The Southern Baptist Convention’s first and only black president, Fred Luter, has nominated Alabama Pastor Ed Litton to become the denomination’s next president, setting up a brewing ideological clash on race with prominent candidate and seminary head Albert Mohler.
“I have known Ed Litton for over 20 years. Our relationship started when we preached for each other as part of the SBC Racial Reconciliation Sunday during the month of February,” Luter told the Baptist Press.
“From there, our relationship developed to more than just colleagues to bring races together. We both shared the hope of drawing people closer to a relationship with Jesus Christ and then growing disciples for Christ. In both of our churches, our focus has been the same all of these years."
Luter said he is honored to nominate Litton to be the next SBC president.
"With Ed’s commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, he is what our convention needs to help us refocus and recommit to the biblical principles of what this convention has been known for — evangelism and discipleship,” Luter stated.
Luter’s nomination of Litton comes amid a raging debate in the convention over the denomination’s treatment of racial issues and efforts to better understand them through concepts such as critical race theory and intersectionality.
Critical race theory, as explained by Purdue University, is a theoretical and interpretive mode that examines the appearance of race and racism across dominant cultural modes of expression.
Through this framework, scholars seek to understand how victims of systemic racism are affected by cultural perceptions of race and how they can represent themselves to counter prejudice. Scholarship on the theory traces racism in America through the legacy of slavery, the civil rights movement and recent events.
Intersectionality, meanwhile, is the study of how different personal characteristics overlap and inform one’s experience.
Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky who announced his candidacy last year, was one of six members of the Council of Seminary Presidents who voted to reject CRT as incompatible with their faith while condemning “racism in any form” at their recent annual session celebrating the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the revised Baptist Faith & Message.
Mohler argued that advocacy based on views like CRT and intersectionality “has no rightful place within an SBC seminary.”
“I think Southern Baptists face some incredible challenges and some very real issues, and I think we need to have the kinds of conversations that will clarify issues and bring Southern Baptists together," Mohler told The Texan upon announcing his candidacy last October.
"And we’ve got to address some questions of urgency, as the SBC moves into the 21st century. I would hope to serve Southern Baptists by helping the right conversations to take place in the right way."
Litton was a co-signer of the Justice, Repentance, And the SBC statement published last month, which asserted about the anti-CRT policy that “some recent events have left many brothers and sisters of color feeling betrayed and wondering if the SBC is committed to racial reconciliation.”
“We stand firmly in opposition to any movement in the SBC that seeks to distract from racial reconciliation through the gospel and that denies the reality of systemic injustice. To deny systemic injustice would be to ignore the effects that sin has on both individuals, societies, and institutions,” the statement reads in part.
“We believe God is calling us to repentance as individuals and as a convention of churches, but our hearts have grown cold to His call, continuing to fight for money, institutions, and influence. We must remember that God does not need the Cooperative Program to accomplish His mission. Nor does God need the Southern Baptist Convention to accomplish His mission. He will move forward in His mission whether or not the Convention survives our skirmishes over issues."
Litton and Mohler will also face a challenge from Mike Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia. Stone told the Baptist Message that: “We need a focus on evangelism – not on another strategy or slogan.”
The recent debate over race in the denomination sparked by the statement from the Council of Seminary Presidents has led to a recent exodus of several high-profile black pastors from the denomination and is likely to take center stage at the SBC’s 2021 annual meeting.
“Many people were hoping for other options when they get to Nashville," Todd Benkert, pastor of Oak Creek Community Church in Mishawaka, Indiana, noted in SBC Voices last week.
"I, for one, am excited at this development and am pleased that messengers will have the opportunity to make a prayerful choice of men who have already served our Convention in other roles. To have three candidates announced this early is unique (historically, such announcements have been made in late Spring), and highlights the fact that there remains a diversity of viewpoints in SBC life."
Prominent black Southern Baptist Pastor Dwight McKissic, who recently quit the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and threatened to leave the SBC too if denomination leaders rescind Resolution 9 on critical race theory that messengers passed in 2019, said he is looking forward to voting for Litton in June.
“Excited & thrilled beyond measure to support Fred Luter, as he supports Pastor Ed Litton as President of the SBC in ‘21," McKissic wrote on Twitter. "Jesus said, ‘By your fruit. you shall know them.’ Ed Litton is well loved & respected by the AA community because of his fruit. I look forward to voting 4 him."
The Capstone Report, a blog that offers commentary on religion and politics, argued in a recent post that “Litton will continue [J.D.] Greear’s Woke Administration.”
“Don’t be deceived. Ed Litton is a Woke Social Justice Warrior who will turn the SBC’s Leftward Drift into a sprint,” the publication argued.