnation, the reason I want attribution in this case is two-fold:

    1. John O. Reilly’s religious home was the Church of the Great God, which appears to be derivative of Herbert Armstrong’s Adventist Worldwide Church of God. I have watched Adventist, Evangelical, and Christian Fundamentalist thinking creep into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the last forty or fifty years. As a matter of opinion, I don’t like it. As a matter of talks in General Conference, I want to know when and where it happens.

    2. I disagree with some of the use the parable of the wedding feast was put to. I want to know who I’m disagreeing with.

  3. Thank you for writing this. I was just thinking in relation to this but also a recent academic plagiarism scandal (the professor was cleared of wrongdoing) that we both punish plagiarism too harshly and define it too broadly.

    Clearly, there are instances where plagiarism is flat-out wrong, but I don’t think reciting an idea almost word-for-word in General Conference exactly comes close. Everyone steals to some degree. Very few original ideas truly exist, and it would be impossible to attribute everything.

    And lest anyone think I’m just defending Elder Bednar, I would have you know that he was the first general authority I decided I didn’t like. Going to BYU-I will do that to you.

    Of course, given the academic standards Bednar demanded of students there, one can certainly condemn him for hypocrisy! And we probably should.

  4. Is there any reason to think Bednar actually wrote the talk? When I was at BYU, I heard several profs in the religion department boast of having ghostwritten conference talks.

  5. I just checked Elder Bednar’s talk following your link, and I see in ftnt. 12 a reference to “See John O. Reid, “Many Are Called, Few Are Chosen,” Forerunner, Mar.–Apr. 2016, 8,” Was this a response to your post?

  6. Hogarth, nothing to do with me. It seems to have been in response to Jana Riess’s reporting. (Sorry, I meant to include that in the post, but I was writing it quickly as I waited for my kids’ practice to end.)

  7. I think the published versions of General Conference talks should include footnotes where other people are cited, but I’m content to see them added after the fact. Even an academic talk has to go light on verbal attribution, and it’s easy for things to get lost if you take a talk prepared for oral delivery and then turn it into published content.

    The footnoting practices of legal academia are barbaric, however.

  8. In reading any genre of writing, you have to understand the genre’s norms. You have to know how writers in that genre typically handle matters of form. If a writer departs from the norms, something might be up. Maybe the writer is incompetent. Maybe the writer is trying to put one over on us. Maybe the writer is artfully playing with form. It’s on the reader to figure that stuff out. Reading is hard!

    In the case of general conference sermons, I don’t think the norms are cast in concrete when it comes to attributing quotes or ideas. But there’s a reasonably well-established practice of citing sources. The fact that citations have now been supplied in the published version of the talk suggests that Elder Bednar agrees with that practice.

    I’m with christiankimball on the reasons for giving citations in conference talks. I don’t think failing to cite sources is inherently evil. I do think the expectation for citing sources ought to follow the reader’s needs. Citations belong in conference talks.

  9. lastlemming says:

    If I were in a snarky mood, I would express surprise that he didn’t find a way to attribute it to President Nelson. But I’m not. Instead, I will simply note that demands for citations in politics and religion would make normal discourse utterly impossible, given that lack of fresh ideas in either field. Wait–did I say I wasn’t in a snarky mood?

  10. As a former president of BYU-I, Elder Bednar definitely knows about plagiarism, and wouldn’t make some excuses for his students. He gave a whole talk on ethics and integrity during his time as president that was rather harsh about any form of ethical failing.

    He said that “students across this country increasingly think cheating on tests and assignments “is no big deal.”

    He talked about his grand mother Matilda that didn’t want to use a two cent stamp without permission.

    Then he said this, and remember that plagiarism is a form of stealing and has serious academic consequences: “Cheating in academic work is unprincipled, dishonest, and a form of self-deception and betrayal. No university student can hope to ultimately succeed in a career or profession if he or she builds upon a foundation of fraud.”

    He said this which sounds like a good response to a plagiarism apologist: I believe the definitive test of our integrity and honesty is when we personally enforce in our own lives that which ultimately cannot be enforced.

    Then he concludes:

    “Let me now be just as direct and clear as I know how to be. If you leave this university with knowledge and skills and a degree but lacking integrity and honesty, then you have failed. And the sacred tithing funds from all over the earth that make it possible for you and all students to study here will have been wasted. Conversely, if during your time at BYU-Idaho you make meaningful progress toward becoming a person of integrity and honesty, and having done your very best academically you are considered only an average student, then you will have nonetheless succeeded magnificently. And you will be well protected against the effects of the latter-day disease of dishonesty and the epidemic of ethical failures.”

    His ethical discussion at BYU-I seemed especially harsh about any form cheating, even the kind done by immature students about stuff involving literal pennies and behaviors that can’t be enforced. So it seems only fair we should hold him, a former university president and apostle, to an even higher standard and not make apologies for plagiarism (Matthew 7:2). As such, I’m extremely disappointed in his behavior.

  11. Morgan D., that’s kind of the whole point of my post: he’s writing in a different genre than academic work. Like I said in the post, an academic historian may have one set of norms when writing for an academic press and a different set writing for a popular press. I have one set of citation norms writing for law reviews, a different set of norms writing for an academic press, and yet another blogging and perhaps a fourth in practice.

    So is it disappointing that the piece wasn’t footnoted? I sincerely don’t know, but I take Brian’s point that the question has to be whether citation provides some benefit to the people reading his talk. A couple commenters have made pretty good arguments for how it might benefit the reader (knowing who to rail against, knowing where the ideas are derived). And there seems to be a rough (though not strict) norm of citation in the written form of GC talks.

