The underlying consequences of letting Ed Litton remain as president of the SBC are monumental, and few are considering the broader implications
No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes (Psalm 107:7)
The scandal hit almost immediately as Ed Litton was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Lest anyone think this is a spiteful conspiracy theory, I’ve two words of caution designed to bring you back to the land of reality. First (1) if this scandal was known prior, and Litton’s critics are universally ill-willed, it would have come out previous to the vote at the SBC annual convention. Secondly (2), this is no “conspiracy theory.” Litton’s plagiarism is on video, juxtaposed against videos of those who preached the messages first, and the evidence is undeniable.
As he was caught plagiarizing sermons, first reported by Jeff Maples at Reformation Charlotte, others began to play his sermons and comparing those to former SBC President JD Greear. Other discernment blogs like Protestia and Capstone Report found sermon after sermon that was, for lack of a better word (there is no better word, because it fits the definition perfectly), stolen. Soon, world-renowned polemicist, Justin Peters, put together a video with just a small montage of his plagiarism (found here).
The evening the scandal first broke widespread, I happened to be on the phone with Justin Peters (we do not speak often, but are both Montanans, and our paths happily cross on occasion). Peters asked my thoughts on what would happen next and how the SBC elite would respond. I answered plainly; “JD Greear would make an announcement the next day and state that he found the plagiarism flattering, and the scandal was “much ‘ado about nothing.” I also told Peters that we should expect to see dozens, if not hundreds of Litton’s sermons come down so they could not be further scrutinized for plagiarism.
Greear did exactly that, the next morning, and absolved Litton of theft because he didn’t have a problem with it, and so neither should anyone else. Greear tried to soften the plagiarism charge, recalling how Litton called to say he “appreciate his series,” but stopped short of stating Litton asked permission to steal it. The SBC elite had circled their wagons, as I predicted. Meanwhile, literally hundreds of Litton’s sermons have come down off of the Internet to avoid scrutiny. I also spoke to Fighting for the Faith’s Chris Rosebrough about our mutual covering of preaching plagiarism scandals over the year and we both agreed that we’ve never heard of a pastor being guilty of a single count of sermon theft. The pastor who plagiarizes one sermon is usually plagiarizing them all.
Plagiarism, of course, is theft. And theft is a terribly addictive sin. Lying comes from someone’s inner character, and that does not change as easily as a leopard changes its spots or an Ethiopian his skin.
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires… When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
To be clear, Litton is not guilty of “leaning upon” Greear’s work. He stole Greear’s work, word-for-word and mannerism-for-mannerism (the latter should demonstrate that Litton did not merely use the words written for him, but personally watched Greear’s delivery). Litton did not use Greear’s manuscript as a commentary. He took it verbatim. Furthermore, Litton did it not once, not twice, but at least dozens of times without any semblance of attribution.
At the very least, Litton is guilty of…
- Outsourcing his main job to a team for years who he never referenced as the real authors of his sermons
- Plagiarizing, either first or second-hand, the word-for-word sermons of another pastor without attribution
Doubling down in his sin, Litton blamed his sermon writing team for merely giving him the words to speak, which he spoke. Never mind – for a moment – that Litton used first-person language to tell personal stories that never happened to him personally, but it blew the minds of many Southern Baptists in divulging that he has a “writing team” who prepares his sermons.
Days later, JD Greear announced that he also outsources his sermon preparation and writing to a team to “make him look good.” Never has a truer admittance been made by that peacock of a preacher than acknowledging his goal of looking good.
QUESTIONS WE ARE ALL THINKING AND ASKING
Questions come to my mind immediately, and I don’t believe myself alone in my wonderings…
- If preparing sermons with prayer and study is the primary job of a church leader, and it is (Acts 6:4), what in the world do mega-pastors do with the rest of their time? Wardrobe selection? Tanning beds? Teeth-whitening? Hair-coiffing?
- If the church budget is paying a writing staff to prepare their pastors’ sermons, what are they paying the pastor for exactly?
- If the writing team is ‘apt to teach’ (2 Timothy 2:24) why aren’t they serving as missionaries, planters, and pastors in a world that definitely needs more missionaries, planters, and pastors? Are mega-churches leading the Great Commission or thwarting it?
- Are the writing teams even Christians, or are they just good at research and speech-writing? Do they also moonlight writing adult erotica? Who are these people and why are they okay with this?
- If the pastor isn’t doing his own study, but delivering that prepared by others, isn’t what he does on Sunday morning acting and not preaching? Doesn’t this make him a thespian, rather than a theologian?
- Greear and Litton both make this sound like a common and ordinary practice (including their failure to credit others with their work). How common is this?*
- Both Greear and Litton have given conference talks and interviews about their sermon-writing process (Litton even admits to having previously lied about it (his words), but neither acknowledged that others do their work. Is this not also systemic dishonesty?
