Ed Litton warns against 'tribal hostility' in SBC: 'Our convention is struggling'

Ed Litton was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention on June 15, 2021.
Ed Litton was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention on June 15, 2021. | Baptist Press

Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton warned against the “tribal hostility, ungraciousness and suspicion” within the denomination, reminding Southern Baptists that the world is “watching” the way they handle issues like sexual abuse and racial reconciliation. 

“In the toxicity of the conversation and lack of civility, we do the opposite,” Litton, pastor of Redemption Church near Mobile, Alabama, said during the SBC’s Executive Committee meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, on Monday night. 

“We should honor one another [and] those who are struggling. The mood of our times is to attack, demonize, make allegations and threaten. We are seldom slow to speak and slow to anger. Why not come and reason together instead of promoting tribal hostility, ungraciousness and suspicion of one another?”

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Litton spoke hours after members of the Executive Committee debated whether waiving attorney-client privilege as requested by the sexual abuse task force would violate SBC bylaws.

In June, SBC messengers voted for Litton to appoint a task force to oversee a third-party investigation of allegations SBC leaders mishandled a “crisis of sexual abuse” in the denomination.

Guidepost Solutions was commissioned to "review and enhance training provided to SBC Executive Committee staff and its board of trustees" as it relates to sex abuse and the organization’s "communications to cooperating churches and congregants in cooperating churches."

The task force subsequently asked the Executive Committee to waive attorney-client privilege for the investigation.

The motion called for the Executive Committee to “agree to the accepted best-standards and practices as recommended by the commissioned third-party, including but not limited to the Executive Committee staff and members waiving attorney client privilege in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review.”

Speaking on Monday night, Litton said his heart was “heavy” about the gathering.

“I think all of us feel the weight of it, and we need to find a way forward for the glory of God together," he said.

“Our convention is struggling right now,” he continued, “and it’s a crisis of trust. However you label it, there’s a solution and that solution is with us. Our churches want to see our entities working together in harmony, and they want to see the EC leading the way.”

Southern Baptists, Litton said, have “genuine concerns” for how abuse cases will be handled.

“The people are watching, and what they’re looking for is openness and transparency," he said.

“The world is watching,” he added. “They’ll watch to see what we do here this week about abuse. They’ll watch to see how sincere we will be about racial reconciliation. They'll watch us in every turn and they'll make decisions.”

Litton also highlighted the weightiness of the EC's decisions.

“Our actions will either trouble Southern Baptists and their mission to take this Gospel to the ends of the earth or we’ll do what is right,” he said. “We’ll do whatever is possible to lift high the trust … that has been given to us.”

“The Southern Baptist Convention is not a child that we hold their hand. We hold the trust of the Southern Baptist Convention in our hands.”

Earlier in his message, Litton said that during the short time he’s served as president of the second-largest Christian denomination in the U.S., he’s been struck by the good Southern Baptists are doing around the world — from feeding the poor and participating in disaster relief to planting churches. 

But the pastor said he’s also met with victims of sexual abuse and seen their pain firsthand. He stressed that the SBC wants to address sexual abuse and racial reconciliation and desperately wants to become unified. 

“The cross of Jesus Christ unites us like no other people can be united,” Litton said. “The only way the Gospel remains above all else is if Jesus remains at the center of it all.”

Primarily due to the secularization of culture, the SBC has lost both power and influence in society, the pastor said. Instead of succumbing to fear, Litton urged listeners to trust God for deliverance. He warned that failing to do so will lead to the kind of fundamentalism that fosters fear. 

“I have always believed that the word ‘fundamentalist’ was a good word,” he said. “Those are people who believe in the fundamentals. But there’s a danger for fundamentalists. [Evangelist] Del Fehsenfeld Jr. said, ‘Fundamentalism thrives on fear, force and intimidation.’”

The theme of next year’s SBC annual meeting will be “Christ at the center of it all,” Litton said. He stressed that the SBC has a “disease” that can only be cured by Jesus Christ. He reminded Southern Baptists that regardless of their differences, Christ is “preeminent in everything.”

“The most common question I am asked as your president is, ‘How in the world will you unite Southern Baptists?’ My answer is, ‘I can't. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. But we are all called to unity,’” he said.

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