Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton speaks to members of the Executive Committee on Monday. (Photo/Baptist Press)
By Scott Barkley
NASHVILLE (BP) – Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton is calling again for more openness and transparency, telling Executive Committee members Monday night that the denomination is caught up in “a crisis of trust.”
“My heart is heavy about this gathering,” he said. “I think all of us feel the weight of it, and we need to find a way forward for the glory of God together.”
Litton’s address came just a few hours after Executive Committee members went into a closed session to debate whether waiving attorney-client privilege as requested by the Sexual Abuse Task Force could affect the committee’s fiduciary responsibilities to the Convention. SBC messengers voted in June for Litton to appoint a task force to oversee a third-party investigation of the EC’s handling of sexual abuse claims and treatment of victims. Earlier this month, the task force named Guidepost Solutions to handle the review.
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.”
Guidepost has since asked the EC to waive attorney-client privilege.
“Our convention is struggling right now,” Litton said, “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.”
The Southern Baptist family has “genuine concerns” for how abuse cases will be handled, he said. “The people are watching, and what they’re looking for is openness and transparency.”
Litton pointed to Executive Committee responsibilities originating from the floor of the annual meeting each year.
“We could talk all day about what your assignment is … but folks, we cannot disconnect ourselves from Southern Baptists,” he said. “On that floor from the world’s largest deliberation that lasts two days, they do direct us in the way we should go, and they are concerned.”
Litton, who is pastor of Redemption Church near Mobile, Ala., also addressed an overall lack of civility and perceived losses of influence and certainty. Southern Baptists are a family of churches, he said. They should be marked by love as Jesus said in John 13:35 and should outdo one another in showing love (Romans 12:10).
“In the toxicity of the conversation and lack of civility, we do the opposite,” he said. “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?”
Litton called for Southern Baptists to buck that trend and instead treat each other with kindness, advocating a civil discourse that runs in opposition to a world accustomed to interactions that are crude, coarse and soul-destroying.
Litton said he has witnessed Southern Baptist making a difference for Hurricane Ida victims, for immigrants gathering along the southern border and for church planters like a former gang member who has established a congregation in Los Angeles. From those discussions, he said, he has witnessed an SBC wanting to address sexual abuse and racial reconciliation, but also yearning for unity.
“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.”
However, he said there is much work to be done within the Convention and within the Executive Committee itself.
A loss of influence and certainty in the culture has led many to succumb to a fear of man, he said. Citing Proverbs 1:7 and 29:25, Litton encouraged those gathered to instead fear God and thereby trust the Lord for leading and deliverance. Turning in the other direction, he said, leads to a brand of fundamentalism that stokes 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.’”
That can show itself in preaching about security in Christ, while being fearful that a movement will lose its leader or fail because of a lack of trust. Pastors can become concerned about using the wrong keyword or phrase, lest their loyalty to a particular movement, rather than Christ Himself, be questioned.
Earlier in his message Litton placed a full-throated confidence in Southern Baptists living up to the challenges in Vision 2025 – seeing more missionaries for Christ, more churches in a cooperative family, more workers in the field, more children coming to know the Gospel, more resources for the Great Commission and zero tolerance for incidents of sexual abuse and racial discrimination. The Executive Committee can play a key part in all of those, he said.
“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 … and we’ll do whatever is possible to lift high the trust … that has been given to us,” he said.
“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.”