Editor’s note: A four-way race for president of the Southern Baptist Convention is generating keen interest in the upcoming annual meeting in Nashville. Church leaders from across the country – by some estimates the largest number in decades – are expected to show up for the meeting June 15-16 to elect the next president. The announced candidates are Randy Adams, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention; Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Mobile, Ala.; R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; and Mike Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga. All four candidates took part in a Q&A with The Christian Index. What follows are Editor Roger Alford’s questions and the candidates’ responses.
THE INDEX: We’re certain our readers would like to hear your Christian testimony and about your call to ministry. Let’s begin with that.
STONE: I was raised in a Christian home by God’s grace. We attended a very small church that was led by a faithful bi-vocational pastor. I came to Christ during grade school through his faithful preaching ministry which complemented my parent’s ministry in the home. Because of my theological upbringing, I was older before I fully understood how redeemed and secure in Christ I had been since the third grade. My earliest sense of God calling me into ministry was in the 10th grade. Being raised in smaller churches, I had little concept of full-time vocational ministry. My boyhood pastors worked at a local bakery and in construction. So, I entered college with the intention to become a band director and a bivocational music minister. The Lord gently redirected my path and during graduate school at Mercer Law School, I surrendered to full-time vocational service in the local church. I soon joined the staff at Second Baptist Church in Macon, GA, and served there until receiving a call to my current ministry in Blackshear. My wife, Andrea, and I will soon celebrate 25 years of membership in this wonderful Southeast Georgia church. I originally came as minister of music in 1996 under the leadership of Dr. Don Hattaway. Four months after he left to accept another church, Emmanuel extended a unanimous call for me to become the pastor in 2002.
ADAMS: I grew up in Whitefish, MT. When I was 5 years-old our dog died and I asked my mom what would happen to the dog when we buried it. She said he would turn into dirt. I asked if that would happen to me! She told me what Jesus had done for me, and that by giving my life to him I would live with him in heaven forever. That is my first recollection of hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. I was relieved and felt peace as I invited Jesus into my life. Then, a defining moment came at age 16 when my 14 year-old brother died. We were running when he simply passed out and died. It became real to me that life is fragile and uncertain. It also became important that I take a stand for Christ and make a public commitment to him. I was baptized in the FBC of Whitefish at age 16. I attended college in Butte, MT as a petroleum engineering major. The only Christian group on campus was the Baptist Student Union (BSU). This is how I met Southern Baptists. I joined the local SBC church. By my senior year I was the director of the BSU, was teaching the high school Sunday School class at church, and through these experiences was called by God to “preach.” After graduation, my wife (we married in our junior year) and I moved to Texas to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
LITTON: I grew up in a family that could only be called lost and pagan. We were non-church attenders. My father developed a serious drinking problem. A Southern Baptist pastor in Virginia Beach, VA, began a relationship with my dad and shared the gospel. My father at first rejected this message. Eventually my dad’s life continued to deteriorate, as did his relationship with our family. It was in desperation my father cried out to God and was dramatically saved and set free from the power of alcohol. He began to build our family on the Word of God. I came to know Christ at eight years of age after hearing the gospel in my Sunday School class. During my senior year of high school, God placed a call on my life to preach the gospel. For a time I resisted that call and ran from Him only to find out that running is futile. Yet the day came when I stopped running and surrendered to what I clearly knew was God’s will.
MOHLER: I thank God that I was born to Christian parents who raised me in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They were deeply Southern Baptist and deeply involved in a very strong Southern Baptist church. Almost all my early memories are drawn from involvement in my home and in our church. My parents were so involved that we were there many hours a week. My dad became deacon and both Training Union and Sunday School director at different times. I was taught the truths of God’s Word and the Gospel was held before me. At the same time, I was a sinner and just as lost as anyone who had not been raised in a Christian home. My conversion came when at age 9, I heard the Gospel preached at Vacation Bible School and for the first time, having heard the Gospel thousands of times before, I recognized myself as a sinner in need of a Savior. Clearly, I knew that I sinned, but in that moment the Holy Spirit revealed to me that I am a sinner and that I desperately need a Savior. So, I confessed Christ and after talking through these issues with my parents and pastor, I was presented for baptism. Looking back, I believe that I actually did come to saving faith in Christ at age 9 and the seeds of a call to ministry came shortly thereafter. But it was when I was 18, having struggled with many questions of apologetics and while living in a very different cultural context that I really came to understand a call to ministry. The call to preach and teach the Word of God came to me very clearly and it was affirmed by my local church. Shortly thereafter, at age 18, I preached my first sermon at the First Baptist Church of Pompano Beach, Florida. There been few Sundays since that day, now more than 40 years ago, that I have not taught and preached the Word of God.
