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What Ed Litton and the SBC Need to Do Right Now

“Take it from Fred, vote for Ed!” he thundered. During the recent Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Fred Luter, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (2012-14), gave an absolutely glowing nomination speech in which he praised and promoted Ed Litton as the man most qualified to head the SBC as president. Thousands of messengers surged to their feet in ovation after Luter’s pithy conclusion. Thousands also cast their ballots for Ed Litton, who is now the president of the country’s largest Protestant denomination.

I did not vote for pastor Ed Litton. I had reservations because he shared the pulpit with his wife, which is in clear violation of both Scripture and the Southern Baptist Faith and Message of 2000. But, to be honest, I didn’t care that my guy lost. It’s just an election. I’m just thankful to be a member of a denomination that holds free and fair elections. Accepting the outcome, I pledged to pray for Ed Litton and support him.

I still accept the outcome. Pastor Litton is still in my prayers. But I am unable to support him in good conscience. And I stand alongside hundreds of other pastors and messengers who are calling for his immediate resignation. If you are a Southern Baptist, you should know why.

Why Should Ed Litton Resign?

Shortly after Litton was elected, there were allegations that he plagiarized a few sermons. “This is probably nothing,” I reasoned. “It is likely some ‘discernment blogger’ unhappy with the election results, and they’ve edited or doctored videos to smear him.” However, I felt compelled to look into these claims myself, especially when Litton repeated J.D. Greear’s famous (and erroneous) statement that “The Bible appears more to whisper when it comes to sexual sin compared to its shouts about materialism and religious pride.”

What I discovered was shocking: sermon after sermon where Ed Litton blatantly plagiarized sermons by J.D. Greear. Litton reused identical sermon outlines, illustrations, and titles. He even repeated many of Greear’s quips and words word-for-word. This was the most egregious case of plagiarism I had ever seen, and I am not exaggerating.

Not long after these allegations were made, Litton apologized for not properly crediting Greear for using a few of his ideas, which I appreciated. He wrote, “But I am sorry for not mentioning J.D.’s generosity and ownership of these points. I should have given him credit as I shared these insights.” Additionally, Greear revealed that Litton actually had his permission to use some of his insights and outlines. The old idiom is, “If my bullets fit your gun, then fire away!” Apparently, they had an arrangement for Litton to fire Greear’s bullets. And that is fine and good.

However, Litton used a lot more than a “few of his insights,” and he never admitted to plagiarizing. For instance, he bizarrely employs the exact same personal mannerisms as Greear, as seen in the dozens of videos. He tells the same jokes, interacts with his congregation in the same way (literally the same), and even uses Greear’s personal experiences as his own. Worse, Litton commits the same exegetical errors as Greear. Litton has plagiarized not just Greear’s sermons, but he has even imitated his personality and copied his mistakes! The evidence is here, here, here, and in all the links above.

Please hear me: if you have any doubts about the credibility of these plagiarism allegations, watch the videos for yourself. There is no denying it: Ed Litton has plagiarized dozens of J.D. Greear’s sermons.

Is Plagiarism Really That Bad?

Plagiarism is a serious sin. Plagiarism violates the Eighth Commandment where God said, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). Plagiarism is laziness (Prov. 18:9; 2 Thess. 3:6). And above all, pastors should be above plagiarism. The primary qualification for a pastor or elder is that he must be “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:1-2), and if a pastor is caught undeniably plagiarizing, as in this case, he should at the very least come under the discipline of his church.

Litton serves in a high and holy position, not just as president of the SBC, but also as a pastor of a local church. This conduct is inappropriate for any man who holds the office of pastor and president. Moreover, his hesitancy to resign (or own up) sends a terrible message to the rest of the world and to our churches: Southern Baptists do not care about pastoral integrity. As a Southern Baptist pastor myself, I am deeply grieved in my soul, and I detest this assertion. And I know I am not alone.

Therefore, resigning immediately is the righteous, good, and humble thing to do.

I am not trying to cause a ruckus. I don’t want to slander a fellow brother in Christ. And I pray that any brethren who disagree with me will look into these matters, set disagreements aside, and continue to work together to fulfill the Great Commission.

I am still proud to be a Southern Baptist. I have no plans to leave the SBC or withhold Cooperative Program dollars, although I definitely understand why many churches have already done so. I am simply extremely concerned about the leadership and reputation of our Southern Baptist Convention. And I cannot stay silent about this unbiblical and unacceptable conduct for which there have been no repercussions.

At the SBC in Nashville, our messengers called for transparency. Well, now is the moment for transparency. This is the time for accountability. Ignoring these claims is not transparency. And privatizing over 100 sermon videos doesn’t exactly scream transparency.