    But I don’t buy the “He’s a former academic so he’s a hypocrite” argument. Like I said in the OP, there may be a reason for anti-plagiarism norms for students that don’t apply to a church leader delivering a sermon. The affirmative need to cite in a sermon has to be founded on something more solid than academic norms meant to apply to undergrads.

  12. Brian Frye says:

    Exactly, Sam. Plagiarism norms have always been context-specific, but it’s easy to forget. I think their context-specificity reflects their basis in cartel norms. Social groups create the plagiarism norms most beneficial to insiders of those groups, irrespective of the interests of outsiders.
    And your point in this case is well-taken. After all, university presidents don’t write their own speeches any more than politicians. They hire ghostwriters. But no one objects, unless the ghostwriters “plagiarize.” Oh, the irony!
    Still, Morgan has a good point. The hypocrisy is troubling. I think powerful people who “plagiarize” all the time should be more sympathetic to students accused of the same “sin.” After all, the students are just trying to learn. Maybe copying is helping them learn more? It does in many disciplines (music, drawing, dance) why not writing? In any case, why not be forgiving? It certainly doesn’t help students learn to expel them for an offense that hurts no one, except theoretically themselves.

  13. I don’t care about the “plagiarism” aspect.

    I *do* care that our religious leaders are using fundamentalist evangelical sources for their own teaching, and it was also a poor interpretation. Rob Bell’s take on that parable is much better, and I’m sure there’s tons of other actual scholarship that would be more illuminating than this sermon.

    Seems less like he did a deep study and exegesis of the parable and more like he found some random sermon that comported with his worldview and then used that for a talk. Seems like lazy learning and teaching to me.

  14. No, Sam. This won’t fly.

    I’ve been plagiarized, most recently to the tune of having ~60 of my Keepa posts appear in someone else’s published book. The theft was so massive that it was easy to subdivide into categories that let me analyze different sorts of harm:

    Some of it was, I suppose, more copyright violation than plagiarism. She mentioned my name in a few cases, without ever giving a formal citation, but she had no right to reproduce my work beyond fair use limits. That was irritating, and could have created potential financial damage to me, but it was easier for me to shrug that off than to ignore another category:

    That is the category of true plagiarism where many posts were reproduced, either word for word or with exceedingly minor alterations (changing “big” to “large,” say). For all intents and purposes, the plagiarist was falsely presenting my work – my words, my ideas, my professional judgment, my gift for even recognizing there was a story to tell – as her own. She took from me something that was very precious to me, my claim to the fruits of my own brain. That “something” was less tangible than if she had kidnapped my child or stolen my dinner, but it was no less real. That’s why plagiarism is wrong. That work didn’t belong to her; it belonged to me, and to my name, and taking it away and branding it with her name was theft. Even her publisher instantly recognized that when the theft was brought to their notice, and the book was immediately withdrawn.

    In Elder Bednar’s case, I’m afraid he was in the wrong. Full citations down to page number and date of publication don’t belong in oral delivery, perhaps, but they certainly do belong in the written/published version. And if a speaker can say “As our beloved prophet taught us last April …” a speaker can just as easily, with no greater disruption to the flow of speech, say, “As the noted Protestant theologian so-and-so taught so effectively …”

  15. Plagiarism aside, citations allow us to go to the original work and read it ourselves. This has been very useful in my work when I’m trying to get a complete understanding of a concept being presented. It also permits fact checking of sources (if you want to do that). Putting plagiarism back in the picture, I feel that the OP focuses on what one might call minor plagiarism which might be what we call “failure to cite.” But plagiarism can be far more egregious (as Ardis pointed out). I wouldn’t be all that upset if someone failed to cite me if it’s a small part of the work. I would be peeved if someone took my whole work, changed a few things and presented it as their own. As it can be a slippery slope, I suggest we continue to insist that people cite as restricting as that may be. As for Elder Bednar, I’m not sure it pushes my outrage button. I imagine those citations would have showed up eventually even if it hadn’t been pointed out. But he would have avoided any criticism at all if he’d taken a few seconds to mention his sources. So while he wasn’t unethical, he also wasn’t very wise.

  16. When I heard Elder Bednar’s talk, I thought his interpretation of Matt. 22:1-14 was a bit odd, so I checked his sources when the transcript was first posted online. I could see that he had been sloppy and irresponsbile in citing his sources according to academic standards (which I think are appropriate for sermons that will be published and widely distributed), but I was more irritated that he had apparently only consulted Jesus the Christ (1916) and some random minister he found through a Google search, when there are so many much more reliable sources that are easily accessible. Whatever. I don’t expect much from General Conference talks. I was more angry, however, when the RNS article appeared and a Church spokesman pointed to a quietly revised version of the transcript and falsely claimed that ““Mr. Reid was mentioned by name and referenced on multiple occasions in footnotes. The transcript of his remarks is published for all to see. For those who would try to find fault, we would invite you to consider the spirit of his message.” It was a classic case of gaslighting and I was disappointed to see an apostle of the Lord hide behind a dishonest statement from the Church’s Public Affairs Department.

  17. A couple responses here:

    Ardis, what that author (“author”?) did to you was terrible and unacceptable, but I probably wouldn’t ground my outrage (which is real!) in plagiarism norms. Because even if she had acceptably footnoted, the wholesale publishing (and monetizing) one blog post (let alone 60) wouldn’t be cured by proper citation. She could footnote every chapter to one of your blog posts and still be in the wrong, because she actually took your intellectual property, beyond any kind of “fair use” standard, for herself.

