Newly elected Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton, left, and outgoing president J.D. Greear take a selfie at the SBC annual meeting on June 16, 2021.

New SBC President Apologizes for Using JD Greear Sermon Quotes Without Credit

By Bob Smietana

The newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention has apologized for giving a sermon where he used material from his predecessor without revealing where it came from.

A video posted on YouTube Thursday  showed clips of a ­­­January 2020 sermon on the New Testament book of Romans from SBC President Ed Litton and clips from a January 2019 sermon on the same Bible passage from J.D. Greear, whose term as SBC president ended in June.

At several points, the comments from the two preachers are nearly identical.

“Everybody turn right now to your neighbor, look him in the eyes,” Greear says toward the beginning of his sermon. “If you know them, if you know them, put your hand on their shoulder and say, ‘this is going to be a really tough week for you.’”

Litton does something very similar.

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“I want you to turn to your neighbor right now. And I want you to say, I know this sermon is going to be really tough for you,” he says.

The two pastors also say very similar things about homosexuality, which both believe is sinful.

But they each say Christians have erred by treating sexual sin as if it is worse than other sins — and singling out LGBT people as the worst of sinners.

“Homosexuality does not send you to hell,” says Greear. “You know how I know that? Because heterosexuality does not send you to heaven.”

Litton says the same thing: “Homosexuality does not send people to hell. How do I know that? Because heterosexuality doesn’t send people to heaven.”

Greear also says in his sermon that the “Gospel message is not ‘let the gay become straight.’ The Gospel message is ‘let the dead become alive.’”

A line from Litton’s sermon is nearly identical: “The Gospel message is not ‘let the gay get straight.’ The Gospel message is ‘let the dead come to life.’”

Litton’s sermon has been removed from the website of Redemption Church in Mobile, Alabama, where he is pastor. Greear’s sermon is posted on the website of The Summit Church in North Carolina, where he is pastor.

In a statement Saturday, Litton said that while doing research and sermon prep for the passage, he had seen Greear’s sermon and found it helpful.

“I found that J.D. Greear’s message on Romans 1 was insightful, particularly his three points of application,” he said in the statement. “With his permission, I borrowed some of his insights and those three closing points.”

At no point in the sermon did Litton give credit to Greear. That’s something he said he regrets. 

“As any pastor who preaches regularly knows, we often rely on scholars and fellow pastors to help us think and communicate more clearly with the goal of faithfully preaching the truths of Scripture to our congregations,” he said in the statement.

“But 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.”

Greear addressed the matter in a statement of his own. He said he’d spoken with Litton and given him permission to use his material. He used a phrase often used by other preachers, saying, “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,” he said in the statement. “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.”

Borrowing from other preachers is a common practice among pastors. When it goes too far, that can lead to plagiarism. In 2017, for example, a book of devotions by Hillary Clinton’s pastor was pulled by the publisher after news reports alleged that the book contained plagiarized material from other pastors.

Some preachers also use research assistants or “sermon helps” to find illustrations that help them convey the meaning of the biblical text to their audience.

That can be a form of cheating, argues theologian Scot McKnight, a professor at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. McKnight believes a sermon isn’t just a speech. Instead, it should flow out of a pastor’s encounter with God in the Bible and be written for a specific congregation.

“The whole idea of taking someone else’s sermon destroys what sermon-making is supposed to be,” he told Religion News Service earlier this year.

Greear’s 2019 sermon has created controversy in the past. During the sermon, Greear said the Bible speaks more about sins like pride and greed than sexual sin.  

“The Bible appears more to whisper on sexual sin compared to its shouts about materialism and religious pride,” he said. That line is a reference to a comment from evangelical Bible teacher Jen Wilkin as well as to a statement from famed theologian R.C. Sproul, who warned his students, “I find that it is always dangerous to shout where God has whispered.”

Critics like Florida Baptist pastor Tom Ascol, president of Founders Ministries, have accused Greear of distorting the Bible’s teaching about sexuality. Earlier this week, Dallas Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress condemned the remarks by Litton and Greear.

“And when a man of God stands up and stutters and waffles and wavers on this, he is giving indirect permission for people to enter a lifestyle that is degrading and destructive,” he told conservative talk show host Todd Starnes. “That is an unloving thing to do.”

Starnes is a vocal proponent of the Conservative Baptist Network, which claims the SBC has become “woke” and liberal. A CBN candidate, Georgia pastor Mike Stone narrowly lost to Litton in the SBC’s presidential race earlier this month.

Greear said his critics have taken his words 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 nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

“I have said 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 about each other and giving the benefit of the doubt wherever we can,” said Greear.

“I am praying for Ed Litton as he leads us to focus on the Great Commission.”

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.

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15 thoughts on “New SBC President Apologizes for Using JD Greear Sermon Quotes Without Credit”

  1. Crystal L Brooks

    It’s interesting that this was worth writing about. He clearly had permission from J.D. Greear to use it. Just because he didn’t credit him in the actual sermon itself doesn’t rise to the level of the “unforgivable” sin. What I really like is the fact that Pastor Litton apologized and J. D. Greear readily accepted it, not being harsh about it. They are friends who are both on the same page. This is how the Body of Christ should work!

    1. Baptist pastors have quoted other Baptist pastors since John the Baptist. That isn’t plagiarism. And it is far different than writing a book for profit.