Shocking Silence and Support

And while I am shocked at Ed Litton’s conduct, I am appalled by the silence from SBC leaders on this matter. This is how it should have gone down: prominent leaders of the SBC should have spoken up and graciously called for his resignation. But leaders whom I love and respect have not said a word. If they did, Ed Litton may take the advice of his friends and do the right thing.

I am even more shocked that many have risen to his defense. Some have even written articles claiming that it is impossible for pastors to plagiarize. “There’s nothing new under the sun, so you are bound to repeat what someone has already said,” they say. But this is a different matter. This is blatant theft and repurposing of sermon content (and much more).

What Can We Do?

I have felt hopeless and helpless regarding this situation. Pastors that are concerned, like me, are mostly underrepresented in the SBC. In fact, Tom Ascol and Jared Longshore of Founders Ministries are the only prominent leaders that have spoken extensively on this issue (to my knowledge).

Although discouraged, I still had to do something. So, I emailed the SBC’s Executive Committee, to see what they might do. Here is the reply I received:

“Thank you for your inquiry, but the EC does not have the authority to investigate and sanction the duly elected President of the Convention. Nevertheless, the Baptist Press, maintained by the EC has publicized the story including Pastor Litton’s address concerning the issue. Only the Convention itself, in which does not meet again until June of 2022 can do this—through the election process. We hope our note was helpful.”

In other words, “Sorry, but the Executive Committee can do nothing.” Would they be as powerless if Litton was involved in a sexual abuse scandal? I have a hunch that they would respond quite differently. Although the Executive Committee serves as the SBC’s ad interim, apparently there is nothing they can do regarding Litton’s integrity.

From what I have gathered, there are only three things a concerned Southern Baptist can do under these circumstances. We can (1) pray and continue to call on Ed Litton to resign, (2) vote against him in 2022, and/or (3) take to the newly formed Credentials Committee.

#1 Continuing to Pray and Call for Resignation

I am still praying and hoping that Litton will do the right thing and resign. That would send a great message to the world about who we are as Southern Baptists and how important it is to have honesty and integrity in the pulpit. Whether directly or indirectly, this scandal is satanic, an effort from the enemy to discourage us from preaching the gospel. Therefore, we must pray as we engage in what is clearly spiritual warfare. Let us continue to call on the Lord to convict president Litton. And let us relentlessly call on Ed Litton to resign.

#2 Voting Litton Out

In 2022, the SBC will meet in the Southern-Baptist-rich territory (not) of Anaheim, California. Given the public nature of this scandal, the chances are high that Litton will be contested. Under normal circumstances, a good SBC president serves another consecutive term. If Litton refuses to resign, we will have the chance to remove him with our ballots next year.

#3 Talk to the Credentials Committee

The Credentials Committee is a newly formed committee within the SBC that makes inquiries of churches that are found to be not in friendly cooperation with the SBC. They don’t have the authority to remove churches, but they communicate with churches in question and present their findings to the Executive Committee. I have quoted their Statement of Assignment for clarity’s sake on what they can and can’t do:

If a church is deemed not to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith and practice, the Convention has the autonomous authority to declare it will no longer recognize the church as a cooperating church with the Convention and to sever its relationship with the church. Upon receipt of a submission, the Credentials Committee may inform the church of the concerns raised against it. If necessary to adequately garner the information necessary to fully vet the concern, the identity of the individual or individuals making the allegations may be shared with the church . . . If a church is deemed not in friendly cooperation, the Credentials Committee will notify the SBC Executive Committee in accordance with its assignment in SBC Bylaw 8. After this assessment is made the following steps would ensue. The Executive Committee, upon the next scheduled meeting, will consider the recommendation of the Credentials Committee. The Credentials Committee will issue statements concerning a church’s relationship with the Convention as follows: a recommendation to ask the Executive Committee to declare a church not in friendly cooperation with the SBC, which will be incorporated into the Executive Committee agenda which is distributed to Executive Committee members, Baptist media, and other elected Southern Baptist leaders prior to each of its scheduled meetings.

You can express your concerns about Ed Litton on the Credentials Committee’s webpage, as the congregation he pastors does not appear to have subjected him to official church discipline. He is the lead pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama. It is the leadership’s biblical obligation to deal with Litton’s plagiarism. Their pastor is making a grave error, which they do not appear to have rectified.

Conclusion

In this moment, we ought to remember these sober words:

“Without a sacred weight of character, the most splendid rhetoric will win only a short-lived applause; with it, the plainest scriptural instructions are eloquent to win souls. Eloquence may dazzle and please; holiness of life convinces. The pastor’s character speaks more loudly than his tongue.” — R. L. Dabney

Ed Litton, please repent of your plagiarism and resign as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, for the sake of character my dear brother. It is the right thing to do.