    To those arguing that it helps evaluate his argument/analysis, I’m of two minds. The first is, yes it does. Which provides value and help for the reader, which is one of the reasons Brian says that, even if we don’t have to cite, we should.

    On the other hand, if it’s a shoddy analysis of a parable, I would hope that we could tell without knowing the source. (It is crazy, I admit, in today’s world that we’d go back to a 1914 book that was, itself, taking ideas from 50-ish years earlier.)

  18. Jim Wallmann says:

    I now have to wonder how conference speakers prepare their talks. I suppose it varies from speaker to speaker. At least the 15 know they will be speaking every 6 months. Did Elder Bednar surf the web, find Mr. Reid’s remarks, and decide to repeat them without attribution? It’s more likely that someone (family member? an aide? friend? BYU religion teacher? a speaker he heard in a stake conference?) passed on Mr. Reid’s comments without attribution or quotation marks and Elder Bednar (or someone who helped prepare his talk) dropped them in the talk without knowing where they came from. It almost makes one want to return to the days of extemporaneous talks in conference.

  19. christiankimball says:

    Because it hasn’t been said yet (apologies if I missed it), footnotes and citations and correct punctuation are also important, in my opinion, because they help us evaluate claims that conference talks are words descended from heaven and coming forth in the mouths of the prophets. Cf a common misreading of D&C 1:38. In our LDS/Mormon mythology, sourcing matters.

  20. What Ardis said. 100%.

  21. Pontius Python says:

    The impression I got in his oral delivery was that the contribution from John O’Reed was small and passing. I did not get the impression that most of the talk was paraphrased from John O’Reed, as seems to be the case.

    Instead of saying “a Christian author John O’Reed noted,” he could have said “Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that much of my talk is drawn from the writings of Christian author John O’Reed ….”

    Bednar usually takes the time to introduce his talks with a segment explaining his intentions and acknowledging/inviting the Holy Ghost as a contributor. He should have also taken the time, in the introduction to this talk, to acknowledge John O’Reed as the originator (or most recent source) of his exegetical argument, rather than allowing the listener to suppose that the exegesis about the wedding feast and the wedding garment was his own, and the contribution from John O’Reed was a short quote or two.

    (I haven’t read the original source of John O’Reed myself, so I can’t say of myself how extensive the paraphrased exegetical argument is, but from the Religion News Service article I get the impression it’s not a small portion of the talk.)

  22. Truckers Atlas says:

    Sam: I find Bednar’s move–plagiarizing one of the the intellectual centerpieces of his talk–to be outside the type of plagiarizing you defend, such as in popular history where the presentation of historical events need not cite every source. But for those sources that form key, unique foundations in popular history–I think of Ian Hastings’s frequent quoting of the singular Vasily Grossman in telling the story of the Battle of Stalingrad in his popular WWII histories–attribution seems to be the norm and a requisite for good faith storytelling.

    On another note, I cannot think of a more dry, unoriginal personality among Q15 members in my lifetime than Elder Bednar.* That one’s unoriginality would lead them to plagiarize is not surprising to me.

    *He seems to literally cultivate a brand of dry straight-lacedness (see his haircut, proud anecdotes of his history of scolding missionaries who come to his house, etc.), so I do not feel it’s entirely insulting for me to point this out.

  23. I don’t know how these things work, but I find it unlikely that Elder Bednar is the one responsible for publishing his talk, much less his footnotes, online. Beyond noting the general citation or page numbers, would he even be responsible for correctly footnoting it or do admins do that for him?

    “I quoted from this guy in this book, on this page. Please correctly cite.”

    Any time things happen like this, I get curious about the nuts and bolts of the process and how many hands it passes through.

  24. Time for an entertaining and somewhat relevant story. Years ago, when I was an editor at Church magazines, we always received the general conference talks a week or two early so that we could prepare them for print, flag any potential problems, and track down references to quotes and stories (some GAs are notorious for not providing sources). One of our editors had been assigned a talk by President Monson. If you know anything about Pres. M, you know that it was best to try to avoid bothering him with little editorial concerns. Well, in this particular talk, Pres. M was retelling a pioneer story, and this poor editor couldn’t find it anywhere. She searched high and low in all the obvious places, but not a trace of it. Finally, as time was running out and sort of on a lark, she searched in the magazine database, and, voila!, there it was. This story had appeared in the New Era some years before as fiction. Now, you can’t really go tell the prophet at the last minute that he can’t use a pioneer story because, well, it isn’t true. Especially Pres. M. But we also couldn’t just let it go unaddressed. The author of the story was out there somewhere and would probably be listening to conference and recognize her story being used by the prophet as a true tale. This could blow up in the prophet’s face, so to speak. None of the editors responsible for the conference issue recognized the author’s name, but as this dilemma was discussed a bit among the editorial staff, it was revealed that the story had actually been written under a pseudonym and that the author was none other than the managing editor of one of the Church magazines. How convenient. So we just let Pres. M give his talk as written, but in the printed version the text was tweaked a little to refer to the pioneer tale as a “story.” If Pres. M or his secretary had taken the time to find the source for the story, they would have recognized that it was fiction and would not have used it. But the lack of attribution created a potentially embarrassing situation. And the story is still there in the conference report, sort of identified as fiction, but not explicitly.

    I should add that I have been plagiarized before by a well-known LDS scholar. I was flattered but also annoyed that he took credit not just for my ideas but also for the specific wording that I worked hard on to get just right. So it goes.

  25. Raymond Winn says:

    FWIW – I’m currently reading historian David McCullough’s magnificient book “The Wright Brothers”, which provides 262 pages of detailed events leading up to and beyond the world’s first controlled flight of a heavier-than-air craft. The volume contains a comprehensive Source Notes section giving the provenance of nearly every detail written in the narrative. Such comprehensiveness greatly boosts my confidence in the accuracy of what I am reading in the text.