    2. Since the 1st plagiarized sermon went online, there has been at least 2 more that have been posted. One of them is on the 1st part of Romans 8. It was copied from Greear also.. I don’t know, but I have a hunch that the whole series was copied from Greear. Also, the church took down 140 sermons from their YouTube account which would seem to indicate that they were plagiarized also. Maybe not. But this man needs to resign as pastor and President of the SBC. If he won’t do it he needs to be forced out

      This kind of stuff has been going on for a long time. Remember, after Martin Luther King died, it was found that he had plagiarized about 1⁄3 (That was proven.) of his Boston University doctoral thesis. And excuses were made for him including one that said that black preachers had a custom of what they called “voice merging” which made it okay to “borrow” from another preacher without attribution..

      When this first came out, it was said that “haters” made it all up. In fact, Boston University itself, said that it wasn’t true. They said that they had investigated the charges and that they were all lies.. But they were the ones who lied. But, even after the university admitted they were wrong, they refused to take his PHD away from him.

      Some of the same excuses and justifications for this pastor’s plagiarizing where given for the things that Martin Luther King did.

  2. I usually agree with most of the posts on The Roy’s Report, but not this time.

    My opinion is that the 3 statements by Greear that are used by Litton are examples of phrases and statements in common use for years by many people. I’ve heard many preachers use them. Also, why didn’t you check up on who Greear got it from?

    Similarly, you criticized Greear for using a statement used by both Jen Wilkins and R C Sproul. If the way Greear used it was wrong, why isn’t it important to reveal whether Wilkins stole it from Sproul, or Sproul from Wilkins, or if both stole it from one or more others, and so on back to the beginning of time.

    I wonder if the rest of your article, after the mention of Wilkins and Sproul, reveals the purpose of the article is actually to join in with those trying to ruin Litton and Greear.

    Thank you for considering my opinion.

  3. Joshua Johnson

    It’s also worth mentioning that Greear did not come up with the “homosexuality does not send you to hell anymore than heterosexuality sends you to heaven” either. It is rooted in a line from Keller – https://youtu.be/IZFCB9sduxQ – during a veritas interview.

    I just don’t think anyone can walk around quoting everything they say when they speak that often. Yes, he should have given credit to Greear for borrowing from his message, but we need to realize that even Greear is dropping lines from stuff he has seen / heard.

  4. James Lutzweilet

    Let’s hope Lurton doesn’t copy Greear and hire another “store-bought” PhD like Brian Loritts. I’d like to hear a Litton sermon with a few courageous quotes about Loritts phoniness. This plagiarism of Litton, and that is what it is my unschooled brethren, shrinks in importance to Loritts’ lunacy.

    James Lutzweiler
    Archivist (1999-2013), southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

  5. Cathie Boucher

    The American church (so called) is a pathetic mess for the most part. Corporate Christianity is a sham. Lying, stealing (not crediting quotes) sexual abuse and the massing of obscene wealth by servants (so called) of the the Lord are a stench that reaches heaven. May Almighty God forgive us for squandering His “mercy and compassion”. And may He give us discernment to know who to flee from.

    Thanks to those who expose the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who by their greed and lust for power continue to discredit the Church of Jesus Christ.

  6. Paul Lundquist

    My wife and I just watched the clip comparing the two sermons and have the same heart-sick reactions. This is not a matter of borrowing an idea or two or referencing some turn of a phrase. It’s just flat-out plagiarism, and it’s wrong. Men of God who take the pulpit seriously do not do it. Litton needs to resign effective immediately from all public ministry.

    1. Paul: I couldn’t agree more and I know a little about plagiarism among the clergy especially. It is wrong. It is stealing. It is addictive.
      Copying with attribution is not plagiarism.
      Most Americans don’t expect original sermons that apply Scripture to the spiritual needs of the congregation. They want a celebrity preacher up front looking and sounding good. Such a pitiful state the Church is in.

  7. Stewart Sperwer

    Calvin and Aquinas before him (to say nothing of countless others) would write out their sermons and give them to others to copy and preach in their local congregations. So the report here isn’t a big deal to me. A sermon isn’t an academic paper. I don’t want my pastor to footnote and cite every single thing he says. On the contrary, I expect that he’s reading broadly, researching extensively (which may include taking in other sermons), and then distilling the best of that, along with his own insights in what he delivers

    1. Cathie Boucher

      To Stewart: If you listen to the video and hear the almost word for word plagiarism you might be less inclined to give the people involved a pass.

    2. Stewart,
      You make the point yourself. ” On the contrary, I expect that he’s reading broadly, researching extensively (which may include taking in other sermons), and then distilling the best of that, along with his own insights in what he delivers”. The sermon was anything but what you described. We pay pastors to do original work, not copy other pastors sermons.

    3. I’d like to make a change to my earlier comment. Thank you to Paul Lundquist and Cathie Boucher for emphasizing the video.

      I thought that the author of the post was discussing the worst stuff in the text with the video as verification of what was in the text. If he had urged us to watch the video for more in order to see just how bad it actually was, I would have watched it.

      I am stunned. What was Litton thinking? I also noted that Greear says the pagan temple story happened to him, but Litton credits it to Paul David Trip. Also, in the video, Greear gives credit for the whispering and shouting remark to Jen Wilkins, but Litton doesn’t give credit to anyone.

      I would like to add something in response to James Lutzweiler referring in his comment to those who disagreed with him as “my unschooled brethren.” I’m surprised that a schooled guy like you has never studied the proverb “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” As many of us could tell you, that is covered in the early lessons in both The School of Life and The School of Hard Knocks.

      Thank you for considering my opinions.

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