In 2006, Al Mohler joined Southern Seminary’s Dean of the School of Theology, Hershael York, to discuss what was a seemingly novel, but growing epidemic in churches around the nation–pulpit plagiarism. In that episode of his podcast, Mohler lambasted–calling it “despicable”–the practice of using another preacher’s materials in your sermons and presenting it as your own.
Other leaders addressed this as well, between 2006 and 2012. In 2010, JD Greear himself–who is now one of the defendants in the middle of today’s pulpit plagiarism scandal–said “I don’t ever think it’s a good idea to preach someone else’s sermon.” In a recent statement from just last week regarding the Ed Litton scandal, he said he had given Ed permission to use his materials. However, Ed Litton not only preached Greear’s sermons point-by-point and nearly word-for-word in some cases, but he failed to credit him.
“If I ever preach the gist of another person’s sermon,” Greear said, “meaning that I used the lion’s share of their message’s organization, points, or applications, I give credit.”
Also in 2010, D.A. Carson–co-founder of The Gospel Coalition–addressed pulpit plagiarism with very harsh words for those who practice it:
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Taking over another sermon and preaching it as if it were yours is always and unequivocally wrong, and if you do it you should resign or be fired immediately. The wickedness is along at least three axes: (1) You are stealing. (2) You are deceiving the people to whom you are preaching. (3) Perhaps worst, you are not devoting yourself to the study of the Bible to the end that God’s truth captures you, molds you, makes you a man of God and equips you to speak for him.
Also in 2006, Tim Challies addressed the pressing issue of plagiarism:
A pastor who preaches a sermon that is not his own is typically attempting to give the impression that he wrote the sermon–that he did the research, studied the Bible, thought of appropriate stories or analogies, and assembled a convicting message. And yet, when the sermon is taken from another person, none of this is true. The pastor may have modified elements on the sermon, but he has not invested the time or effort in serving his congregation by doing the long and hard work of sermon preparation.
The purpose of citing these Evangelical leaders isn’t necessarily to endorse them or their views but to point out that pulpit plagiarism has been considered an epidemic in the Church for a long time and that, at one time, it was considered serious enough to call for the resignation of those who practice it. Today, instead of calling on Ed Litton–out of love, of course–to repent and resign his new post as Southern Baptist president as well as his pastoral position at Redemption Church, many of these same leaders are defending him.
In response to Litton’s plagiarism without attribution, JD Greear now says “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.”
And Southern Baptist pastor and speaker, Bart Barber says unequivocally, “I do not believe Ed Litton should resign.”
“Ed Litton,” Barber continues, “is not the SBC pastor or the SBC preacher; he’s the SBC president. The task of the presidency consists precisely of appointing committees and conducting the Annual Meeting in such a way as to protect the will of the messengers.”
“Litton has not transgressed the Baptist Faith & Message, nor has he committed any malfeasance of his office.”
Of course, this excuse is absurd–how can a man who lies and steals–according to the 2006-2012 Evangelical leadership–be trusted to “protect the will of the messengers”? How is that not “malfeasance of his office”? Barber has no real answer; for him, this is about politics. In fact, many of the same men who told us it was sinful to support Donald Trump as U.S. president because of his character flaws are now telling us to overlook Litton’s character issues because they agree with his politics. If Litton were to resign, Barber is clear that he would be staunchly opposed to the conservative who would be next in line to step up and take his place:
“I love these brothers, and don’t consider them my enemy,” Barber says, “but they’ve been pretty clear about what they wish to do with the appointive power of the SBC presidency, and I’m strongly opposed to that.”
One of the issues here that may be even bigger than the plagiarism issue itself is the issue of pastoral integrity. The inconsistency in the leadership of the denomination when it comes to standards of morality is gross; why not address this issue as hard as they did in the past? It appears that Barber has already explained.