  26. Antonio Parr says:

    As I read these increasingly combative comments about plagiarism, it occurs to me that it will someday be said that it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

    And you can quote me on that.

  27. purple_flurp says:

    It is kind of odd. At first I wondered if it was just a reluctance to give any kind of credit or emphasize the work of someone who is a non-member. But I think about a decade ago, it seemed like some GA, and often a 1stPres member or Q12, would quote C.S. Lewis at length, and not just quote C.S. Lewis, but also give the name of the work and the context in which C.S. Lewis wrote it. I feel like that happened at least once every conference.

    And I seem to recall Pres. Monson frequently reciting poems in GC, and I’m fairly certain he would stipulate who the author was.

    So it’s not like there’s no precedent for using and acknowledging material from non-LDS sources.

    Is this a new unconscious direction of GC talks, like the seemingly constant quoting of and praise for the current church president? Or is this just a random goof?

  28. I wanted to echo what christian said, because I think he’s the only one to make this point so far in all of the back and forth: What concerns me about this isn’t the intellectual property aspect, but what this means about engaging with conference talks as apostolic council.

    I think the majority of BCC readers and commenters have thoughtful positions about the theological weight that should be given to GC talks. But I think many members don’t. I suspect that a not-inconsequential portion of the church think of every GC talk (particularly ones from apostles) being written as practically Moses-on-Sinai type experiences. Finding a decidedly non-LDS-direct-revelation path for GC talks significantly changes that view. An apostle standing up in GC to say “I read a sermon from a relatively obscure guy from a church you’ve never heard of, and I think he’s right about all of this stuff” would be a major shift in worldview for some folks. We talk in vague terms about good being found outside the church, but now we can talk about specifically borrowing doctrine from outside the church. It opens up questions about apostles finding inspiration in other living clergy. It’s one thing to quote St Francis of Assisi, or C.S. Lewis, but quite another to significantly draw on a sermon that someone else wrote recently, because it might beg the question of whether we should all go read the rest of the stuff he is writing. If apostles are finding GC worth messages broadly across Christianity, maybe the members can feel a little safer stepping outside of Deseret Book for some religious material. (I recently had to point out in a lesson that E Christofferson quoted multiple non-KJV translations in GC.)

    I think all of lines of questioning that this opens up are good to think about, and again, I don’t think this is world breaking for the BCC crowd. But many members will never have these conversations if E Bednar is obscuring the truth about where his conference talk came from. I’m sure the church is well aware that the primary ways members experience conference talks are watching them live, or listening to them afterward. Footnotes don’t do anything for those listeners. The next level of engagement is probably via sacrament meeting talks and EQ/RS lessons, where the teacher may not even look at the footnotes, and is unlikely to bring them up.

  29. Two notes:

    Maybe it’s different in Law, where by all accounts the citation process is indeed cumbersome, but in my discipline of English, those “intellectual landlords” are often grad students, adjuncts, lecturers, and junior faculty all scrambling desperately for that scarce tenure-track position in a grossly desiccated job market, for which every stray citation heps. I know Frye is just winkingly quoting Monty Python here, but for exploited young academics, every citation really *is* sacred, because they could very well make the difference between living above or below the poverty line.

    Nevertheless, as an English professor at a community college, I am also sympathetic to the argument that there are different standards for plagiarism for different circumstances. I have plenty of students, for example, who are recent immigrants from countries wherein they were taught to write *by* copying others–the same way we teach, say, drawing or sports or musical instruments. They often don’t know they are plagiarizing by American standards till someone patiently explains it to them. Plagiarism is indeed culturally determined.

    Which is why I actually find it even harder to excuse Elder Bednar’s lack of proper attribution. Almost any other GA, I would be amenable to this argument that his was just a sort of harmless, off-the-cuff sloppiness of attribution (I mean, Elder Christofferson has quoted Wikipedia before, and I’ve let it slide); but I was actually a student at the BYU-Idaho that Bednar established, wherein this sort of excuse (as Mogan D. astutely noted) never would’ve flown for a second. If I myself had, say, written a paper for a New Testament class, wherein I wholesale paraphrased a Protestant minister without proper attribution, got caught, and then told the Dean or (heaven forbid) President Bednar himself that “For those who would try to find fault, [I] would invite you to consider the spirit of [my] message,” I guarantee would’ve gotten an earful about the Honor Code and Karl G. Maeser’s chalkline and the Widow’s Mite and By Small and Simple Things and the destruction of the Nephites and so on and so forth.

    Remember, Bednar is a man who by all appearances sincerely believes that not wearing shorts, even in 100 degree weather, is a marker for personal righteousness (indeed, when he said in his talk that “lack of proper dress revealed his inner rebellion,” it’s pretty clear that Bednar means that literally). He is of the obvious opinion that straining at gnats will cause one to also strain at camels. Hence, since Bednar clearly has no patience for even the most superficial sloppiness, then he is allowed no leeway when he commits it himself. He can certainly apologize for his error, repent, and I have no doubt he would be quickly forgiven; but he can’t just brush off his sloppiness as a “minor” error, when for people like Bednar, there is no such thing as a minor error.

    More to the point: He doesn’t get to tut-tut women for wearing two sets of earrings, then expect everyone to just let it slide when he fails to give John O. Reid full credit in a major talk. That really would be to strain at gnats and swallow camels. If he wishes to be treated more generously, then he needs to first treat others more generously.