- Litton has been stealing Greear’s work since at least 2015. That’s at least six years of not doing his job. How is that excused?
No doubt, Litton defenders – who by and large would defend sodomy if it kept a conservative from taking his office – would like to convey the “sermon writing team” as a universal practice for megachurch pastors. They would have us to believe it’s just business as usual, and treat us as rubes for not understanding that’s just how it works.
I reached out to Phil Johnson of Grace to You, and asked if Pastor MacArthur – an octogenarian pastor who still spends countless hours in his pastoral studies – ever utilized a “writing team” in his sermons.
Johnson answered, “Absolutely not. Never.”
When asked more specifically if there was a team, an intern, or an elder who assists with his sermons in any capacity, Johnson explained that on very rare occasions, he’ll ask if Johnson is aware of a good sermon illustration to convey a point. But according to Johnson, MacArthur hand-writes his own sermon notes, and compiles them into a sermon, completely by himself.
Several years ago, circa 2019, I asked Johnson via text what was taking Dr. MacArthur so long to make a statement on social justice. What Phil Johnson texted back to me, instantaneously, was a photo he snapped on his cell phone of Dr. MacArthur sitting at his desk, with a furrowed brow and hands upon his head with a migraine, scouring over his sermon notes. He included the information that our dear elder was not particularly feeling well, but was pouring over his sermon for Sunday. I’ve never felt so rebuked.
When asked if he knew of other megachurch pastors who write their own sermons exclusively, Johnson answered in the affirmative, “Charles Stanley and Chuck Swindoll.” Johnson also reminded me that it was first Mark Driscoll to use the Docent Research Group, a sermon-writing firm that helps pastors plagiarize their sermons.
Might the Docent Research Group – and those who use it – repent (or go to hell, whichever is most suitable to God). The users of Docent Research Group include Tim Keller (who spends his time promoting Cultural Marxism full-time), who is on video promoting Docent here. Ed Litton is on video promoting Docent here. This stands in stark contrast to the very explicit commands in scripture given to pastors in the pastoral epistles…
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
After Richard Land, the slightly more conservative predecessor to Russell Moore at the ERLC, was caught plagiarizing his editorials (something significantly less sacred than a sermon), evangelical moderates were eager to put him out to pasture for the plagiarism and a bevy of articles were produced clearly defining such actions as plagiarism. In recent days, those same men (including Greear) deleted those articles on plagiarism (but they’re saved on the WayBack Machine). For example, the tweet (below) is now a dead link, because it’s a liberal – and not a conservative – who is guilty of plagiarism.
A SMALL CHURCH PASTOR PERSPECTIVE
Let me speak as a small-church pastor of 127 members (the last time I counted). In the last four weeks, I have been home five times (four times to preach, and once for a civics meeting for which I’m an elected official and couldn’t miss). I have preached nearly every night away from home, led the invocation at the statewide GOP, meet with the governor’s small business ambassador to explain CRT, traveled with tour buses across the state, and preached at a major out-of-state conference. My lovely church sent a brother to mow my lawn, knowing I did not have time to manicure my lawn and prepare my sermons. They prepared me a hot breakfast before Sunday School and sent my wife home with my a fine smoked brisket, easing our family’s burdens because small-church pastors are busy, too. But they know, beyond a doubt, that I will be in the office until midnight on Saturday evening, or will be up at 5AM Sunday morning, to prepare my weekly sermon come hell or high water…because that’s my job. I have three elders who are apt to teach, and I run more than a handful of full-time publications (all writers must be members in good standing in their local churches, no matter the website they work for). And never, in my entire life, have I considered asking them to prepare my sermon for me. While providentially absent, I did not prepare a sermon for another pastor to deliver, but brought an elder from our sister-church in Bismarck to fill the pulpit who – I am sure – preached his own material.
God forbid the pulpit is used to display thievery.
As you can see, the reason I prepare my own sermons is not that I have a plethora of spare time as a small-church pastor (poor or rich, small or great, we all have 24 hours in a day). And by virtue of being the founder and president of Gideon Knox Group, I have an actual full-time team of paid (and volunteer) writers. All are capable of preparing sermons. Not once have I asked them so much as to assist my sermon preparation. Not even one of my personal secretaries (I have two) do I ask for assistance, research, or what celebrity pastors might call “show-prep.” As the worship pastor of the church (every pastor is the “Worship Pastor,” by the way) the only “help” I receive is asking our music leaders to occasionally accommodate my song requests (we are singing through the Psalms, which as Baptists, is a challenge) and I weekly approve their own music suggestions. But the sermon writing – that’s all me.