THE INDEX: Tell us, what is happening within the SBC, or not happening, that influenced you to accept a nomination for president at this specific time in history?
ADAMS: Churches in the SBC are increasingly frustrated by the serious decline we have experienced since the Great Commission Resurgence was passed in 2010. The destruction of partnerships has eroded the trust of our churches in much of SBC leadership. As a nominee for president, I have three primary convictions that are driving me to respond to the concerns of SBC churches. 1. Transparency builds trust. 2. Accountability stops corruption. 3. Participation empowers churches. Trust will be restored as Southern Baptist leadership demonstrates commitment to return our convention to the churches. The SBC ship is sinking and it must be saved, repaired, and returned to the churches, all the churches, not a select few churches. The last decade is the worst decade in the 175 years of SBC history in terms of decline, and this has discouraged many. Here is the hard reality: 5,258 fewer churches supported Cooperative Program (CP) missions in 2019 than 2007, resulting in a decrease of $85.1 million to CP, not including inflation. Baptisms have plummeted by over 100,000 souls per year since 2010. The lowest five years in baptisms since 1947 are the last five years. Church starts have plummeted to less than half the number prior to 2010, while NAMB’s church planting budget has exploded, growing from $23 million to $75 million annually. Even with all the money NAMB is spending, the five lowest years in new church starts in at least 40 years are the last five years. It is also tragic that we have 2,000 fewer IMB missionaries on the field than we did a little over a decade ago. We can stop decline, and grow our effectiveness in evangelism and missions, by restoring trust in our cooperative missionary system through transparency, accountability, expanded participation of our churches, and rebuilding partnership. My experience as a pastor and leader in two state conventions, working with associations, NAMB and the IMB, has taught me how partnership and cooperation can work. I have a burden for this. That is why I have agreed to be nominated to serve as SBC president (please see randyadams.org for more).
LITTON: Like many others, I am deeply concerned about the current state of our SBC family. When we focus on cultural debates, political differences and other issues, we become distracted from the gospel and our mission to take God’s love to the nations. I believe we have divorced the Great Commission from the Great Commandment of Jesus. As such, we are losing credibility to communicate the Gospel in our public witness. Our declining rate of baptisms is a symptom of the fact that we have grown cold, fearful and inward focused and fail to see others as our Lord sees them. We have become insular. The church in many places resembles a fortress rather than a mighty force taking God’s love into our cities.
MOHLER: We are living in a time of testing, and the culture around us is presenting Southern Baptists with an enormous challenge to faithfulness. The culture, secularizing before our eyes, is also turning increasingly hostile. It is going to take the full measure of conviction and courage for Southern Baptists to remain faithful. It is also going to require an even deeper commitment to the Great Commission and to a passion for evangelism and missions if we are to continue this great cooperative work together. I have invested my entire life in this work, and I want to help Southern Baptists grow into an even greater depth of conviction and passion to see the nations hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to see Baptist congregations established and strengthened all over this nation and beyond. There is also no doubt that we are in a crucial point of generational transition in the Southern Baptist Convention. This happens every couple of decades in due time, but if I can help Southern Baptists navigate these waters and emerge more faithful, then I would certainly want to do everything I can to help Southern Baptists at this time.