  30. As both an academic and a creative writer, I have much to say about the topic, but, Antonio Parr, referencing perhaps one of the most iconic opening sentences to an English novel and lifting lines from an obscure pastor are not the same thing. The former is a clear allusion and (almost) no one will blink an eye at it being quoted sans citation; the latter is not an allusion and (most) everyone realizes such use runs into at least grayish (if not black and white) ethical dilemmas. Hence the debate, which should be had.

  31. Antonio Parr says:

    Brian –

    My post was not intended to be a commentary on Elder Bednar’s talk. It was intended as a humorous interlude to the discussion, i.e., designed to elicit a chuckle or two. I realize that there is nothing particularly ~academic~ about such a contribution, but I thought it might be at least mildly ~creative~. Of course, reasonable minds can differ about such things, perhaps even more so across the many diverse world cultures that you have experienced and studied . . .

  32. There’s another fascinating issue hiding in here, which is what do we expect from the initial online publication of conference talks? It seems that the Church has a bit of a trade off—it can ensure detailed citation, grammar corrections, modifications made for publication (which carry still more interesting questions) and publish later, or it can dedicate less time to these tasks to publish sooner and clean up remaining issues after initial publication. I tend to favor quicker online publication partly because it gives time for this kind of feedback before talks get printed in the Liahona (which, I understand that some people still use, although I don’t think I’ve witnessed it in the last ten years). While I am highly critical of news outlets publishing first and asking questions later, this type of formal cleanup is a good use of the online format, in my opinion.

  33. christiankimball nailed it!
    “I disagree with some of the use the parable of the wedding feast was put to. I want to know who I’m disagreeing with.”

    I felt the exact same way! I was slightly nauseated and nearly screaming at the TV during his talk. So it then becomes of no small matter that I ask the question, “Am I upset that a prophet was inspired to twist the meaning of that parable, or that a prophet is quoting a fundamentalist evangelical twisting?” Or is there no difference?
    It at least brings me some peace that the fundamentalist evangelic quote sat wrong with me. Now I just have to wrestle with the fact that is was still shared in conference.

  34. Can someone who takes issue with the wedding feast interpretation provide a resource for another take on it that is apparently less reprehensible? Or, in other words, can someone hook a brother up with some clarification on where the interpretation put forward by Elder Bednar from the fundamentalist guy goes against the grain for them? I’d like to look at the different sides of interpreting the underlying parable (setting aside the plagiarism issue/question for a moment).

    And, lest someone takes issue with my apparent laziness in asking here, I’m trying to take earlier comments to heart and looking for good sources beyond a simple search on a search engine like Google.

    As for the plagiarism issue itself, I don’t know Elder Bednar personally, never attended BYU-I so I have no axe to grind there, and apart from being very dry and putting me to sleep when he talks, don’t really have any issues with the guy. I’m inclined to think that this was more a mixup than a purposeful action, or he asked someone else to take care of the details and that person messed up. Anyone who has ever had administrative staff support them at work knows that it is bound to happen … even when you tell them EXPLICITLY not to do something without your review first! (ok, now we’ve reached my axe to grind and I apologize for the meandering thoughts!) –

    Frankly, if you are in the public space for a long enough period of time, a human is bound to mess up sooner or later, whether that is Elder Bednar himself or support staff. Does that make them a hypocrite or just rushed? Certainly intent can be inferred from context more often than not, along with the going norm itself. And here, I don’t see any evidence that Elder Bednar was trying to pass of something as a new idea from him – if anything, it just seemed to be the vehicle for him to convey his overall message du jour.

  35. I agree with the idea that the academic standards for citations and such do not properly apply to all settings. For General Conference, citations have been used for ages, but the standards for their use may apply to a lesser degree than academia.

    I don’t think you can make a judgement about whether plagiarism (or something like it) occurred without actually comparing the two texts. Jana Riess did just that on her Twitter feed for a couple of small sections and y’all are invited to look it up. It was pretty convincing to me, although if I wanted to write expansively on the subject I’d have to study both texts for myself in their entirety.

    I will say this. I’m not a bit surprised that a gencon talk was found to copy from another work without proper attribution, but I was shocked to see it was done so badly. At least in the section quotes in Riess’s Twitter feed, every change that was made to the original made Bednar’s talk read worse by way of being less objective, more judgemental, and assuming facts not in evidence. And so much of the original was kept that there really is no question that a writer (likely not Bednar himself) obviously was using someone else’s work directly as they wrote the talk. Could have happened by accident with bad note taking, not knowing which note cards are direct quotes and which are summaries.

    I don’t think that this situation is fixed by adding a citation and quote marks in the written form. Mainly because the talk copied so much verbatim at the same time changed so much, it was clearly an attempt to co-opt another persons work. If the talk had been given with the same words, proper citations documented online, and quotation marks around the quoted text, portions of the talk would have looked quite ridiculous from the over use of quotation marks.

    But perhaps, per the OP, this doesn’t warrant the same kind of response as one might see in academia. And I should note here I myself have also used words I found in (cough cough) Wikipedia (sorry) in comments on this very site, possibly without citation.

  36. It might be a bit of a tangent, but a comments by christiankimball and Elisa highlighted something for me that goes a bit beyond questions of attribution into how we decide what is right and true in the church. Trying to be brief, we sometimes look back at some of the historically difficult issues (like Brigham Young on race and slavery or Joseph Fielding Smith on creationism and evolution) and talk about how sometimes the brethren teach as truth something that comes more out of their own personal biases than true inspiration from God.

