Litton addresses ‘serious’ issues facing Executive Committee, sermon plagiarism in conversation at Southwestern Seminary

Ashley Allen
| Sep 14, 2021

In his first Southern Baptist seminary chapel appearance since his election as Southern Baptist Convention president, Ed Litton addressed Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Texas Baptist College students, faculty, and staff during the Sept. 14 chapel, particularly noting the “serious” issues facing the Executive Committee (EC) of the SBC, as well as charges against him of sermon plagiarism.

In a restructured format that did not include music or a sermon, Litton, a 1986 Master of Divinity graduate of Southwestern Seminary and pastor of Redemption Church in Mobile, Alabama, sat down for “A Conversation with Ed Litton” facilitated by Southwestern Seminary and Texas Baptist College President Adam W. Greenway. In the question-and-answer session that lasted approximately an hour, Litton answered questions related to the EC, plagiarism, suffering in ministry, the SBC’s future, plans for the 2022 SBC annual meeting, and other matters. 

“I know that there are others out there who have wanted to try to speak for Dr. Litton, but I think it’s actually best when Dr. Litton is allowed to speak for Dr. Litton,” Greenway said as he introduced the former Southwestern Seminary trustee to the gathering that included new Southwestern Seminary trustees who were on campus for trustee orientation.

Noting the interest in the upcoming Sept. 20-21 EC meeting in Nashville, Greenway asked Litton his hopes following the gathering, “particularly in light of the actions of messengers related to the task force that you have appointed and their work that directly intersects with the Executive Committee.”

Acting upon a motion adopted at the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Nashville, Litton appointed a seven-member task force to oversee the EC’s handling of sexual abuse claims from Jan. 1, 2001 to June 14, 2021. The task force, chaired by Bruce Frank, pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden, North Carolina, and 1991 Southwestern Seminary Master of Divinity graduate, announced on Sept. 9 that Guidepost Solutions would lead the third-party investigation. Vice-chairman of the task force, Marshall Blalock, pastor of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, is a 1982 Master of Divinity graduate of Southwestern Seminary.

Explaining that “there are a lot of issues at stake here,” Litton said the purpose “both in word and in spirit of the motion of forming this task force investigating the Executive Committee was that this be independent of the Executive Committee.”

Litton said he prayerfully chose the members of the task force not to be on a “witch hunt” while also being free from EC “influence … so that it could be a proper investigation of the Executive Committee and how it's handled cases of abuse over the last 20 years.”

He said “what’s up to the Executive Committee now is to fully fund [the investigation], and to release at least limited attorney client privileges” in order to have “best practices” so “the investigation can do its job” and report its findings to the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Anaheim, California.

Litton said the most important thing Southern Baptists can do “both in prayer and support for the EC” is to “encourage EC representatives to vote for that to take place and not to oppose or resist it.”

Repeating that “a lot is at stake” in the handling of the investigation, including the Gospel, and Southern Baptist credibility and unity, Litton told the gathering, “There is a serious issue here and that is that we maintain our polity as a Southern Baptist Convention in the midst of all this.”

Earlier in the conversation, Litton said the SBC “sent a clear message at this convention, that we’re tired of abuse, and it has to be dealt with. It needs to be investigated. It needs to be looked at thoroughly.” Additionally, a “clear message” emerged that “this is not a witch hunt; this is an opportunity for us to pave the way for the future and the ultimate is to get back to the Gospel,” he said.

Noting “conversation, controversy, claims” have been made in relationship to Litton’s preaching ministry since immediately following his election as SBC president, Greenway asked Litton to address “what has come to be known in the common parlance as the sermon plagiarism controversy.”

In the two weeks following his election as SBC president, various videos were posted linking Litton’s sermon series on Romans in 2020 to a series preached previously by J.D. Greear, Litton’s immediate SBC presidential predecessor and pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina.

“I take preaching very seriously,” Litton began in his explanation to the gathering. “It is critical that the man of God preach the Word of God, the truth of God to God’s people and that there is a trust relationship built when that is done. And so, there is a high value and primacy in preaching.”

Despite having preached Romans previously, Litton described the series of messages as “intimidating” for him. He began listening to Greear’s messages and was “really moved by the way he handled some really challenging passages,” which led him to reach out to the North Carolina pastor.

Litton asked how Greear “broke down the Book of Romans to do it in one year” and asked if he could use it. 

“He was very gracious,” Litton said of Greear. He remembered Greear even quoted the late pastor and former SBC president Adrian Rogers: “If my bullet fits your gun, then shoot it.”

Litton explained that there are “times where I made statements that others have been able to line up with statements … from the same text, the same passage” from which Greear preached.

“I don’t consider that plagiarism,” Litton said. He said his sin was failure to credit. “And I’ve been asked why. And I’m a little mystified by that, too, because I’m very transparent with my people.”

In explaining his actions following the discovery, Litton said, “I have repented of that to my church. I have repented of that to our leadership and, quite frankly, we are in a process of change.”

Litton used the opportunity to encourage the gathering of seminary and college students to model brokenness before their people.

“Be transparent as you possibly can,” Litton said. “Be real.”

Litton, whose first wife, Tammy, died in a car accident in 2007, told the assembly it is “the stewardship of your suffering that will give you more progress in the Gospel than you’ve ever imagined as a pastor.”

Litton encouraged students to develop an intimate relationship with God that is not obstructed by studies or work. He concluded the conversation by reminding those in attendance, “Friend, the greatest thing that you can have to offer this world is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The entire conversation can be viewed here.

Chapel is held every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 10 a.m. (CT) in MacGorman Chapel on the campus of Southwestern Seminary. Chapel may be viewed live at swbts.edu/live.