As ideological divisions rocked the Southern Baptist Convention this year ahead of a crucial national meeting, one of the main contenders for his presidency, Ed Litton, assumed the role of the man best equipped to build bridges and promote the unit.
“Every now and then every family has disagreements and tensions,” Litton said in a campaign video. “Because we are a family, we do not abandon each other.”
On Tuesday, he won a run-off against Georgian Pastor Mike Stone to become the next leader of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, winning about 52% of the vote among more than 15,000 delegates in a meeting shaken by the controversy and a power play by the ultra-conservative wing of the convention.
In doing so, Litton defeated a better-known rival, the Reverend Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as Stone, who waged an aggressive campaign fueled by some of the convention’s most prominent die-hard conservatives.
Among Litton’s notable attributes are long hard work for racial reconciliation and his persistence in the face of personal tragedy. Litton’s wife of 25 years, Tammy, was killed in a car crash in 2007; two years later he married Kathy Ferguson, the widow of another Southern Baptist pastor who was killed in a car crash in 2002.
“We both have a deep sense of pain and suffering in our lives that has changed us, and I think we have changed for the better,” Litton said at a press conference after his victory.
Litton, 62, received a bachelor’s degree in religion and theater from Grand Canyon University, a private Christian university in Phoenix, and later received a doctorate in ministry from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He spent the early years of his ministry in Texas and Arizona, and since 1994 he has served as senior pastor at a Southern Baptist church – now known as Redemption Church – in Saraland, Alabama, a suburb of Mobile. .
For the past six years, he has been active in a mobile coalition called the Pledge Group, a movement of leaders from different racial, religious and professional backgrounds who wish to reduce the city’s racial divide.
Litton was named president at this week’s meeting by Rev. Fred Luter, who in 2012 became the denomination’s first and so far only black president. Luter said he had known Litton for over 20 years, initially partnering to preach in the name of racial reconciliation.
This cause has been lasting for Litton, who has forged strong relationships with many black pastors.
Late last year, racial tensions within the denomination escalated when the presidents of its six seminars – all white – issued a statement rejecting critical race theory, a term used to describe critics. systemic racism. In response, a diverse group of Southern Baptists, including Litton and Luter, co-signed a statement asserting that systemic racial injustice is a reality.
Critical race theory “is a reality in culture,” Litton said Tuesday. “We have to understand it. We have to help get justice.”
During the campaign, Litton identified unity and diversity as two of its top priorities.
Without a unified commitment to the gospel, he said in a video: “We will come across opposing factions, differences of opinion and turf battles that will waste precious time and resources.”
As for diversity, he noted that blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans have increased their attendance at the convention over the past 20 years even as the number of whites has dwindled.
“I want to continue to expand the ethnic diversity on our boards to reflect who we really are and who we are becoming,” he said. “I want to build bridges. If necessary, we have to repair the burnt bridges.”
He noted that some black ministers ask why they should stay in the denomination.
“My answer: because we want you and need you,” Litton said.
One of the faith’s most prominent black pastors, Dwight McKissic of Arlington, Texas, had threatened to leave the denomination if Stone or Mohler had won. He was delighted with the result.
“What a day of rejoicing! I couldn’t help but do a holy Baptist dance, when Litton won,” McKissic tweeted. “God has a plan for the SBC and I want to be a part of it. Really, racism was rejected 2 days!”