DP Engelbrecht on Plagiarism

Last Fall, District President Engelbrecht presented a paper entitled “A Clarion Call” to be faithful to the word and tenor of the gospel.  He presented this paper at a WELS pastors’ conference in Autumn 2011.  This “clarion call” was subtitled: “A Presentation And Discussion Of Various Concerns That Have Been Raised Recently In Our Midst.”

One issue dealt with in this paper was plagiarism.  The District President dealt with this issue because there were complaints about pastors in the Northern Wisconsin District plagiarizing the sermons and words of false teachers, and passing them off as their own.

In defining plagiarism, the District President relied heavily on Wikipedia.  However, Wikipedia is an online collaborative free encyclopedia.  In other words, anyone with internet access can change or alter Wikipedia.  That is why no reputable paper should authoritatively cite Wikipedia.

Sadly, the District President’s reliance upon Wikipedia in framing the issue of plagiarism resulted in numerous problems.  The first problem is that after the District President presented his paper, someone (not me or anyone known by me) changed Wikipedia’s definition of plagiarism.  At the time of this writing, it no longer agrees with the previous definition, the one cited by District President Engelbrecht.

The second problem is that a section of District President Engelbrecht’s citation appears to have been itself plagiarized from plagiarism.org.  (http://www.plagiarism.org/plag_article_what_is_plagiarism.html).  It is ironic that in attempting to teach others about plagiarism, the District President inadvertently included plagiarization in his own paper.  This is not to say that District President Engelbrecht intentionally deceived the pastors of his district.  Putting the best construction on this he is just sloppy and unprofessional.

The best construction is that the District President was aggressively sloppy.  This is because he had a well written definition of the issues of plagiarism that had been given to him by an attorney, but that professional information apparently did not suit the District President.  So instead, he scraped together a half-plagiarized definition from Wikipedia.

Quoting from Wikipedia.com, District President Engelbrecht said: “‘In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud.  It involves both stealing someone else’s work and lying about it afterward.'”  Then District President Engelbrecht immediately came to the conclusion that by “definition, then, using someone else’s material with their permission would not be considered plagiarism per se.”  (Page 2.  Emphasis altered).

However, if the District President had gone to the original source, plagiarism.org (a source that I cited in my November 2009 and January 2011 letters), then he could have read that sentence in its original context.  There he would have seen on the same page it also says:

All of the following are considered plagiarism:

•    turning in someone else’s work as your own
•    copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
•    failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
•    giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
•    changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
•    copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules)

The District President continues to confuse copyright theft with plagiarism.  In Pastor Glende’s case, he was accused of plagiarism, which is deceit.  He was not accused of copyright theft.  When the issue of plagiarism was presented to the District Presidium, the differences between copyright infringement and plagiarism were clearly presented.  Here is an extended excerpt from the letter sent to the District President in November 2009:

According to plagiarism.org:

“plagiarism is the use of another’s original words or ideas as though they were your own.  Any time you borrow from an original source and do not give proper credit, you have committed plagiarism . . .”  (Plagiarism FAQs).

Plagiarism usually involves two parts:  First, there is a copyright theft from the original author.  Second, there is a fraud as the plagiarist passes off the other’s work as his own.  However, plagiarism does not necessarily involve copyright theft.  For example, if a student purchases a term paper and hands it in as his own; that is obviously not a theft, however it is still a fraud.  Copyright theft and plagiarism are not the same crime.  Copyright theft is a violation against the author, while plagiarism is essentially a fraud perpetrated against the audience.

In the case of the purchased term paper, it is of no significance to the professor that the student has the original author’s permission to plagiarize.  A man who sells term papers cannot authorize students to deceive professors.  Likewise, a man who gives away sermons cannot authorize other pastors to deceive their congregations.

Just as a journalist is hired by a news organization to write news reports, and is expected to write his own news reports; so also Pastor Glende has been called by our congregation to write pure gospel sermons, and is expected to write his own sermons.  Does the seminary accept plagiarized sermons from its students?  If not, then why should a congregation?

(Footnotes omitted).

That letter provided ample evidence of plagiarism both in the form of documented facts and applicable law.  Was there something wrong with that standard definition of plagiarism?  If not, then why did the District President undertake to redefine what is and is not plagiarism?  Why did the District President not even acknowledge the above definition in his so-called presentation of the concerns that were brought to the Presidium?

