Dear Southern Baptists,
[Ed Litton] It was a hard fight at #SBC21, doing our very best to ensure that messengers calling for Reform in our great denomination were defeated. I knew that SBTS seminary president, Albert Mohler, has done everything within his power to quell this notion of reform and used his influence to promote those who better conform with the pre-1979 version of Southern Baptist “orthodoxy.” However, thanks to many so-called discernment blogs fueling the public outrage from their readers in the pew – who seemed to be fairly astute SBC Messengers who were “wise” as to Albert Mohler, I threw my hat in the ring knowing that if his attempts to appear conservative failed, he and his acolytes in the denomination’s ruling class would throw support behind the most liberal candidates nominated for SBC President. And so, reluctantly and without high expectations, I threw my hat into the ring.
Some called me out for my wife preaching to a gender-mixed Sunday assembly only weeks before the vote, and honestly, didn’t think I had a chance of winning. But given Mohler’s incapacity to speak out of both sides of his mouth without the convention eventually noticing, I sound found myself in a run-off election with conservative Southern Baptist Pastor, Mike Stone. However, with Mohler’s support and those of the SBC establishment fighting reform behind me, I was able to pull off a narrow victory.
Almost immediately, discernment ministers – in particular, Jeff Maples of Reformation Charlotte, Dustin Germain and Protestia, and Alan Atchnson of Capstone Report began to notice similarities between my sermons and those of former SBC president, JD Greear. And by “similarities” I mean word-for-word, paragraph-for-paragraph theft of his sermons. Other “reform influencers” like Rod Martin, Tom Buck, Gabe Hughes, and Elizabeth Prata soon took those videos and shared them even more widely. Meanwhile, my history of widespread plagiarism spread widely throughout the Twittersphere and social media, with respected ministers like Justin Peters putting up my memorized and plagiarized sermons video up against the original sermons preached by JD Greear. This, in particular, surprised me because after I was caught plagiarizing one sermon, I asked that hundreds more be taken down lest my lifestyle of sin is further exposed. But as is often the case in the land of the Internet, discerning souls downloaded those sermons before my team was able to erase them.
At first, I tried to excuse my sins of repeated, gratuitous plagiarism (a form of theft) by blaming it upon my 8-member writing staff. It may surprise pew-sitting Southern Baptists that megachurch pastors are so busy they cannot write their own sermons, but it is equally as surprising that their full-time sermon-writing staff are apparently also too busy to write my sermons. It became evident through countless sermons already exposed, that the majority of them were stolen from JD Greear.
Then, I also tried to argue that I had asked permission from Greear by the virtue of calling him on the phone and telling him I appreciated his sermon series. Of course, I did not ask him to “borrow” the material, or to steal it without attribution, but I presumed that a compliment toward another man’s intellectual property was the same as explicit permission to steal it. Of course, this doesn’t work with your neighbor’s cars, wives, or houses, but megachurch ethics are slightly more nuanced, and regular church-goers don’t understand the pressure mega-church pastors face. We have to steward six-figure salaries while carefully delegating every ounce of pastoral care, counseling, and prayer to other subordinate staff members. It’s hard work!
And while I’m thankful for arguments from certain of my #SBC21 supporters like Bart Barber (who insisted that plagiarism is okay because it doesn’t violate the BF&M2000), I am faced with the hard reality of what has already been put into print by my close friends on the topic of plagiarism and that which we have yet figured out how to erase from the Internet.
For example, one of my greatest supporters – with whom I could not have been elected president at the #SBC21 run-off election – Albert Mohler, once said in his Daily Briefing podcast on plagiarism, “This is just one of the most despicable practices that I can imagine [whether] read, borrowed, or stolen from somebody else…. He is not a preacher if he is preaching somebody else’s stuff” (source link).
JD Greear’s 2017 article on what constitutes plagiarism was clearly trespassed, no matter how much he has now changed his opinion regardless of whether he is a ‘respecter of persons’ over and against his own words.
Dave Miller and the guys at SBC Voices ran numerous articles on plagiarism back in 2012 and beyond including here, here, and here (two of these three have been taken offline in recent days, but don’t worry, I linked them from the WayBack Machine because the Internet never forgets). They explicitly called for the resignation of Land because of his thievery.
One SBC Voices author, the aforementioned one who tried to delete his words, said at the time (speaking of Richland Land’s plagiarism, the former head of the ERLC), “Clearly, Land’s intent was to pass off Kuhner’s words as his own. That’s the definition of plagiarism. As you can see, Land attempted to make Kuhner’s words his own by adding extra comments and using different adjectives.“
Dave Miller, one of my strongest defenders wrote of Richard Land, “I am afraid that sermon-stealing is more common than we’d like to admit, especially now that online repositories exist. It is unethical and immoral to do so. The preacher’s most sacred task is to search the scriptures for God’s word to his people every Sunday.”
I’ve come to this conclusion; no matter how much conservatives in the SBC might dislike me for coalescing with the Beth Moore and Russell Moore SBC expat-wing of evangelicalism, and no matter how much they might like my replacement (who was appointed in the very event that I died or morally disqualified myself), I have morally disqualified myself from pastoring, let alone from being the president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
I had basically one Biblical job, and chose not to do it. Instead of preparing sermons by study, I claimed to have outsourced it to my writing team. But as you can tell from the many videos, I clearly took time to memorize Greear’s words (and mannerism) when re-enacting his sermons like an actor rather than a preacher.
And so, I repent. I repent of lying to my church as I used JD Greear’s words as my own, without proper attribution. I repent for laying the blame at the feet of my writing team, when clearly I took part in watching, memorizing, and reenacting Greear’s sermons. I repent for willful rebellion and theft and directing my duty as a pastor.
I will now submit myself to church discipline, resign my position from the SBC post-haste, and find a job in the private sector while seeking repentance in sackcloth and ashes. I had one job. I failed at it. And not only did I fail it, I failed it at as a megachurch lifestyle choice. And most of all, I repent for trying to cover it up, for deleting my sermons to avoid further inspection, and for fraudulently presenting myself as a man of God and not as a thief.
Might God Have Mercy on Me, a Sinner,
[Contributed by JD Hall, president of Gideon Knox Group. If anyone has a problem falsely attributing my words to someone else, I refer you to Ed Litton, who has a ton of excuses for why this is perfectly okay]
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