Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton called racism and sexual abuse the “most outstanding” stains on the denomination on Monday, adding that the convention must take steps to cleanse itself.
The head of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination gave an address before a meeting of the SBC Executive Committee, saying that the denomination “must regain moral credibility.”
“We all love to see progress. We love to hear great reports. We love to see good examples. But in order to do the Gospel that God has given us to do … we must regain moral credibility. We must deal with the stains on the Southern Baptist Convention,” Litton, the pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, said.
Litton, who was elected to the helm of the SBC last June, assumed the role amid deep divisions in the SBC over how leaders had been responding to racism, critical race theory and enduring sexual abuse in member churches. He had promised shortly after his election that he would “build bridges, not walls” during his tenure.
“So how do we dare face the stains of our great family?” Litton asked before highlighting the 2017 book Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention: Diverse African American and White Perspectives by Jarvis Williams and Kevin Jones.
“They have collected a series of essays by prominent SBC voices on the struggle we have had from our beginning with race. It was groundbreaking in many ways, because at its basic level, it admitted something that many have failed to admit in the past, and that is this is a historic stain.”
He then quoted heavily from a chapter written by Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
“Racism is so insidious that it appears even when it is declared to have been eradicated. In 1995, on the 150th anniversary of the founding of the SBC, the denomination publicly repudiated its roots in the defense of slavery. That was a start, a horribly delayed but an important start,” Mohler wrote, as quoted by Litton.
“Today, far more is required of us. Repudiating slavery is not enough. We must repent and seek to confront and remove every stain of racism that remains and seek with all of our strength to be the kind of churches of which Jesus would be proud, the kind of churches that will look like the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
“So what do we know about stains? They are pernicious and hard to remove,” Litton added. “We must identify the source of our sin and stain. We cannot deny history, the history of our beginnings, or the lingering effects of racism throughout our time. This requires us to confront the sin of racism and to seek to remove the stain from SBC life.”
Litton argued that “just as Paul was not going to allow the Ephesian believers to neglect this issue by simply covering up the outside stain” it left on their witness, Southern Baptists need to work intentionally to eradicate racism.
“Dr. Mohler concludes in his chapter: ‘If the church gets this wrong, it is not just getting race and ethnic differences wrong. It is getting the Gospel wrong,’” Litton said.
Litton further noted that he plans to present “a practical, grassroots, simple, straightforward” plan to help churches build bridges and “tear down walls” at the annual SBC meeting and pastors’ conference scheduled for Anaheim, California, in June.
“In Anaheim, it is my plan and intention and the intention of others to present to this convention a practical, grassroots, simple, straightforward, direct way that our churches can begin to cross these barriers, tear down walls, build bridges, and bring peace, and show the world that we are followers of Jesus Christ,” Litton said.
In addressing the issue of sexual abuse, the SBC leader said while he does not yet know what will be fully unearthed in an ongoing assessment of sexual abuse in the denomination by the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Committee, “we can acknowledge that there has been a culture among us where predators found safe places to hide and the vulnerable found no safe place to rest. This is a stain.”
“It can be dealt with. It can be solved,” Litton said. “Not in one meeting or one vote. It has to be dealt with, with intentionality over a long hall.”
“We must take this [sex abuse] report seriously when it is delivered. And we must receive it with humility and brokenness. We must make changes necessary to protect the vulnerable and to bring healing as God will and God only can to the hearts of those who have suffered. We should not just brace for impact with this report. We should stand ready to act upon it.”
The SBC Executive Committee is in the midst of an independent investigation into how leaders handled allegations of sex abuse impacting member churches. Whether the committee would waive attorney-client privilege was a source of contention for some on the committee last year. After the committee approved a motion to waive the privilege, several members of the committee resigned, including the committee's former head Ronnie Floyd and its legal team.