While it has been like pulling teeth trying to get Southern Baptist leaders to break the 11th Commandment–thou shalt not speak out against other SBC leaders–some leaders are sensing the growing frustration among laypeople who are quickly tiring of the repeated failure of the leadership to take action when action is necessary. I’m speaking, of course, in the context of the Southern Baptist president, Ed Litton’s, plagiarism and lying scandal.
It’s been over three months since Litton was elected and his serial plagiarism was exposed. If you’re unaware of the scandal, you can brush up on it at this link. While some conservative small church pastors, bloggers, and simply frustrated laypeople have been repeatedly calling on Ed Litton to repent of his plagiarism and resign his position as president, the upper leadership of the denomination has been nauseatingly slow to act.
It’s not as though they were unaware or unconvinced of the scandal, it’s simply that nobody has been able to hold them accountable for their inaction.
Just two weeks ago, Al Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary finally broke his silence when pressured by a student to answer pointed questions about Ed Litton’s plagiarism and how plagiarism would be dealt with at his seminary. While he did–finally–denounce the plagiarism and express that he believed Litton to be a poor example for students, he practically absolved himself of any responsibility to act. He simply stated that it was a matter for the Convention to handle–not him.
Simply not true!
All Christians–especially pastors, elders, and leaders–are responsible for speaking up and confronting when others are in sin. Mohler should have been publicly and boldly calling not only for Litton’s voluntary resignation from his office as president but also for his repentance before God. Further, he should have been publicly calling for his church to discipline him. Instead, he contended that it was not for him to do.
Finally, however, amid growing pressure from Southern Baptists, more leaders are speaking out. The leadership of Kenwood Baptist Church, which includes Dr. Jim Hamilton and Dr. Denny Burk–both on staff at Mohler’s seminary–released a statement calling on Litton to resign.
“We believe that Dr. Litton would do well to resign voluntarily. His credibility as a leader and a preacher has been too compromised for him to continue. He may choose to muddle through the next convention or two, but we believe that would be a mistake. He should resign,” the letter reads.
“In spite of the fact that Dr. Litton had permission to use Greear’s sermons, what he did still constitutes plagiarism,” the letter continued. “Over the summer, numerous news outlets reported that the newly elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Ed Litton, had plagiarized a number of sermons from J. D. Greear (NY Times, Newsweek, RNS). Other evidence subsequently came to light suggesting that he had plagiarized at least one other sermon from Tim Keller as well.”
The elders also called into question Litton’s qualifications as a pastor, noting that while God will freely forgive him of his sins, this is a separate issue from his ability and qualifications to teach and lead:
Third, forgiveness of sins is not the same thing as qualification for leadership. While the Lord freely offers forgiveness to any penitent sinner, we nevertheless believe that Dr. Litton has engaged in behavior that is disqualifying for an elder. The plagiarism scandal has raised questions whether he is apt to teach, above reproach, and of good reputation with those outside the church (1 Tim. 3:1-7). It raises questions whether he is “diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Preaching is the central task of the pastor. A consistent pattern of copying sermons and falsely passing them off as one’s own suggests not only a failure of truthfulness but also a failure of the central task of the pastor. It suggests a “neglect” of the pastoral calling…
While we believe the timing of this letter is “better late than never,” we do thank these mean for their leadership. It’s high time more pastors and leaders jump on board this movement and call for Ed Litton’s repentance and resignation.