    Christiankimball mentioned the value of seeing teachings like this sourced so that we can evaluate the teaching in light of the source it is coming from. Elisa’s comment highlighted to me that proper attribution is not only useful for knowing the source of an idea, but also to know what sources were ignored or overlooked or otherwise not used in coming to conclusion. Ben Spackman does a good job breaking down the sources used by JFS and the ’80s era Old Testament Institute manual, if you need more detail. In short, a big part of our pro-creationism/anti-evolution streak in the mid to late 20th century stemmed in part because JFS and his creationist disciples chose a couple of pro-creation scientists to reference and ignore a whole lot of other scientists with different ways of reconciling evolution and scripture. This bias in our preferred sources led to a bias towards creationism, to the point of calling evolution a deadly heresy by Elder McConkie.

    Elder Bednar’s interpretation of well known parable probably doesn’t rise to same level of significance of issues like Brigham Young’s views and biases on race or other difficult issues. Acknowledging that prophets and apostles can sometimes preach their own biases and opinions as truth seems to make sources sometimes important. Sometimes when I see the brethren say something, I will respond that what they say seems to be consistent with conservative Christian rhetoric. But how can I know it is really true if they don’t show me that they not only studied conservative Christian sources, but also studied liberal and progressive Christian sources and maybe some non-Christian or secular sources or others. If I cannot tell if the Q15 are studying issues from all sides, I fear that we might be falling into some of the same “teach our own opinions and biases as truth” pattern that we see in some places in our history.

    (Hopefully that made some sense)

  37. “Every cite is sacred, every cite is great, and if a cite is wasted, we get quite irate.”


  38. senatorgravett says:

    It’s not that he cited without attribution. It’s whom he cited and why. If you’re gonna lean hard into a works contract atonement while the other brethren seem to be moderating their position on righteous works, there should be a darn good reason. Not some rando from a fringe evangelical church.

  39. Scott Abbott says:

    Remember Merrill Bateman’s plagiarized inaugural address against moral relativism. Caused him a boatload of trouble, as it should have.

  40. Adam F., here’s a bit of exegesis I find thought-provoking:

    Amy Jill Levine is also brilliant on this and other parables:

  41. To everyone trying to blame Bednar’s admins for this faux pas, I am reminded of a story Oaks told in his book The Lord’s Way. I don’t remember the exact details, but the gist of it was when Oaks was a lawyer about to publish an article in an important law review, he was going over the final draft done by one of his paralegals or other support staff. When he got to a particular paragraph, the spirit gave him a sense of unease. He researched the section and realized it contained several inaccuracies. Oaks’ point was the spirit’s whispers had saved him from the professional embarrassment his support staff’s mistake would have caused him.

    This potential plagiarism episode clearly caused Bednar embarrassment. My question is, “Does the spirit not speak to Bednar, was he not listening, or was he too busy or preoccupied to feel the spirit’s promptings?

    Even if the Holy Ghost took a coastal vacation right before conference, works just as well if not more reliably

  42. @adam f, good question. I don’t have a quick answer right now – it is a challenging parable. I also, frankly, don’t really understand what Bednar was trying to say. But I am planning to write about it next week on W&T after I’ve done more digging.

    There is an excellent Robcast episode but that I think informs the issue but I re-listened to it today and it’s actually about a different feast in a different parable :-). Still worth listening though. It’s episode 216 of the Robcast, “you’re already at the party.”

    Otherwise, I’ll have to get back to you later …

  43. Antonio Parr says:

    I am a die-hard Bob Dylan fan and consider him to be the greatest singer-songwriter of his time. It is well known that, even with his undeniable genius, Bob “borrows” heavily from others, both lyrically and musically, and rarely (if ever) does so with attribution. This cobbling together of this and that is, as Bob has explained, part of the folk tradition. To that end, I still love the album “Love and Theft”, even though Bob appears to have stolen ideas from Confessions of a Yakuza. I also adore George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, even though the melody was appropriated from the Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine.”

    Here, Elder Bednar gave a talk that one might call Dylanesque. It flowed together reasonably well and, like a Dylan song, moved many (but not all) in his audience. To put things in context, Elder Bednar wasn’t giving the talk for academic credit, and so judging him by such standards is a bit unfair. Could he have done better with attribution? Probably. But given the options of piling on criticism/playing “gotcha” and offering kind, constructive encouragement, the latter seems most consistent with our mandate to sustain each other.

    I have given a lot of talks over the past decade or so, and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Some flowed fairly well, and others failed to take flight. I have always hoped – and continue to hope – that those who are hearing me speak know that I am coming from a sincere place, with a genuine desire to glorify God and a genuine desire to serve my brothers and sisters. I am grateful that those I serve are gracious and quick to give me the benefit of the doubt when I stumble, which, regrettably, is something that happens with frequency.

    Why not let this topic rest and offer Elder Bednar our encouragement for the journey that lies ahead? Kindness is a remarkably effective vehicle for effectuating communal growth and improvement.

  44. Thanks Kristine and Elisa!

  45. it's a series of tubes says:

    Why not let this topic rest

    Because, as Elder Bednar well knows, much of the church believes they are tuning in to General Conference to receive (in BRM’s oft repeated analogy) the pure water of revelation right at the source.

    If what is being delivered is, instead, regurgitated fundamentalist evangelical content – well, people should be aware they are drinking downstream of some frequently disgusting horses.

  46. I wonder if the “failure” to cite was more of a decision over a concern that the original idea comes from a nutty fringe cultish figure. Not exactly a good idea when the Christian world already sees us as cult to give them ammunition by citing to another weird pastor. He just should have taken the idea and repackaged it in his own language.