According to District President Engelbrecht’s twisted definition, a student who purchased a term paper, and handed it in as his own would not be guilty of “plagiarism” because he would have had the permission of the original author.  Yet, that is the very definition of plagiarism.

The District President has finally come out against “deception” and “plagiarism,” and that is good.  The District President has finally agreed that in theory “plagiarism” is wrong and pastors should not deceive while preaching.  This is some progress.  However, why did it take over a year to get this admission?  And why in the process did he redefine the meaning of plagiarism to mean it is not “plagiarism” if the original author gives permission to plagiarize?

The result of the District President’s twisted redefinition of “plagiarism” is that Pastor Glende gets to claim he is not guilty of plagiarism because the District Presidium says so.  And the men of the District Presidium get to maintain publically that they have dealt appropriately with the issue, when they have not.  Plagiarism is a fraud and a deceptive sin, and it becomes a doctrinal issue for the Church when the words of false teachers are used in this deception.  There are pastors in the WELS who have engaged in and/or defended this sin, and they are unrepentant.

In March 2011, the pastors of St. Peter Congregation and the District Presidium met with some concerned area pastors and laymen for the purpose of resolving this issue among others.  However, instead of seeking to resolve the issues in good faith, they secretly planned to terminate fellowship with the layman who pointed out the truth and who was seated across the table from them.  (That deceitful ambush termination of fellowship was finalized approximately two weeks after the above mentioned meeting).  So instead of repenting the sin of plagiarism, they redefined sin, and rent the Body of Christ.

The District President said in his “clarion call”:

Over the past couple of years a number of issues and concerns have been brought before the District Presidium by various individuals, involving doctrine, practice, and approaches to ministry.  Some of them were cleared up immediately, some were the result of misunderstandings and miscommunication and were resolved through extensive discussion, some fall under the category of legitimate differences of opinion on approaches to ministry, and some called for continued evangelical warnings to the brethren to help them avoid straying from the Word, the Lutheran Confessions, and the tenor of the gospel.  It must be stated that at no point in time did the District Presidium find false doctrine being espoused or promoted by anyone.

This gives the impression that everything has been resolved.  However, I am not aware of any issue being resolved.  For example, how can the issue of plagiarism be resolved when the pastors involved are unrepentant, and have gone so far as to terminate fellowship with those who pointed out the truth?

There needs to be repentance.  Sin is real.  Sin is not like a thought that can evaporate if we cover it up.  Hiding the truth does not cure sin.  Sin is like a malignant cancer, and it will continue to rot until it is cleansed by Christ.  The District President cannot cure sin or cancer by twisting words and making up his own language.  Cancer is cancer.  Sin is sin.  If sin is not cleansed, the result is spiritual death.  (Romans 6:23).  Thus, there needs to be repentance.

Repentance and forgiveness is easy.  There have been so many opportunities to say, “Hey, we screwed up.  How can we fix this together as brothers?”  That would have been so easy.  So easy.  The debt of sin has been paid.  (John 1:29).  Repentance and forgiveness is as easy as drawing a breath and exhaling.  Why cannot we tread this beautiful path together?  Unfortunately, that question points to a deeper theological problem in this district: the teaching that Christians can choose to believe.  Can the dry bones of Israel live and breath?  God alone knows.  (Ezekiel 37:3).  Repentance consists of contrition and faith, and like life itself, faith is 100% the gift of God.  (Ephesians 2:8, Acts 11:18; Apology Augsburg Confession, Art. XII Repentance).

Kyrie eleison.

One thought on “DP Engelbrecht on Plagiarism

  1. Rick…Please post this on your blog.

    Dear Rick,

    I, too, attended the aforementioned presidium meeting along with you and several pastors and I left disheartened. Admittedly, I do not have legal expertise nor the discernment of a called worker. The paper, A Clarion Call, presented at the Northern Wisconsin District Fall of 2011 pastor’s conference was, also, made available to me. It disappointed me as some of the words used in that presentation glossed over concerns I, and others, have regarding setting the proper course regarding orthodox Lutheran Doctrine and Practice in our district. Words nuanced improperly can change the context of one’s writings, e.g. Real, relevant, relational….Another troubling question for me is, “Are there some in our area teaching that we can actively help the Holy Spirit along in our sanctification?”

    Rick, I will continue to offer you my support!

    God bless,
    Tony Kubek Jr.

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