I and many others around the Southern Baptist Convention continued to be perplexed, grieved, and frustrated with the ongoing situation with our current SBC president, Ed Litton. The lack of pressure from our higher-profile SBC leaders for Litton to resign from his role as president has been nothing short of astounding. Why? Because for too many no-name pastors and Southern Baptist church members, Litton's offense is obvious and serious. Yet, those who have the greater stewardship of leadership around our convention continue to stay on a path of inaction. Some have downplayed the significance of the offense or communicated that it's not their place to call for his resignation.
I have been patient with this ongoing problem. I wrote personal letters to a few individuals around the SBC, including one to Ed Litton dated July 6. I do believe the letter was gentle but direct. I explained how his leadership is now bereft of trust and that he needed to resign for the good of our convention. I warned that if he were to press on in the position, he would be a constant distraction from our cooperative work and a continual point of contention. He alone had the ability to avoid that by stepping down. Unfortunately, he has not resigned, and he is continuing to be a point of division around our convention. If you count him as a personal friend or acquaintance, you may not think that fair, but it is the reality. And, Litton has not responded to my letter. He has chosen to ignore it. I can only speculate as to how many other letters he has ignored.
There are some around our convention that point the finger at those who are calling Ed Litton out for his dishonesty as the problem. Litton himself considers those people to be examples of the new fundamentalism. According to Litton, this is the greatest threat currently to the SBC.
I have been amazed at social media comments by those who shift blame to those who continue to point out the offense. Sure, there are some who have been relentless and snarky about this. So what? That is irrelevant to the facts. And even if you think those guys are disqualified for their quarrelsomeness, that has nothing to do with the questions about Ed Litton. These folks need to stop with the fallacious misdirecting. It is not honest.
I believe Litton needs to be called out for what he has done. His actions have exposed a lack of integrity in his leadership as a pastor. He has become a reproach to many within the SBC. He is not biblically "above reproach." He has become a scandal and is hurting the very group of believers he is claiming to serve (1 Tim. 3:2).
I want to tell you why continuing to call out Ed Litton's sin and to call for his resignation is right. I have done this quietly in letters and personal conversations, but with the inaction of the last three months, it is time to turn up the volume. Those of us whom he represents cannot in good conscience simply let this go. He continues to speak publicly about it. I should not feel that it is inappropriate for me to speak to it as well. It is our business.
Ed Litton is an elder who has been given the stewardship of leading our convention as well as his local church. Two weeks after his election he was caught in a serious sin regarding his leadership for which he is unrepentant. And simply because he says he has repented does not mean that he has repented. He may say that he is adopting new practices regarding his sermon preparation, but he still has not repented. Each time he has had the opportunity truly to repent of the actual offense, he has offered only obfuscation. Anyone who is listening with an ounce of discernment can clearly perceive this reality.
Scripture is clear about this situation. And with each speaking engagement or interview, our convention continues into deeper disobedience to God's Word.
"Brothers, if anyone is caught in a transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourselves, lest you too be tempted" (Gal. 6:1).
Litton was caught in a transgression. And the goal of rebuke and holding a brother accountable is for restoration. However, we know restoration must be preceded by genuine repentance, which has not happened, at least not publicly within the SBC. And his dishonesty in preaching should be a sober warning to other preachers who are currently committing the same sin. Maybe the reason so many want to give him a pass on this is because they make sermon plagiarism their habit as well.
"As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so the rest may stand in fear" (1Tim. 5:20).
Ed Litton is persisting in sin. He certainly is not passing off J.D. Greear sermons as his own anymore, but he is persisting in sin with a proud heart. This pride is on display whenever he speaks. He evidences no real repentance of the actual offense, and he shifts blame onto those who continue to raise the issue, as if he is under some kind of unfair attack.
There is no joy in the biblical responsibility of rebuking, yet to shirk the responsibility when the occasion clearly calls for it is to disobey God. The reason rebuke doesn't feel right to so many Christians is because it is so rarely done in our churches, local associations, or conventions. It's much easier to avoid awkward situations or to rationalize away the severity of the offense for the sake of unity for mission or even the gospel itself.
The right response here takes courage from those who are tempted to circle the wagons and self-protect. It's easy for some to virtue signal when they know they will receive accolades from their constituents with little risk of criticism. However, when it's time to call for what is right when it applies negatively to one of your own fellow elites or personal friends, courage often evaporates.
Even if Litton were genuinely to repent of the true offense, a pertinent issue still remains. A leader will at moments have to measure the effectiveness of his leadership. He must have the self-awareness to know that he may be more of a liability to the health of the whole organization rather than an asset. At this point, it isn't a matter of whether this condition was caused by others or self-inflicted. The reality is that removing oneself from leadership is what will best benefit the group. The fact is the vast majority of Southern Baptists pastors and church members don't personally know Ed Litton. They wanted to trust him and support him, but because of what he has done, they cannot have confidence in his leadership. He is a leader that has a reproach on him, whether he wants to acknowledge it or not. This is not on the Southern Baptists who are offended; this is on Ed Litton who have given the offense.