    I’m a lawyer, that’s what we do every day in briefs. ;)

  47. And thanks Antonio Parr for your comments. I got it and laughed out loud.

  48. Antonio Parr says:

    Tubes –

    Perhaps orthodox Latter-Day Saints and fundamentalist evangelicals should become comfortable with the fact that sometimes those in the other camp say things worth repeating. Just because one is wrong about some things doesn’t mean one is wrong about all things. (I quote members of other denominations all the time. As in virtually every talk.)

    As to Elder Bednar, I am seeing the “reproving . . . with sharpness”, and am looking forward with anticipation to expressions of increased love which surely must be waiting in the wings. Lest he perceive his critics to be his enemies.

    (I have omitted the citation for the above-mentioned quote. But if you google it, you will find it.)

  49. it's a series of tubes says:

    Antonio – look, I’m often on your general side in discussions here on BCC. I skew to the “well-informed and still TBM” end of the spectrum. But what was shared wasn’t worth repeating. And it was poorly done.

  50. Adam and Elisa, I know Bednar’s interpretation of the parable is different than the traditional gentiles vs Jews. But I took his interpretation to go even further, to subtly point to the temple: The king provides the wedding garments; “Such wedding garments were simple, nondescript robes that all attendees wore. In this way, rank and station were eliminated, and everyone at the feast could mingle as equals.” And
    “Everyone was given the opportunity to clothe themselves in garments of royalty.” And then he stresses “enter[ing] the royal palace by the door.” The interloper “by some means had entered by another way; and not having passed the attendant sentinels at the portal, he was an intruder.” I don’t know if those were any of Reid’s words.

  51. senatorgravett says:

    Antonio, I think if the talk had been either: a) good; or b) a fair interpretation of the parable of the marriage feast, the borrowing wouldn’t be as problematic. However, it was neither.

    Elder Bednar’s (or, rather, Mr. Reid’s) interpretation (that the wedding garment represents obedience, righteousness and covenant keeping) doesn’t really work in the context of which the parable was given (a rebuke of the pharisees and rabbis who were confident in their righteous works and law keeping). If the wedding garment represents righteousness and covenant keeping (which the pharisees really were quite excellent at), then why didn’t the invited guests come? The more well accepted interpretation is that the love of Christ/divine redemption through atonement is the garment, which makes better sense in the context of the parable (i.e. freely given, not earned just as a wedding garment would be given). And the delivery was stilted, dry, and glum, As Elder Bednar’s talks usually are; not good.

    I understand that Reid/Bednar have basically repurposed the parable towards a modern concern they share (general modern sinfulness infiltrating the church), but it really doesn’t make sense to twist the parable so that it means basically the opposite of what was intended.

    Dylan gets away with his borrowing because he’s good. This talk wasn’t.

  52. Antonio Parr says:

    Tubes –

    All General Conference talks are not created equally. Typically, there are a few that stick with me well beyond the normal 6-month turnaround, and typically there are others that do nothing for me. And even my favorite speakers at times disappoint, while those who are not natural fits for me sometimes say things that move me deeply.

    As to talks being poorly done, it happens to the best of us.

    I understand the issue that gave rise to the OP, and I also understand why those in academia might be particularly sensitive about such things. It seems that Elder Bednar and the Church have responded to the attribution oversight. But I hope that Elder Bednar is also seeing examples of love and mercy and encouragement from those who are not his natural allies. I don’t think it is unduly critical to observe that he does not come across as a naturally warm person. What better way to support him in his ministry than to allow him to see his critics show genuine love and mercy towards him?

    To quote the great Brian Wilson:

    I was sittin’ in a crummy movie with my hands on my chin
    Oh the violence that occurs seems like we never win

    Love and mercy that’s what you need tonight
    So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight

    I was lyin’ in my room and the news came on t.v.
    A lotta people out there hurtin’ and it really scares me

    Love and mercy that’s what you need tonight
    So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight

    I was standin’ in a bar and watchin’ all the people there
    Oh the lonliness in this world well it’s just not fair

    Hey love and mercy that’s what you need tonight
    So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight
    Love and mercy that’s what you need tonight
    Love and mercy tonight
    Love and mercy

  53. It may surprise some of my friends, but I like David Bednar on a personal level (what little I know), and I’ve defended Elder Bednar in places where it was not expected and made me an outsider. I think I understand what he’s trying to do, whether it comports with my views or not. And I will listen to him again.

    I disagreed with much about that particular talk. Also, while Elder Bednar doesn’t know me, the subtext of that talk felt like a personal attack (for reasons that don’t belong here). Yesterday, or actually Monday this week, I was mad. Today I’m ready to move on.

    That talk was a “crummy movie” (in Brian Wilson’s words). To paraphrase another troublesome line, I can and do love the person but not the talk.

  54. @it’s a series of tubes said, +1 to the “pure doctrine.” In testimony meeting the week after GC, I heard multiple people comment on how wonderful it was to hear “pure, unfiltered truth” during General Conference. It seems Bednar’s truths went through a few filters.

  55. Yeah, the quotes I cited were pretty much verbatim, as were others ( As such I suppose it’s a stretch for me to have said it was about the temple, since Reid wouldn’t have been referring to that. But surely he was referring to covenant making and keeping.
    A BYUI student wouldn’t have gotten away with not using quotations, but I suppose a GC talk is not academia. Makes me less shy about quoting at length in church talks. It happens all the time.

  56. Agree with those calling for a bit more mercy. The takeaway we should get from comparing Elder Bednar’s harsh treatment of college students to his own slip-up isn’t that Elder Bednar should be treated harshly, but that the college students shouldn’t be. Returning good for evil is one of the most important things we can do as Christians, imo.