And then there are weeks when no sermon prep is possible. When little girls die, when bodies have to fished out of the river, when I was busy with COVID-19 home visits because other gutless coward pastors wouldn’t visit their own shut-ins and placed the responsibility upon me, or because of travel, or comforting the bereaved, or illness, I have the capacity by the Holy Ghost to open the Word of God and “shoot from the hip.” This is not “best practice,” but it’s a necessary skill of a gospel preacher to preach at a moment’s notice, sermon prep or not. And on those rare occasions, I put my face to the ground for 20 minutes and plea to God for divine unction, to pray – as Ian Paisley said – to “let every word be a lightning strike, and every sermon a thunderbolt.”
As the story is told, Charles Spurgeon walked up every step up into his pulpit saying beneath his breath, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
I ask you, what do the men who use Docent Research Group believe in? Certainly, it is not the Holy Ghost. These are godless men. Ghost-written sermons are not sermons delivered by the unction of the Holy Ghost.
IMPLICATIONS ARE DIRE
There are lots of implications for us in this scandal. Let me go through them briefly.
- Plagiarism is clearly disqualifying for the pastorate. Men defending Litton now have already said so in the past. Can a man serve as Southern Baptist President who is not fit to be a pastor? I have noticed the same men who publicly rallied (back in 2020) for the imminently disqualified Beth Moore to serve as the next president argue that women may serve in this capacity. Does this also go for disqualified male pastors?
- Defenders of Litton (like Bart Barber) have argued that plagiarism does not violate that Baptist Faith & Message (2000). Neither does it explicitly forbid bestiality. How far will we go in using the BF&M2000 to defend sin rather than to define orthodoxy?
- I am guessing that nearly 100% of the attendees at SBC21 would happily admit that habitual plagiarism disqualifies someone from president of the SBC. Now, I would bet that number would hover around 50%. That’s a subjective guess, but there is zero doubt the needle of perceived right and wrong has moved. The Overton Window has shifted toward sin.
- If plagiarism is acceptable for the Southern Baptist President, is it also acceptable in our institutions? For professors? What about for Bible College or seminary students?
I have repeatedly questioned Rhyne Putnam, former New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary professor and current Vice President for Academic Affairs of Williams Baptist University (my alma mater) if they would revoke my degree in Christian Ministry if they discovered plagiarism in my undergraduate work. Having lost my diploma nearly twenty years ago, my secretary recently asked for a new one. It contains Putnam’s signature (I highlighted his signature below). I was a classmate of Putnam while at WBU. Putnam called me years ago after hearing my sermon, Modern Day Downgrade, and so he at least at one time had my phone number (and I have left it on his voicemail only this morning). He has thus far refused to answer my question, I believe – for one reason – to revoke a degree for plagiarism would acknowledge that plagiarism is wrong. But to do so would hurt the political ambitions of Ed Litton and the moderates who now clearly control the Southern Baptist Convention.
What is at stake is the integrity of the Southern Baptist Convention. While we have already sworn off most SBC leaders as sons of the devil at Protestia, we readily acknowledge – as does our friend, Rod Martin (with whom we disagree on trying to save the Convention) – that there are thousands of Southern Baptist pastors who should not be impugned or maligned by their mere association with a Baptist Union that most certainly would have exiled Spurgeon. We happily await the day that Martin and the Conservative Baptist Network agree with us that Separatism is wiser than Puritanism.
But the current excusal of plagiarism in the SBC from the top-down maligns the degrees that pastors have earned from Southern Baptist institutions, as well as the ordinations we received from Southern Baptist Churches. The greatest problem currently is not that fraud resides in the office of SBC President. The greatest problem currently is not that SBC leaders aren’t calling for Litton’s resignation (although they should). The greatest problem currently is that Southern Baptist leaders – including our entity heads and seminary presidents – aren’t even calling for Litton’s repentance.
I expect an answer from WBU and Rhyne Putnam. I expect to be cited the exact institutional policy that disqualifies students for plagiarism and graduates – even ex post facto – should plagiarism be discovered. And if they are unwilling to stand for intellectual honesty and biblical truth, I will send my diploma back to them along with a bill for reimbursement for the 60 thousand dollars I paid for that piece of paper which is supposed to represent the work ethic that I have gone on to prove over 22 years of pastoral ministry.
Today, I called each man who signed my ordination certificate and asked if sermon plagiarism would cause them to publicly revoke my calling. Each one agreed that they would revoke my credentials, post haste. We only ask that the Southern Baptist Convention lead by example, care for Litton’s soul, and tell him to repent for telling lies for a living when his job was to be an expositor of truth.
[HT Doctrinal Watchdog]