By Elizabeth Prata
A Christian friend on Twitter had commented about the alleged similarities between a sermon that former SBC President JD Greear delivered in 2019 and the sermon delivered by now-President of the SBC, Ed Litton, delivered in 2020. I looked into the issue and then wrote an essay. It’s copied below. Links to sources are below. Others commented and wrote, too.
Then another Christian friend entered the conversation about the alleged plagiarism, noting that Greear’s 2019 sermon anecdote illustration about a scene in a Hindu Temple seemed to have been ripped off from Paul David Tripp’s devotional published in 2015.
I took a look.
I found eerie similarities in Greear’s description and even his individual emotional reaction to it, and Tripp’s. I did a side-by-side comparison for the reader to see for themselves. The language is the same, the reactions are the same. Greear claimed to have experienced this scene in almost exactly the way that Tripp did. Maybe, maybe not. Read and decide for yourself. It is below.
Ed Litton also recycled Tripp’s anecdote in his sermon, which I already noted had eerie similarities to Greear’s. The difference with Litton, though, is that he did attribute the anecdote to Tripp, and did not claim he had experienced the scene himself, as Greear had.
Please see below the side-by-side comparison of Greear’s description of the Hindu temple experience, and Tripp’s. You can right-click to open larger in another tab if you need to. My reaction to this is at the bottom, and is still the same. It’s egregious. We are talking about preaching the word of God, rightly handling His word. The Holy Spirit guides and illuminates truths to the student of His word, whether pastor, teacher, or disciple.
Pastors have a greater responsibility and a greater judgment, says James 3:1. Jesus called woe unto the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:14, saying they make long prayers for a pretense, and therefore will endure a greater condemnation. What do we think Jesus would think about making a pretense of His word in sermons? Woe unto them who make a pretense of preaching!
JD Greear has been President of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) for the past three years. Greear’s term is up. Last week at the Annual SBC meeting, in a close run-off, Ed Litton was narrowly elected as Greear’s successor. Both men are active pastors of their own congregations, Greear at The Summit Church in Durham NC, and Litton of Redemption Church in Saraland AL. The SBC is considered the largest ‘denomination’ in the US. I say ‘denomination’ because each member church is autonomous, though loosely connected by affirming the Baptist Faith & Message, and in giving to the Cooperative Program.
In January 2019, Greear gave a sermon from Romans called “How the Fall Affects Us All”, apparently part of a series going through Romans. In it, Greear said that the Bible “whispers about sexual sin.” He actually quoted one of his female friend teachers, Jen Wilkin, as the originator of the whispering issue. Emphasis mine-
“Jen Wilkin says we should whisper about what the Bible whispers about and shout about what it shouts about. The Bible appears more to whisper on sexual sin compared to its shouts about materialism and religious pride” preached JD Greear.
“I watched @EdLitton preach very hard controversial text yesterday w truth—a hard truth w genuine compassion. Admitting his past perspective had been wrong. The response has been overwhelming. Very” ~Kathy Litton @Kferg16
In his sermon “Born to Be Wild”, Litton said that the Bible actually ‘whispers about sexual sin’. It did not take long for people to start researching who is Ed Litton and what does he believe, after his election as President of the largest denomination in the United States. It did not take long to find his ‘whisper sermon’. It took even less time for someone to notice something very strange. Greear’s sermon and Litton’s sermon, delivered a year apart, were extremely similar. TOO similar, some say.
Pastor Gabe Hughes tweeted a general comment about Ed Litton and a tweeted reply came back to him: Gabe said, “A viewer named Jacob saw my tweet where Ed Litton says God “whispers” about sexual sin, just as JD Greear taught a year before. He edited both Greear and Litton’s sermons together, and they’re really, really close.”
I’ve listened to Litton’s full sermon, I read Greear’s outline, and I watched the mashup. The points are the same. The flow is the same. The language is the same. The anecdotes are the same. Some of the language is exact. I am saying, EXACT.
Here is the mashup link, Greear and Litton, almost word for word the same. Plagiarism, or just accidentally really close? Let the audience hear. The mashup comparing the two men’s sermons is below-
I was a member in a certain Baptist church in 2012. The pastor roused the audience every week, and soon the congregation was growing. And growing. We were bulging at the seams. Yet I was disquieted.
When the Roma Downey ‘The Bible’ tv series came out, it was a huge hit with Baptists. Sadly. Our pastor had started preaching sermons bought from the pre-packaged TV material, but he did not let his people know these were canned sermons. I went home and googled and found them online and compared to his sermon just delivered that day. Same-same.
I thought to myself, if he gave a canned sermon and pretended it was his own once, has he done it other times? I researched. I listened to all his sermons online that went back as far as they were uploaded, 4 years’ worth. With the exception of “Homecoming” which is a sermon given outlining the history of one’s own church, all other sermons were plagiarized. Even the anecdotes he gave recounting life adventures were ripped off from the original pastor’s sermons, and passed off as his own as if they’d happened to him. Worse, many of the sermons were from less than solid teachers, such as Rick Warren, Charles Stanley, and Joel Osteen.
I can’t tell you the physical, emotional, and spiritual agony I felt at that moment. I was angry. I felt betrayed. I felt that my potential spiritual advancement from growing in God’s word was stolen from me. I felt a chasm crack open between me and my pastor, who I’d trusted. Trust was broken. He was a liar, a deceiver, and a plagiarizer. God said in Jeremiah 23:30 that he is AGAINST recycling His words from other preachers.
“Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the LORD, “who steal My words from each other.“
Suffice to say, having been a congregant who discovered her pastor had not diligently spent time in prayer and study, had not cared to form a sermon guided by the Holy Spirit that Jesus wanted this local church to hear, having been saddened to learn of short cuts and short shrift against a congregation, I am less than enthused to hear that President of the SBC Ed Litton preached a sermon almost exactly like JD Greear’s sermon. Not. At. All.
Not only do these men soften the truth that God is intensely concerned about sexual sin and has always shouted about it, He spoke in His word, and that should be enough whether one interprets it as a whisper or a shout. And not only that, they appear to take words from each other and pass them off as their own.
Are they not ashamed? Have they forgotten how to blush?
As for us, I ask, doesn’t Jesus deserve better?