NASHVILLE In a close election that illustrated some of the divisions within the Southern Baptist Convention, messengers to the annual meeting elected Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, as the convention’s next president. This year’s convention saw the highest recorded number of messengers – 15,726 – in a quarter century.
The June 15 vote began as a four-man contest that came down to a run-off election between Litton and Mike Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Blackshear, Georgia. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary and Randy Adams, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, earned 26.3 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively, of the 14,300 votes cast in the first balloting.
Before announcing the runoff results, registration secretary Don Currence reported there were 15,691 messengers, with 13,131 casting ballots. Litton received 6,834 votes to Stone’s 6,278, winning the runoff by a margin of 52 to 48 percent.
During a press conference shortly after his election Litton addressed discord within the SBC, including calls for an investigation of the Executive Committee, unresolved sex abuse allegations, concerns over perceived influence of secular ideology within convention and how that impacts race relations.
“The greatest need is humility – to humble ourselves, to listen and to ask God for grace to hear what people are actually saying. And even if we disagree, we come back to the foundational principle of Scripture that we are to love each other even if we don’t see eye-to-eye,” he told reporters from secular and religious news outlets.
He said, “Part of what I feel like God has called me to do in this run for this office is to help us remember again why we’re a family and what the focus and objective of our family is which is to get the good news of the gospel of Jesus. This is a family. Sometimes families argue in ways the neighbors get to see it. And that’s kind of what you’ve been witnessing.”
On the Executive Committee investigation
Litton takes leadership of the convention only days after Ronnie Floyd, president of the SBC Executive Committee, announced that the EC had secured the services of GuidePost Solutions to conduct an independent review of the EC’s alleged mishandling of sexual abuse allegations within SBC churches. Messengers to the 2021 SBC annual meeting approved the appointment by the new SBC president of a task force to oversee this investigation.
Litton agreed the investigation is necessary and urged it be completed “in a timely manner” because “we want to bring all this out and expose it to the light.”
He also urged churches to develop pastoral care for victims and incorporate security protocols that protect their members from victimization.
Messengers tried several times – unsuccessfully – to pass motions or resolutions directly refuting Critical Race Theory as incompatible with Scripture and the Baptist Faith and Message. They did pass a resolution called “On the Sufficiency of Scripture for Race and Racial Reconciliation.”
Did that quell the debate?
“That’s a prediction I can’t make,” Litton said. “I would hope that we would understand that CRT is a reality in our culture and I think people are afraid. I don’t think they need to be afraid within the Southern Baptist Convention. It is not taught. It is not believed among our seminaries, our professors. No one is endorsing it. What we’re saying is it’s a reality in our culture. We need to understand that.”
He posited whether CRT could be used as a tool to the benefit of those “suffering injustice.”
“We have a higher tool and the higher tool is the gospel,” he said. “The gospel is the tool we use to seek justice.”
He called for honest discussions, not allegations, going forward.
Asked how he plans to address concerns among some SBC African American pastors who feel disenfranchised, Litton touted the growing ethnic diversity within the SBC in its churches and leadership, growing at a faster rate than Anglo congregations, which are “in decline.”
“I’m just so grateful for my brothers and sisters in Christ of color. I’m so thankful for them. We have much to learn from them,” he said.
On the ERLC
Litton defended another SBC entity that has come under fire in recent days. The sudden resignation of Russell Moore as president of The Ethics and Religious Commission – and the leaked letters he wrote critical of some Executive Committee members – drew fire from some messengers.
“I would like to remind us that the ERLC is critical to the convention – primarily for religious liberty purposes. I don’t want to see them defunded. I want to see them supported and encouraged.”
Navigating differences over CRT and with the Conservative Baptist Network also presents challenges for Litton and the leadership team he will appoint.
“I need wisdom from the Lord to be able to do that. But I believe we continue on the same course. I believe our unity is, ultimately, the gospel. And if we can’t see eye-to-eye on that then it’s going to be very difficult to find unity.”
But he has seen God do the impossible. As a child he watched his alcoholic father give his life to Christ after the faithful, persistent witness of a Southern Baptist pastor. It wasn’t until later that Litton recognized his dad’s transformation for the miracle that it was.
“It put me in the position of seeing what I now believe is true: There’s nothing God can’t do.”