I have some questions for those who continue to provide a safe cover for Ed Litton right now - those who continue to invite him to speak in their churches or on their campuses, pretending that there is no significant offense. I have questions for those who do ministry on behalf of Southern Baptists in high-profile positions who have refused to hold a fellow brother accountable for his sermon dishonesty.
Do you believe by your silence, inaction, and tacit approval of Ed Litton's documented lack of integrity regarding his preaching that you are helping or hurting the SBC?
Do you believe that if Ed Litton remains in his position that disunity in our convention will increase or decrease?
Do you believe Ed Litton will be an effective leader when he presides over the annual meeting in 2022, or will he be a distraction?
Do you believe the Bible gives us a clear course of action regarding the situation with Ed Litton?
Traditionally an SBC president receives a second term unopposed if still willing to serve. Do you think if he chooses to run again that will cause division?
I'm afraid we have some short-sighted leadership around our convention right now who refuse to ask such questions and supply honest answers.
The secular world appears to understand the seriousness of Ed Litton's sermon dishonesty more than many of those within our own convention. They seem to understand the disqualifying nature of such acts, more than we do. And with each passing day that he remains in the office, our convention loses more and more credibility from without and from within. This year a major university president resigned because of plagiarism in a speech (see article here). Here in the SBC, we have a serial plagiarizer who has the responsibility of handling the Word of God, and we are treating it as hardly any offense at all.
Ed Litton participated in an interview with Dr. Adam Greenway yesterday before seminary students at SWBTS. I would encourage you to watch it in its entirety, if you have not. You can judge whether my take on it is reasonable (watch here).
Again, he had an opportunity to confess genuinely his dishonesty. Instead, he offered convoluted statements that essentially framed the discussion as him as a victim of others' vicious criticism and slanders. He spoke of his predicament as a test of faith, not as a consequence of his dishonesty. He said that he repented before his congregation for not giving credit to J.D. Greear, but he has never clearly and publicly repented of his intentional and repeated deception in his preaching. He continues to frame his sin as a mistake, an oversight, or as unwise practice, not as something he willfully did, knowing it was wrong.
I have the greatest respect for Dr. Greenway, someone with whom I am personally acquainted. I certainly do not fault him for having the president of the SBC as a featured speaker in chapel. However, he did not press Litton on the obvious ethical questions. He allowed Litton's convoluted answers that skirted the heart of the matter to go unchallenged.
This has been the disheartening pattern as Litton continues to travel, speak and do interviews. He continues to offer insufficient answers, and those asking the questions won't press into the meat of the issue. No one will ask, "Did you not know you were deceiving your congregation when you preached verbatim large chunks of J.D. Greear's sermons?" Or, "How do you explain using a personal illustration from one of Greer's sermon as if it happened to you? Did you actually have the same exact experience?" Or, "Can you understand that people perceive an integrity issue with your leadership because of your plagiarizing sermons?" Or, "You keep saying you didn't plagiarize, but you did repeatedly present others work as your own? Isn't that being intentionally dishonest?" Or, "If you don't consider what you did as sermon plagiarism, what would you call it?" I could go on, but these are the kinds of questions those doing interviews won't ask.
I am absolutely sure that Ed Litton has many remarkable qualities as a believer and as a pastor. I believe he has been a pastor at his church for many years because overall he has demonstrated competency and character. Yet, even that record does not excuse what we now know.
Whether or not this offense disqualifies him from pastoring his church is not my business. That is up to the prayerful discernment of his elders and congregation. However, his offense is my business because of his role as my convention president who represents the church I pastor. I am confident that people could testify all day long to his positive qualities, and I would take each at his or her word. Nevertheless, he has perpetrated dishonesty in the pulpit repeatedly, demonstrating a lack of integrity, for which he has not repented. And even if he did, I believe he has still disqualified himself from serving as our convention president.
The United States Air Force has three core values. The first one is "Integrity First." Without this you cannot lead well. No one expects perfection in a leader. Every reasonable person concedes that leaders will make mistakes. The biblical qualification for pastors certainly doesn't require perfection, but it does demand a confidence regarding integrity.
The lack of action from our convention leaders who have influence is telling. We often give the appearance of being more concerned with self promotion than we really are with biblical faithfulness. We talk a good spiritual talk most of the time, but our actions (or inactions) truly reveal our hearts.
I pray that God will break our hearts for obedience, not success. I pray God will grant us boldness in the application of his Word, not adherence to tribes or politics. I pray God will bring us to a broken place of real repentance that leads to trusting him, and not in ourselves. I pray God will grant us faith and courage, even at the cost of position, power, and influence.
God help us.