SBC Pres. Ed Litton apologizes for copying JD Greear sermon without credit

Newly elected Southern Baptist Convention president Ed Litton and outgoing president J.D. Greear take a selfie after Greear pounded the gavel for the last time June 16, 2021, to close the SBC Annual Meeting. Litton will open the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, California, with the pound of the gavel.
Newly elected Southern Baptist Convention president Ed Litton and outgoing president J.D. Greear take a selfie after Greear pounded the gavel for the last time June 16, 2021, to close the SBC Annual Meeting. Litton will open the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, California, with the pound of the gavel. | Robin Jackson

Days after a video posted on YouTube highlighted similarities between separate sermons delivered by Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton and his predecessor, J.D. Greear, who both suggest that God appears to "whisper" about sexual sin in the Bible, Litton has apologized for not giving credit to Greear.

“Yesterday, some questions arose about a sermon I delivered in January 2020 on Romans 1, addressing the sin of homosexuality. Specifically, there were concerns about similarities with a sermon delivered by J.D. Greear a year earlier,” Litton, the pastor of Redemption Church in Alabama, explained in a statement Saturday.

“ … I am sorry for not mentioning J.D.’s generosity and ownership of these points. I should have given him credit as I shared these insights.”

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The approximately seven-minute clip highlighting the similarities of the sermons delivered by Greear and Litton drew allegations of plagiarism and concerns about their theology on how sexual sins are treated in the Bible.

“Twice in a row, the Southern Baptist Convention has elected a president who teaches that the Bible ‘whispers’ about sexual sin. Wouldn't you think that appointing leaders who preach that the Bible ‘whispers’ about sexual sin is the wrong way to fight sex abuse?” tweetedPastor Gabriel Hughes of First Baptist Church in Lindale, Texas, in early criticism of the sermons a week ago.

While arguing that homosexuality is sinful, both Greear, who leads The Summit Church in North Carolina, and Litton make nearly identical comments about the behavior.

“Homosexuality does not send you to Hell,” Greear notes in the clip. “You know how I know that? Because heterosexuality does not send you to Heaven.”

In his sermon, Litton notes: “Homosexuality does not send people to Hell. How do I know that? Because heterosexuality doesn’t send people to Heaven.”

In his explanation of the similarities between their sermons, Litton said he had Greear’s permission to use his ideas but noted that the lack of credit was an oversight on the part of his preaching team.

“Like thousands of other Southern Baptist pastors, I labor every week, preparing to stand in front of the congregation God has called me to serve. In preparation for our series on Romans, I used several resources to help me think through how to structure the series and how best to communicate the profound truths we encounter in these passages,” Litton stated.

“We employ a preaching team approach at Redemption Church that is comprised of eight men from our staff/congregation who meet weekly to discuss study insights, outlines, and approaches to the text. This sermon prep process includes working in the languages, consulting commentaries and books, and listening to strong communicators. In that process, I learned about my friend J.D. Greear's messages on Romans and discovered what he had recently preached resonated with the direction God was leading me and our preaching team. We often consulted his manuscripts along with other resources as we prepared."

Litton said that he found Greear's message on Romans 1 "insightful," especially "his three points of application."

"With his permission, I borrowed some of his insights and those three closing points," Litton wrote. "Our team also, with his permission, used The Summit Church’s chapter and verse breakdown of Romans as we mapped out our entire series."

The pastor further noted that his team has since done an audit of all 46 sermons in the teaching series and found similar "similar illustrations, quotes or points of application."

"One shares the same title, and one has a similar outline,” Litton said.

“I felt it important to address this in order to provide the truth and to take responsibility for places where I should have been more careful. I am committed to being a man of integrity and humility. I will not waver from that as I lead Redemption Church to be Christ followers and the SBC to unite around her mission."

In a statement posted to his website, Greear stated that his Romans series "got a lot of traction" as "clips and summaries of this message were shared on a number of blog and podcast sites." He called it "one of the most widely distributed messages" he ever preached at The Summit Church. 

"Several months later, Pastor Ed Litton reached out and told me that he had really appreciated my take on Paul’s warnings in that chapter and asked if he could use some of the content with his congregation, as well as how we had broken down our entire series on Romans at The Summit Church," Greear detailed. "I told him that whatever bullets of mine worked in his gun, to use them! My own take on these kinds of things is usually shaped by the input of many godly men and women. Ed and I have been friends for many years and we have talked often about these matters, and I was honored that he found my presentation helpful."

Greear added that "much has also been made" about his statement that Christians should "whisper about what the Bible whispers about and shout about what it shouts about.” 

" ... I was in no way trying to imply that sexual ethics are muted in Scripture, that we should not speak clearly about them, or that we should be embarrassed by them," Greear said. "The preceding point of that message, in fact, which was not included in the clips that got passed around, makes that abundantlyclear. In that point, I state plainly Scripture could not be clearer about these matters and that rebellion in sexual sin, as 1 Cor 6:9–11 states in no uncertain terms, is a matter of eternal destiny."

"When Tom Ascol and a few of the same pastors seemingly looking to trap me in my words first highlighted these things nearly two years ago, they never reached out to me for clarification, a clarification I would have been happy to supply," he added. "Some others did, and when I shared the fuller context of my words, most were satisfied, even if they still preferred I avoid the shout/whisper analogy. The redacted clip was used to imply that I was saying something that I clearly was not saying. Whether or not this was an intentional misrepresentation I cannot judge, but it was at best a negligent one." 

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