STONE: It has been a privilege to serve in numerous places in my association and in the Georgia and Southern Baptist Conventions. Most recently, I was the chairman of the SBC Executive Committee. When I vacated that position, I had no intention of serving in any broader capacity. But the Lord laid this potential assignment on my heart and I have simply responded out of a heart of obedience. I deeply love the SBC but I have significant concerns about our condition. The recent report from Lifeway revealed that 2020 was a year of continued decline in nearly every major category. Many of these declines have existed for years and cannot be blamed on COVID-19. There are three major emphases I would have as SBC president. First, I will lead our churches in an intentional evangelistic effort. The SBC needs a spiritual awakening that will lead to revival and evangelism. This would fill most of the 2 years of my presidency. Second, I will champion the sufficiency of Scripture. I do not know of a leader in the SBC who does not verbally affirm the sufficiency of Scripture. Yet we have clear signs of the infiltration of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and standpoint hermeneutics in our beloved Convention. Third, I will seek to foster greater involvement in our Convention business. The time has come to take a strategic look into multi-site participation in the SBC. This is not a simple matter due to the legal and logistical questions to address. But the time and cost involved in attending the annual meeting makes it very difficult for many Southern Baptists to be a meaningful participant. We have become too “top down” in our decision-making. Greater access to voting and participation can strengthen participation, accountability, and transparency.
THE INDEX: We’ve witnessed a decline in giving through the Cooperative Program over the past decade. What do you believe is happening, or not happening, within the SBC that has triggered that decline, and what do you believe can or should be done to ensure that the SBC has the financial means to reach the nations?
LITTON: First, this decline in giving is much longer than a decade. I believe the decline is symptomatic of our disunity and our disharmony. In some cases, churches choose to use resources in different places rather than in our convention family. Others may choose to use more of their resources locally. In all of these we are desperately in need of remembering the beauty of cooperation. We truly can do more together than apart. I believe that the focus on the gospel in missions and church planting can help us gain our focus again. We need a move of God upon our hearts to see and experience the beauty of cooperation for the sake of reaching the world. The beauty of cooperation is that it is beautiful in the eyes of our Lord. That should move us to action and to do the work of preserving unity.
MOHLER: I am absolutely convinced that God’s people have the resources to fund the work that the Lord has assigned to us. At the same time, the Southern Baptist Convention is not immune from larger economic patterns and we are undergoing a very significant shift in the entire economy and we are undergoing a massive generational shift as well. Changes in demography mean that many of our churches now face rapidly changing communities. All of that has an impact on the Cooperative Program at every level. Nevertheless, I am unshakably convinced that the more Southern Baptists come to know of what we do together cooperatively and the more they have a direct hand in understanding that Southern Baptist work, the more they will want to make certain that our work is well-funded — that we continue to send out missionaries into the world, plant Gospel churches all across America, and train up the next generation of Christians to take their place in the pulpit and on the front lines of missions and ministry. The great promise of the Cooperative Program is that every single Southern Baptist church can have a direct part in everything Southern Baptists do. The Cooperative Program makes that possible. It is the wonder of the world in denominational life, because it means that we are all working together in one great cooperative work. There’s something astoundingly wonderful about that, and it is up to this generation to strengthen that commitment.
STONE: Let us be clear. The Cooperative Program is in steep decline. The first thing we need to do is acknowledge it, which is something many have failed to do. When I addressed this decline through the Executive Committee’s ERLC Study Task Force, our work was accused of being deceptive. Many erroneously believe the CP is increasing. Headlines in denominational press understandably try to paint the most positive picture. But in the last 12-13 years, CP giving has declined by around $65 million nationally. And as of this article, we are 3% behind last year’s receipts, a decline of millions more again this year. As of 2019, 40% of our churches give “zero” through the Cooperative Program. And that percentage has increased from 25% to 40% since 2007. The actual number is nearly 5,300 additional churches giving “zero” through the Cooperative Program. And CP support is one statistic for which we have complete accuracy. Even if a church does not submit an ACP, we know whether they gave to Convention causes. There are many factors including changes in generational giving trends, shifts in denominational support and more. But as I travel across the country, there is no question that many churches have withdrawn support because of their concern with the direction of the SBC. We have also elevated too many leaders who were not strong CP supporters in their local church ministries. Responding to the concerns of the Baptist in the pew is a major part of any turnaround. Further, in today’s church, giving follows mission. If Southern Baptists want a reversal in CP, we must cast a compelling vision for reaching America and the world with the gospel. And we must communicate why partnering with Southern Baptists is the most effective way to accomplish the church’s mission.
