Limp Left: One Pastor’s Thoughts on SBC21 (Part 3)

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“For with you is My contention, O priest. You shall stumble by day; the prophet shall also stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to Me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:4-6).

In this series, I have endeavored to share some observations and critiques of the SBC21, which gathered last month in Nashville.  I focused the first two posts on Resolutions.  While Resolutions are not binding in the SBC, which believes strongly in local church autonomy, they are an important glimpse into the hearts and minds of SBC leaders.  And Resolutions are seen by the secular press as the way to know what churches in the SBC think, believe, and find worthy of acting upon in our culture. 

I turn my attention now to the election of the President of the SBC.  The office of SBC President, while not at all comparable to the authority possessed by a Regional Bishop in more hierarchical denominations, is nevertheless important.  He appoints the Committee on Committees (yes, that’s a real thing in SBC life), which then appoints the Committee on Nominations.  And that Committee recommends trustees for the various SBC entities.  The trustee system is designed to hold entity heads accountable to the SBC churches (or the members of those churches).  But perhaps in more recent decades, the SBC President’s interaction with the secular press has become an even more important facet of his role than the Committee appointments.  He is seen as the representative of the entire Convention of Churches.  His voice is “the voice” of the SBC.

This year there were four candidates for SBC President: Randy Adams, Albert Mohler, Ed Litton and Mike Stone.  While not everyone will agree with my assessment here, I think generally Adams and Stone were considered the non-establishment candidates.  Stone was endorsed by the Conservative Baptist Network and Founders Ministry.  While I have respect for both Randy Adams and Dr. Mohler, I voted for Mike Stone because he seemed to have the most momentum of the truly conservative candidates.  And indeed, he won the first vote!  But, he failed to get a majority, which was no surprise in a four candidate race.  It went to a run-off between Stone and Litton.  I went into the run-off with a high degree of confidence that Mike Stone would win.  After all, I could not imagine that the over 3,000 messengers who initially voted for Albert Mohler would then make the leap leftward to vote for Ed Litton in a run-off against Mike Stone.  As one of my local pastor friends put it, “I voted in the run-off for the only man I knew I would have in my own pulpit.”

Ed Litton was the obvious progressive candidate, though he would refuse that label.  He has co-preached sermons on Sundays in his church with his wife, Kathy.  That’s common knowledge. He has not been willing to rebuke CRT with any degree of specificity or force. Instead, he often makes CRT sound like nothing more than a “distraction” that we should ignore so we can get back to the Great Commission.  (For the record, I agree that CRT is a distraction, but it is so because it is a false gospel.)  On Wednesday of the SBC, a messenger called out a heretical statement on the Trinity from the church’s website which Ed Litton pastors (the sentence was removed that night from the site).  Maybe just an innocent oversight?  But nonetheless a significant theological oversight!  I am not saying he is not a Christian.  I am merely stating what I believe is obvious – Litton was the most left-leaning candidate of the four. 

So, I cannot begin to describe to you my shock when Litton won the run-off.  I think the final tally had Litton winning by just over 500 votes.  I sat stunned. Perplexed. Grieved. That night, at the “9Marks at 9” conference, I heard Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, tell the 1,000 plus attendees that he voted for Dr. Mohler in the first round, and Ed Litton in the run-off.  I cannot process that reality, at least not without the leaked letters of Dr. Russell Moore.

Friends, say what you want, but if one of our seminary presidents, and several thousand others who initially voted for Albert Mohler (our most prominent seminary President), cast a vote for a pastor who co-preaches with his wife, that is most definitely a leftward doctrinal and theological drift!  At what point in the last thirty years could that have happened in the SBC?  That one issue alone is enough to prove that there is a progressive drift in our SBC leadership. 

To add insult to injury, we are now wrangling with SermonGate – the public scandal of Ed Litton’s obvious long-term plagiarism.  Newsweek and the NYT have reported on it.  I am not one to level such charges against a brother lightly, or hastily.  But the evidence is splashed all over the internet and various social media outlets.  And it is crystal clear plagiarism. And it’s happened multiple times dating back at least as far as 2013.  We’re not just talking about a misplaced quote. We’re witnessing a man stand in the pulpit and preach an entire sermon that someone else produced, personal illustrations and all.  To make matters worse, he has demonstrated no brokenness or contrition. He has downplayed it as a mere mistake of “Oops, forgot to credit J.D.”  And to a local newscaster, he claimed the charges of plagiarism are coming from “unnamed” sources.  What?  Are you kidding?  Anybody with a smart phone can name those sources!  Even a recent 9Marks podcast addressed Litton’s admitted plagiarism. 

I am sorry to have to say this, as I take no pleasure in publicly criticizing anyone, especially an SBC pastor, but Brother Litton’s responses to this blatant sin are disgusting.  The SBC is being humiliated every day that he remains in office.

“Do not lie to one another, seeing you have put off the old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9).

“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands” (Ephesians 4:28).

“Go to the ant you sluggard; consider her ways and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6). 

In my humble opinion, Brother Litton has disqualified himself from the pastorate, as this sin was not merely a one-time oopsie, but is rather systemic.  I am not saying with genuine contrition and long-term repentance he could never be restored as a qualified pastor.  But as of now, it appears to me he’s DQ’d.  This matter is ultimately, of course, between him and the church he currently pastors.  But, he could start down the dusty road of repentance by taking the first right step – resign as SBC President.

How can a man whose public reputation is so tarnished possibly lead us well?  Even if his church refuses to rebuke, discipline and/or remove him, we, every single one of us members of SBC churches, are by default caught up in this embarrassing mess.  And, I am not aware of a single SBC Seminary President who is publicly standing with pastors like me against Brother Litton. This, in spite of the fact that plagiarism gets students at their schools expelled.  Is there anyone on the Executive Committee of the SBC publicly calling on Brother Litton to repent and resign? Any other SBC entity heads?    

Brothers and Sisters, God often gives us the leaders we deserve.