Amid charges of sermon plagiarism, newly elected Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton is facing calls for his resignation.
Litton recently acknowledged borrowing some sermon material, with permission, from immediate past SBC President J.D. Greear, and Greear confirmed that statement. However, since that declaration, Litton’s critics from the far right of the SBC have continued to dig through his sermon archives and charged that he repeatedly lifted sermons almost verbatim from Greear.
A YouTube channel has been created to highlight side-by-side video comparisons of Greear preaching and Litton preaching almost verbatim what Greear had said, including personal illustrations.
A YouTube channel has been created to highlight side-by-side video comparisons of Greear preaching and Litton preaching almost verbatim what Greear had said.
Litton’s church, Redemption Church near Mobile, Ala., recently removed 140 videos of Litton’s sermons from its website and posted this explanation: “By the action of the leadership of Redemption Church, we have taken down sermon series prior to 2020 because people were going through sermons in an attempt to discredit and malign our pastor. It is our highest priority to care for and shepherd our church.”
The situation, dubbed “sermongate” by Litton’s critics, has put a spotlight on the unspoken practice of sermon “borrowing” often without citation, by some pastors. The present case has become such a controversy that it made the New York Times this week.
Litton was elected SBC president in what began as a four-person race that required a second ballot to determine. His chief opponent was Mike Stone, a Georgia pastor aligned with the ultra-conservative group called Conservative Baptist Network. Litton was portrayed as the more mainstream candidate who would lead the conflicted denomination to address its racist past and allegations of covering up clergy sexual abuse.
Before the two-day convention had ended, allies of the Conservative Baptist Network were attacking Litton and his church for a doctrinal statement on the church’s website about the Trinity that they claimed was heretical. They also criticized him for allowing his wife to share the pulpit with him for a message one Sunday; the SBC is adamantly opposed to women preaching.
Now, Litton’s critics have launched a petition demanding that he resign his SBC leadership post — an action that would have immense ripple effects throughout the convention. One of the greatest powers the SBC president has is naming the committee that nominates the Committee on Committees. And this year, the president also has been mandated to name a special task force to investigate charges of covering up or mishandling allegations of clergy sexual abuse.
One of Litton’s chief critics is Tom Ascol, director of another far-right group within the SBC called Founders Ministries. He tweeted June 29: “All you defenders of @EdLitton — if you truly love him, encourage him to get off this God-dishonoring road. May God have mercy on him & his church.”
Others have said Litton should apologize but not resign. Among those is Bart Barber, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, and a member of the SBC Executive Committee.
In a series of tweets June 29, he said: “I do not believe that @EdLitton should resign. Giving my rationale involves making some critique of various brothers in Christ, and I want to be as charitable as I can about that while also being truthful. I disagree with Ed’s approach to preaching. This is not just about plagiarism. I disagree with having a panel discussion with your wife and calling it preaching. I disagree with sermon-by-committee. His approach to preaching and mine are just very different. … But, I disagree with the CBN’s approach to committee appointments and to the protection of the rights of messengers. I love these brothers, and don’t consider them my enemy, but they’ve been pretty clear about what they wish to do with the appointive power of the SBC presidency, and I’m strongly opposed to that.”
Barber concluded: “@EdLitton is not the SBC pastor or the SBC preacher; he’s the SBC president. The task of the presidency consists precisely of appointing committees and conducting the annual meeting in such a way as to protect the will of the messengers. Litton has not transgressed the Baptist Faith & Message, nor has he committed any malfeasance of his office. If he were outside the boundaries of our statement of faith or if he were abusing the power of his office, I would call for him to resign. He is not. Thus I am not.”
What would happen if Litton were to resign or somehow be forced from office is unclear because it is unprecedented and not specifically mentioned in the convention’s bylaws. However, the bylaws defer to Roberts Rules of Order, which state that in most circumstances when the president of an organization resigns, the vice president moves up.
So within the SBC, presumably First Vice President Lee Brand Jr., would take the lead. Brand is vice president and dean of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tenn., and a member of the steering committee for the Conservative Baptist Network. Thus, his ascension to the top spot would be a victory for the ultra-conservatives whose attempt at winning the presidency this year fell short by about 500 votes.