Ed Litton speaks with reporters at a post-election press conference. He was elected Tuesday with 52 percent of the vote.
By Roger Alford
NASHVILLE – Alabama Pastor Ed Litton has been elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, a position he said he will use “to build bridges, not walls.”
Litton, pastor of Redemption Church outside Mobile, said he sees Southern Baptists as a family and that families sometimes fight in a way that neighbors get to see.
“It means that we have to work out, iron out some of our differences,” he said. “And going forward, I want to be clear that my goal is to build bridges, not walls and to help people connect, talk through things, have honest open discussions, not shut down those conversations.”
With 52 percent of the vote, Litton narrowly edged out Georgia Pastor Mike Stone in a runoff election. The final vote was 6,834 to 6,278 votes.
The two-man runoff was triggered when none of the four nominated candidates received 50 percent of the overall vote. As the top vote-getters in the initial count, Stone and Litton automatically moved on the runoff.
Stone was the leading vote-getter in the initial balloting with 5,216 votes. Litton had 4,630 votes; Albert Mohler Jr, 3,764 votes; and Randy Adams, 673.
Stone tweeted his congratulations to Litton after the results were in.
Litton comes into the position with a strong background of service in a variety of SBC leadership roles, including as first vice president 20 years ago.
Fred Luter Jr, a past SBC president and pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, had described Litton as “a uniter” in his nomination speech.
“We need a president who can help ease our tensions,” Luter said.
Litton, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been pastor of Redemption Church since 1994. He previously served in the college and career ministry at First Baptist of Euless, Texas, and in the evangelism department in the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention. In 1987 he planted Mountain View Baptist Church in Tucson, Ariz.
Litton has served on the SBC Resolutions Committee and on the Committee on Committee. He is also a past president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference.
With the world watching the nation’s largest Protestant denomination work through differences at it’s Annual Meeting this week, Litton offered his perspective: “We’re a family, and at times it seems like an incredibly dysfunctional family, but we love each other.”
The SBC Annual Meeting, often referred to as a family reunion, was attended by the largest crowd in a quarter-century. All of the 18,000 chairs placed in the block-long meeting hall were filled. Many sat on the floor while others stood, several rows deep, in the back and along the walls.
Driving attendance were a short-list of issues that have proven controversial for Southern Baptists. Litton addressed some of those in a press conference late Tuesday, saying that while the hot-button issue of critical race theory has become a reality for the broader culture, Southern Baptists don’t need to worry about it becoming engrained in the denomination. In fact, messengers voted overwhelmingly to pass a resolution “On the Sufficiency of Scripture for Race and Racial Reconciliation.”
“It is not taught; it is not believed among our seminaries or professors; no one is endorsing it,” Litton said. He said he favors “honest discussions” about the issue among Southern Baptists.
Litton said he also supports the independent investigation that has been undertaken to look into allegations that sexual abuse complaints have been mishandled.
“We need to look at it thoroughly,” he said, “and report back in a timely way to the people of the convention to understand what has actually happened. I think we also need to be pastoral in how we handle victims, how we hear them, how we empathize and sympathize
During Litton’s pastorate at Redemption, the church has averaged nearly 152 baptisms annually since 1994 with resident membership growing by 27.3 percent over the last 10 years.
From 2018-2020 the church averaged 3.66 percent of undesignated gifts given through the Cooperative Program. From September 2019 through August 2020, it also contributed 12.33 percent of its undesignated budget through Great Commission Giving.