Southern Baptist elites—entity heads & those who, with them, exert major leadership in the convention—continue to operate in ways that disappoint and dispirit grass-roots Southern Baptist church members and those who pastor them. Both the recent annual meeting in Nashville and the response to the major pulpit plagiarism scandal that seems to grow wider and deeper every day have revealed a severe leadership deficit with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
I understand the exegetical dangers of comparing the current SBC leaders with the religious leaders of Jeremiah’s day. The similarities, however, are hard to deny. By pointing out those similarities I do not intend to suggest that they are false prophets or that they are guilty of all of the same sins that Jeremiah’s contemporaries committed. However, there are some instructive and disturbing similarities between the two.
The Babylonian captivity grew closer. Jeremiah and the true prophets faithfully sounded the alarm. Israel refused to believe the warnings. They chose instead to give their ears to the religious leaders in the majority who scoffed at Jeremiah’s fundamentalist message of doom. You know the context. You know the story. You know Israel was guilty. You know Jeremiah called them “backsliding children” and “well-fed lusty stallions.” You also know that while they personally and individually chose to rebel against God, His Word, and the covenant, they were led away from God by the religious leaders in power. Imagine that. Men called and set aside by God for the purpose of leading His people away from sin and into faithful obedience, chose to serve themselves, and to lead Israel further into rebellion.
Those leaders, both prophets and priests, who were the ones the average person looked to as keepers of the law, and tellers of truth, “lied about the Lord.” The people went to them for the Word of God, for life instruction, and specifically for rulings on critical matters of life according to the Scriptures, and yet Jeremiah said, “the word is not in them.” They were neither servants of the Lord, nor the people, but lived instead to please themselves. They had all the power, but none of the Spirit.
While true prophets were calling Israel to repent and turn back to the Lord and to His Word to avoid coming judgment, those religious leaders with the most power and popularity were saying something very different. The loudest and most prominent religious voices of the day were seeking to reassure Israel in her sin, while the “fundamentalist” prophets who truly spoke for God were muted and persecuted. I’m sure you know God’s great condemnation of these men from Jeremiah 6:14, “They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, saying ‘Peace, peace!’ When there is no peace.”
In a similar way there is no peace in the SBC today. That’s my opinion as a long-term cooperating Southern Baptist Pastor. I am not writing as a representative of any entity or group. I write as a local church Pastor who has enjoyed fellowship and friendship, and who has grown through cooperation and relationships with Pastors in the convention with whom I may disagree theologically and methodologically. I write as a Pastor facing more and more pressure to leave the SBC. I write as a Pastor who has been relatively silent on convention matters for too long. I write as a Pastor hearing from several other faithful Pastors (both Calvinist and non-Calvinist) who share my concerns. I write as a Pastor embarrassed to be a Southern Baptist. I write as a Pastor who now feels like Jeremiah; discounted as a fundamentalist troublemaker by those who regard themselves as our betters.
How did we get to this place? How did we get to a place where our political commitments run deeper than our fear of the Lord? How did we become so culturally sensitive that we could so casually call evil good? I’m old enough to remember the days when we agreed on integrity even if we disagreed on theology or methodology. Where did those days go?
Ed Litton, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, and more importantly a local church Pastor, is as guilty of plagiarism as countless other Pastors who lost their ministry for the same failure of integrity. In his case, however, the SBC ruling class and those desperate to be among them, have collectively changed the rules. The permission or approval of the original author of the sermons he plagiarized is completely irrelevant to the matter. That would only be pertinent had Ed Litton began each sermon with a clear explanation of his intention to preach another man’s sermon. He clearly did not do that but instead simply preached them as his own. The President of the Southern Baptist Convention has been exposed, and yet his defenders have done everything possible to explain it away or dismiss it altogether. I never dreamed I would see the day when so many would choose politics over integrity.
Plagiarism is evil. Plagiarism is sin. It cannot be defended. I used to shy away from the term “message” to describe a sermon, which has been used by Baptists for ages. I used to shy away from this term for the mystical component it implies. The truth, however, is that this term also implied the Pastor was bringing something to the pulpit that came to Him directly from God, not from another Pastor, or some firm hired to write it and market it for him. I miss the days of “messages.”
We seem to continue to choose gifting over integrity as a convention no matter how many times it leads to failure. Why are we doing this again, and at this level? How did we get to the place that we can no longer agree on something as simple and fundamental as honesty and integrity in the pulpit? Jeremiah was right, but his voice was drowned out by those in power. Today, the same thing seems to be happening.
Ed Litton is not qualified to serve as the President of the convention and according to 1 Timothy 3:2 he isn’t qualified to serve as Pastor either. You may think this is about politics. This is not about Ed Litton, or the woke branch of the SBC. This is about integrity. It is about the glory of God. Honestly, I don’t much care who the SBC President is. Just let it be a man of integrity. Let it be a man with a greater fear of God than fear of man. Let it be a man of the book.