Southern Baptist President Ed Litton continued to deny plagiarism charges on a podcast released last week, saying he did nothing wrong, then claiming that he’s been forgiven and just wants to move on.
Appearing on episode 144 of the Potluck Podcast, the hosts ask him about the plagiarism incidents that have dogged from immediately after his election, when it was revealed that despite having a whole preaching team around him made up of 6-8 men that help him prepare sermons and do research, he had been plagiarizing his recent sermon series from outgoing SBC President and Summit Church pastor J.D. Greear.
Up to this point, Litton has denied wrongdoing, claiming he had permission from Greear to copy his outline and a few illustrations, but it did not stop there. Subsequent investigations have revealed that going back to at least 2012, Litton has been plagiarizing sermons from a other pastors, such as Tim Keller.
It also was not just a few brilliant points he was borrowing, but rather Litton would frequently copy large chunks of stories, prayers, and illustrations verbatim. When the story first broke at our sister site Reformation Charlotte, it was said that he copied one sermon. We have since found a smorgasbord of plagiarized sermons. Even his co-pastor plagiarized Greer. In fact, even his wife Kathy was privy to some plagiarism.
The fact that Litton has treated his preaching in such cavalier fashion is not wholly unexpected, as he has been known to tell a few whoppers. Litton admits that he used to lie to people all the time when asked how on it took him to write sermons, and just last year Litton claimed that only men preached at his church, and then it was revealed that women preached over 15 sermons at his church, representing 8% of sermons in some years.
During the Podcast he is asked, “But there have been some voiced concerns regarding your preaching, even calls for you to resign, not just the presidency, but also at your own church. If you had just a few minutes to simply share your heart, clear the air, whatever it may be, what would you say to the Southern Baptist who may hear this and maybe even share some of those same concerns?”
Yeah, listen, I understand why some people are concerned, I really do because of what they’re hearing. And I just, and there’s videos, and even people in my church, we’ve sat down and talked about it. And there’s publications, things being said.
So the best way I can describe, really, is most of it centers, not all but most of it centers around a Romans series that we did last year. And when we were outlining the series, you know that’s a responsible part of pastoring and preaching is if you’re going to preach the stuff, you want to outline what you’re going to cover each week. And so I was looking to do that. And I was in the process of doing that. And I remembered that my friend J.D. had already done that.
So I called him and I said, ‘can you send me a spreadsheet’ – he keeps his on a spreadsheet – ‘that shows me how you outlined it. I want to see how mine’s lining up, if I’m approaching this right.’ And in that process, he gave me permission not only to do that, he said ‘any material at all, you’re welcome to it,’ and I appreciated that.
And I had no intention of doing anything with it, except I enjoy listening to him and I enjoy how he handles certain things in teaching. So I did listen to him. And so here’s what I want to make it very clear. Like any pastor, I used his material to help me outline it. And then I (unintelligible) material after I’d done the Greek work, after I’d read my commentaries, try to get a sense of how this passage needs to be explained to my people.
And there’s a couple places in particular, where we share the same outline. And there’s a couple places in particular where I use a lot of phrases that he did. And I just want to say this, I want to be clear. I think the older you get, the more set you get in language, and you tend to rely on what you’ve used in the past. I’ve always been the guy who wants to always figure out, ‘am I really connecting with people, my people, I want them to understand this.’
I didn’t do this, what I did, what it appears that I did. I don’t think it’s exactly what actually I did.
But, the point is, when I did it, I wasn’t trying to make a name for myself. I was trying to help my people understand scripture. And I’ll be honest with you, Romans is an intimidating book for me. Now, you guys are a lot smarter than I am, it’s probably not as intimidating for you. But it was. So I did rely on that.
Here’s the problem, I had permission, which I think means it’s not plagiarism. The problem was, I didn’t, and it’s obvious that I did not tell my people exactly the source that it came from. I didn’t cite the commentaries I read either.
And so that’s what I have, I have apologized to my people, they have very warmly accepted that. Our leadership and I’ve sat down and we’ve talked about how we can correct this, and we’re in the process of correcting it.
I’m fasting [?!? -Ed.] from certain things I’ve always done in preaching, and approaching every message I preach, whether it’s at the convention, or at a location, or in our own church, I’m approaching it differently.
And, and so this is [sic] I take this very seriously. And this is what I share with my people, every week, you have trusted me for 27 years to be a man of truth. And, and so I have to tell you the truth. And if you can’t trust me, then I have no basis of leadership in this church.
And so we’re grateful for the opportunity to address it. But the other thing is, I believe the Lord has forgiven me. And I believe that the Lord is helping me learn even a stronger better way to communicate. And we’re moving on. We feel like we’re dealing with it, we can move forward.
Litton says most of it centers around the Romans series, but he’s been doing it since 2012. What of the other pastors he has plagiarized from? Did he ask Greear in 2015 when he plagiarized part of his sermon? What about everything else other than the Romans series? How is that explained?
Litton continues to frame it as merely using the outline and then making it seem coincidental in a “great minds think alike” sort of way, and does not explain or admit to why or how he lifted large portions of the sermons.
He continues to minimize, equivocate, and obfuscate by pointing out that he didn’t cite the commentaries he used either, while also saying that it’s not plagiarism if he has permission, which is patently ridiculous.
Why did Litton need to be forgiven if he did nothing wrong?
If Litton were “grateful for the opportunity to address it,” he would have done so much earlier. He makes it sound like he’s been finally given the platform to say what’s on his mind. For months he’s had nearly an unlimited opportunity to address it and tens of thousands of people wanting him to address it, but he purposefully chose not to, and when he did only to a friendly inquisitor.
If Litton thinks this superficial revisionist history is sufficient to quell the questions, he is unfortunately mistaken.
Editor’s Note. h/t to Tom Buck, where we first saw the story, and whose tweet was copied verbatim to be the headline.
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