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Clergyman defends use of online sources

The embattled Episcopal rector at Christ Church Cranbrook in Michigan makes no apologies for using online sermon subscription services.

"Oral use of anything is permissible under any circumstance," says the Rev. Edward Mullins, who has been suspended for 90 days while his diocese investigates charges he plagiarized material from the Web. "What has happened in this issue that's now been brought to the public is that the academic world is trying to impose its standards on public figures and pastors . . . without understanding how clergy do their business.

"Let me give you some examples: The president does not write his speeches, but he spends a lot of time working on them with his speech writers. Does he ever attribute a speech writer? Of course not."

Mullins refers to President Bush's recent State of the Union speech as another example. "When the president ended his (speech), he said, "Let's roll.' Ten years from now, people will remember that as something the president said. But he didn't say it _ that was said by (Todd Beamer, a passenger aboard the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11)."

Mullins says he cannot discuss specifics of his case, at the request of the bishop of his diocese, while the investigation is in progress. But he did address, in general terms, the allegations that he also used others' material for the church bulletin, which some regard as a more clear-cut charge of plagiarism.

"You write an article in your church newsletter out of 70-some articles over six years, and seven or eight of them were based on information I'd gotten from other articles," he says. "One of the guys whose "quote' I had allegedly borrowed from said, "Ed, this is a common mistake among many Christians as to how you go about making proper attribution.' That's probably an area where most of us as pastors are weak. We probably need to say, "Okay, do we have a guideline for this?' "

Mullins says he contacted another pastor from whom he is accused of borrowing written material and showed him what he had written. "He said, "I don't know what the problem is. You did exactly what you're supposed to do,' " says Mullins. "So among pastors, there is not a full agreement as to citing sources in written form and secondary sources. It's an area many of us don't understand. We're trained not as scholars but as speakers."

The constant time pressure preachers face is why the Internet sermon sites exist, he says.

"I would say most pastors spend an average of an hour of preparation for every minute at the pulpit. That's 10 to 15 hours of preparation for a 15-minute sermon. It doesn't matter where they got the material. They have a piece of clay, and they're molding it. And it takes time to do that. The purpose of these online services is to help speed up that process."