  57. I’m also actually really comforted to hear that much of that talk came from a fundamentalist source. It was by far my least favorite talk this year. Gave me flashbacks to certain psychotic mission leaders claiming that anybody who doesn’t like the mission won’t like the celestial kingdom.

  58. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’ve read the talk and don’t find it especially fraught except in those portions where Reid is being used. At that point, there is some interpreting done that does seem harsh and unnecessary to understanding of the parable. (Although the King does cast the non-wedding garment wearer into Outer Darkness, so possibly the symbol does point to something worse than an unwitting mistake. Unless the King is just kinda a bad guy.)

    It interests me that the parables are symbolic rather than allegorical, so that one to one associations of image to meaning limit the teaching potential of the parable. A symbol is a kind of gateway (not quite the right word) to a large psychic area of meanings, so that learning from a symbol happens as a continual unfolding, which unfolding is interrupted by assigning single, fixed associations.

    I also did a little reading at the Church of the Great God website (the church in which Reid was influential). Some of it seems to have a Christian Dominionist bent. They believe in a Satanic plot to create a single global government, for instance. They also believe that descendants of the scattered Twelve Tribes are to be found in “northwestern Europe, the state of Israel and the English-speaking nations of America and the British Commonwealth.” I’m sure there is more. ( It’s interesting place for an apostle to be reading and finding inspiration, to say the very least.

  59. it's a series of tubes says:

    So, did everyone get the email from the Church this morning about the state-sponsored hacker breach of the church systems and compromise of your personal data? Glad they are working with Experian, “an industry leader in data security,” on the response :(

  60. Assistance required:
    “I quoted the Prophet Joseph Smith, who said, “All … things which pertain to our religion are only appendages” to the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” EH Oct 2022 GC.

    Closest I got was:
    “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” JS Teachings

  61. Aussie Mormon says:

    ” Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. ” page 121

    “Twentieth—“What are the fundamental principles of your religion?”
    The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day,5 and ascended into heaven;6 and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost,7 the power of faith,8 the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts9 according to the will of God,10 the restoration of the house of Israel,11 and the final triumph of truth.
    I published the foregoing answers to save myself the trouble of repeating the same a thousand times over and over again. (May 8, 1838.) DHC 3:28–30.”

  62. Aussie Mormon says:


    Apologies, that’s the same quote you found.
    Misread it.

  63. Aussie Mormon says:

    Apologies. I misread. I gave you back the source you found, not EH’s quote source.

  64. Thanks Aussie
    EH refs p49 of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), which is the same quote you have provided and I found. Unless his ref is wrong he has taken some liberty with JS’s statement. Being familiar with TPJS I had not come across the wording or meaning he provides, hence my question. It’s not plagiarism but a distortion of the intent of the JS text and is misleading in that it puts into the mouth of JS meanings that are not supported in the reference.
    It goes to the issue of referencing which EB seems to be also caught up in. The question in my mind is it is one thing to provide an inspired, spirit-led rendering of doctrine etc (which we expect from apostles) and another to be doctoring someone’s thoughts for a particular effect/claim. It’s clear EH was caught up in the retelling of his account by the level of rhetorical intent that he projects, we can accept some of that, but we need to have confidence that what is being attributed, is in fact true/accurate, and a reference is a textual truth-marker.
    I’m not not sure if GAs see it that way, it would be interesting to know.

  65. Antonio Parr says:

    I referenced Bob Dylan’s creative process in an earlier post. Here is a very recent article that offers some intriguing analysis on the role that imitation has on Dylan’s songwriting:

    To be sure, Dylan as songwriter and Elder Bednar as religious leader are serving different purposes, and those differences may deflect or magnify allegations of plagiarism, depending in part on one’s point of view.

  66. BlueRidgeMormon says:

    Fascinating OP and comments. I tend to be with Ardis and christiankimball on this: the speaker needed to attribute the core ideas of the talk more fully and appropriately. Failing to do so is a sleight of hand. And I personally hold this true for even low stakes things like sac meeting talks and EQ lessons: same standard. I’d find it weird to give a talk in my ward based on some good ideas I found somewhere and not attribute them. I wouldn’t read an eloquent CS Lewis quote and not attribute it. Consider the extreme (and in my opinion all-to-common, and dumb) practice of being asked to give a talk about a GC talk; Could you imagine giving that talk and never really referencing the conference talk itself? Allowing at least some in the audience to assume that all the thoughts and ideas and quotes are your own? I can’t think of anyone who would seriously defend that practice, the OP notwithstanding.

    In other words, one problem with the speaker being caught plagiarizing the other pastor and not attributing it is that it’s gross. It’s not wrong because it’s illegal or because it violates some sort of academic standard that sermons aren’t technically held to … it’s just gross. And that’s a problem for a member of the Q15 because they should do better and set a good example for the rest of us. And not do gross stuff like speak to a 15 million member church and foster any confusion about the providence of the ideas. I mean heaven’s sakes, last time I checked, the membership isn’t rabid about demanding intellectual innovation anyhow! (we seem more than content to just receive a good feel-good devotional message.) So why? Stop being gross.

  67. Graham Smith says:

    Meanwhile, religious non-Mormons argue for higher ethical standards:

    “Plagiarizing sermons may be more serious, however, at least theologically. A sermon isn’t just another speech, said theologian Scot McKnight, a professor at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. Instead, it is supposed to be an encounter with God. Through reading, prayer and study, the preacher hears from God and then passes on what they learned to the congregation.

    “When a pastor short-circuits that by plagiarizing, it’s an act of betrayal, said McKnight.”

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