Pastor Ed Litton, championed by supporters as a force for gospel unity and racial reconciliation, was elected the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), overtaking the candidate backed by a passionate faction of conservatives.
Litton’s election is seen as a signal of the direction of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, where infighting has broken out over approaches to race, abuse, and other issues while the Conservative Baptist Network raises alarms about liberal drift and “woke” theology. The close race also reveals how much ground the vocal group has come to hold in the SBC within a year and a half of its founding.
“This vote … shows we desire a leader whose character, humility, and voice for unity represents us a whole over those who call for division,” said Jacki King, who serves on the steering committee for the SBC Women’s Leadership Network.
In a race with no clear frontrunner at a convention with a 25-year-high turnout of more than 15,000 messengers, Litton won out over Mike Stone, a pastor endorsed by fellow Conservative Baptist Network leaders, and Albert Mohler, the longtime president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Critics of the new network worried that if Stone won, that could cause the denomination to divide on political lines. They were also concerned about leaked letters alleging he resisted abuse response efforts while chair as the Executive Committee. Stone secured the highest level of support among candidates in the first round of voting and won 48 percent to Litton’s 52 percent in a runoff.
Litton is expected to carry on the priorities set forth by outgoing president J.D. Greear and said he would continue Greear’s efforts to appoint women and people of color to denominational committees. Both Litton and Greear use an approved alternate name for Southern Baptists, Great Commission Baptists, as a way to signify a commitment to mission over regional identity.
Litton’s election followed a lively nomination speech from his friend Fred Luter, the first and only African American president of the SBC. Luter called Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, a “uniter” who has “uniquely shown his commitment to racial reconciliation.” Luter also said, “In the face of some very difficult and necessary conversation in our convention about abuse, Ed brings a very compassionate and shepherding heart.”
As debates and allegations around critical race theory roiled the SBC, Litton’s conversations with black pastors in his own community led him to speak out about racial justice on the convention level. He has led efforts for pastors in the Deep South to acknowledge and heal from their racist history and joined black pastors like Luter in opposing “any movement in the SBC that seeks to distract from racial reconciliation through the gospel and that denies the reality of systemic injustice.”
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Source: Christianity Today