Alabama Pastor Ed Litton is the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant group of churches in America.
Litton prevailed in a runoff against Georgia Pastor Mike Stone, winning about 52 percent of the vote among more than 15,000 delegates at the 2021 SBC annual meeting being held in Nashville, TN. He's known for promoting racial reconciliation and dealing compassionately with sexual abuse victims.
Litton, the pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, was nominated for president at Tuesday's SBC meeting by Pastor Fred Luter, who in 2012 became the SBC's first and only black president so far. Luter said he'd known Litton for more than 20 years, initially teaming up to preach on behalf of racial reconciliation.
"It is a tremendous honor that Great Commission Baptists would put their trust and dependence upon me for this very important role in our fellowship and our convention of churches," Litton said at a press conference Tuesday.
Described as a man of character and integrity, many say he is a bridge-builder and would be pivotal in working to fix racial divides in the church.
"We are a family, and at times we may seem dysfunctional," the new SBC president told reporters. "But we love each other. … This is a family, and sometimes families argue in a way that the neighbors get to see it, and that's kind of what you (the media) have been witnessing. But the reality is we're going to leave this place focused. We'll leave this place with a direction – and I believe a better direction – for the future."
Litton, 62, earned a bachelor's degree in religion and theater from Grand Canyon University, a private Christian university in Phoenix, and later received a Doctor of Ministry from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He spent the early years of his ministry in Texas and Arizona, and since 1994 he has been the senior pastor of an SBC church — now known as Redemption Church — in Saraland, AL, a suburb of Mobile.
For the past six years, he's been active in a Mobile coalition called the Pledge Group, a movement of leaders from different racial, religious, and vocational backgrounds who want to shrink the city's racial divide.
Meanwhile, the SBC delegates also decisively approved a measure that sought to reach consensus, not specifically naming "critical race theory" but rejecting any view that sees racism as rooted in "anything other than sin."
On the subject of sexual abuse, Tennessee Pastor Grant Gaines, speaking with a survivor at his side, proposed a task force that would oversee a review of the denomination's actions, a broader investigation than the one announced last week by the SBC's Executive Committee.
"I stand with SBC church abuse survivors, and right now I'm standing beside one such SBC church abuse survivor," Gaines said.
Separately, another committee proposed a resolution declaring that "any person who has committed sexual abuse is permanently disqualified from holding the office of pastor." SBC churches are self-governing, and critics have said the affiliation of churches hasn't done enough to exclude congregations that mishandle abuse.
The Southern Baptist Convention is structured as a loose network of independent churches that pools money for tasks like missions and evangelism. The role of the president is primarily a bully pulpit, but the president does have the power to make committee appointments that can then set the direction of the denomination.
Delegates also approved a strategic plan seeking to increase churches, missionaries, giving, and teen ministry. It's the latest in a series of efforts to reverse steady declines over the past 15 years in members and baptisms. Church membership is now at 14 million.
The official delegate count as of Tuesday afternoon was 15,678, although attendance may be larger. In a hall with 18,000 seats, there was standing room only, The Associated Press reported.
As CBN News reported, last year's annual meeting scheduled to be held in Orlando, FL was canceled due to the COVID-19