(RNS) – The newly-elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention has apologized for delivering a sermon in which he used elements of his predecessor without revealing where they came from.
A video posted on YouTube Thursday, June 24, showed excerpts from a January 2020 sermon on the New Testament book of the Romans of Litton and excerpts from a January 2019 sermon on the same biblical passage by JD Greear, including his tenure as president of SBC ended in June.
In several places, the comments of the two preachers are almost identical.
“. âIf you know them, if you know them, put your hand on their shoulder and say, ‘It’s going to be a really tough week for you.
Litton is doing something very similar.
âI want you to turn to your neighbor now. And I want you to say, I know this sermon is going to be really tough for you, âhe said.
The two pastors also say very similar things about homosexuality, which they both see as a sin.
But they each say Christians have erred in treating sexual sin as if it is worse than other sins – and naming LGBT people as the worst sinner.
âHomosexuality doesn’t send you to hell,â says Greear. “Do you know how I know that?” Because heterosexuality doesn’t send you to heaven.
Litton says the same thing: âHomosexuality doesn’t send people to hell. How can I find out? Because heterosexuality doesn’t send people to heaven.
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Greear also says in his sermon that the âgospel message is not ‘let gay people get straight.’ The gospel message is âlet the dead come aliveâ.
One line from Litton’s sermon is almost identical: âThe gospel message is not ‘let homosexuals stand up straight.’ The message of the gospel is âthat the dead are raisedâ.
Litton’s sermon was removed from the Redemption Church website in Mobile, Alabama, where he is pastor. A recording of it was still live on the church’s Facebook page on Saturday morning (June 26). Greear’s sermon is posted on the website of The Summit Church in North Carolina, where he is pastor.
In a statement on Saturday, Litton said that by researching and preparing the sermon for the passage, he saw Greear’s sermon and found it useful.
âI found JD Greear’s post on Romans 1 to be insightful, especially its three points of application,â he said in the statement. “With his permission, I borrowed some of his ideas and these three closing points.”
At no point in the sermon did Litton give Greear credit. It’s something he said he regrets.
âAs any pastor who preaches regularly knows, we often rely on scholars and fellow pastors to help us think and communicate more clearly in order to faithfully preach the truths of Scripture to our congregations,â he said. he said in the press release.
âBut I’m sorry I didn’t mention JD’s generosity and ownership of these points. I should have given him credit for sharing these ideas.
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Greear addressed the issue in his own statement. He said he spoke with Litton and gave him permission to use his equipment. He used a phrase often used by other preachers, saying, “I told him that whatever bullets were working in his gun, to use them.”
“My take on this stuff is generally shaped by the contribution of many godly men and women,” he said in the statement. “Ed and I have been friends for many years and we have talked about these topics often, and I was honored that he found my presentation useful.”
Borrowing from other preachers is a common practice among pastors. When it goes too far, it can lead to plagiarism. In 2017, for example, a devotional book by Pastor Hillary Clinton was pulled by the publisher after reports alleged that the book contained material plagiarized from other pastors.
Some preachers also use research assistants or âsermon helpersâ to find illustrations that help them convey the meaning of the Bible text to their audience.
It can be a form of cheating, argues theologian Scot McKnight, professor at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. McKnight thinks that a sermon is not just a speech. Instead, it should stem from a pastor’s encounter with God in the Bible and be written for a specific congregation.
âThe very idea of ââtaking someone else’s sermon destroys what sermon preparation is meant to be,â he told Religion News Service earlier this year.
Greear’s 2019 sermon has created controversy in the past. During the sermon, Greear said that the Bible talks more about sins like pride and greed than sexual sin.
âThe Bible seems to whisper more about sexual sin than its cries about materialism and religious pride,â he said. This line refers to a comment by Evangelical Bible professor Jen Wilkin as well as a statement by renowned theologian RC Sproul, who warned his students: âI find it always dangerous to cry out where God has whispered.
Critics like Florida Baptist pastor Tom Ascol, president of Founders Ministries, accused Greear of distorting the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. Earlier this week, Dallas Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress condemned Litton and Greear’s comments.
“And when a man of God stands up and stutters and waffles and hesitates about it, he is indirectly giving permission for people to enter a degrading and destructive way of life,” he said. Told conservative talk show host Todd Starnes. “It’s a loveless thing to do.”
Starnes is a staunch supporter of the Conservative Baptist Network, which claims the SBC has become “awake” and liberal. A CBN candidate, Georgia Pastor Mike Stone narrowly lost to Litton in the SBC presidential race earlier this month.
Greear said his critics took his comments out of context. He also said the controversy over his sermon – and Litton’s use of his sermon – reflects a lack of trust in the country’s largest Protestant denomination.
âI’ve said it before: a culture of suspicion happens automatically; a culture of trust takes intentionality. Our convention desperately needs to build a culture of trust, and that starts with assuming the best of each other and giving the benefit of the doubt wherever we can, âsaid Greear.
“I pray for Ed Litton as he brings us to focus on the Great Commission.”