ADAMS: The last decade has seen the greatest decline in Cooperative Program giving in SBC history. The GCR created a top-down approach to missions in North America through NAMB, transferring about $50 million annually to NAMB’s control that had been spent in cooperation with state conventions and associations. Reduction of partnership between NAMB and state conventions damaged relationships, eroded trust, and I believe led to reduced CP giving. Moreover, SBC leaders have too often come from churches that give a small percentage of their budget through CP missions. This is wrong. Leaders must model CP support. I have been a strong advocate and practitioner of CP support for my entire ministry, and I will work to restore the trust and partnership necessary to rebuild CP. It will take more than slick marketing to rebuild CP support. We must be rigorously transparent and hold our leaders accountable if we hope to rebuild trust.
THE INDEX: Speaking of declines, we’re also seeing continuing declines in the number of baptisms across the SBC. As a potential SBC president, what do you feel you could do to change the downward trajectory of baptisms?
MOHLER: I would want to use the influence of the president of the Southern Baptist Convention to remind churches of what is at stake. We are talking about lost people who will be eternally separated from God unless they hear the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and then believe in the promise of the Gospel and repent of their sins. Baptists do not have our name by accident. It was actually given to us by critics because of the insistence of early Baptists on baptism as the central act of obedience to Christ, and baptism defined by the New Testament. There is a sense in which a decline in baptisms is a reflection of the fact that evangelism is significantly more challenging than in times past. This is not because of any change in the sinfulness of humanity or the power the Gospel. It is simply because America is following a trajectory that we can already see documented through decades on the continent of Europe. There is a spiritual hardness that is developing, not only in individual human hearts, but in the larger culture. And yet, we understand that the power of the Gospel is infinitely greater than any challenge we may face. Our concern with the number of baptisms represents the more basic concern in a decreasing number of conversions. An emphasis upon a conversionist theology that leads to the conversion of sinners that leads to obedience and baptism must be our aim. Keeping that challenge clearly before us is the first task. Living out faithfulness is the greater task.
STONE: Baptisms across the SBC are at their lowest levels since before World War II. Despite having more money, more people, more resources, and more churches, we are seeing fewer and fewer people won to faith in Christ. In recent years, we have labeled many things as “gospel issues” while our gospel effectiveness seems to be in steep decline. I pastor an evangelistic church. Emmanuel has averaged 63 baptisms per year in a small Southeast Georgia town. And we have done that without manipulation and man-centered gimmicks. I would be blessed to help take that soul-winning commitment across the churches of our Convention. Through an emphasis I would call, “Crossover America,” I would use the SBC presidency to primarily call our churches back to our one sacred effort: the propagation of the gospel. That is why the Southern Baptist Convention exists! I envision a plan that would resource local churches with events and services that are intentionally evangelistic. Because this would be a local church emphasis, it would be easily accessible to churches of all sizes, styles, schedules, and soteriological perspectives. “Crossover America” would also call on established churches to partner with churches and works in underserved and under-reached areas of our SBC to hold evangelistic events. It will take prayerful and pastoral leadership to lead this effort. There are strained relationships across institutional lines in today’s SBC. But we will need NAMB, every state and regional convention, Baptist associations and local church to accomplish the work. The need of the hour calls for a “whatever it takes” attitude among each of our Baptist partners. Also, this cooperative approach can help us reach our communities with the gospel. But it can also help us find the Biblically-based unity that seems, at times, so elusive to Southern Baptists.
ADAMS: The structure for support of evangelistic training and support from the national level was dismantled a decade ago. Prior to 2010, about 50 evangelism staff served out of NAMB to support and train in local churches, associations and state conventions. In addition, State Conventions had several hundred jointly-funded evangelism leaders that NAMB has defunded. NAMB now has more staff in marketing and public relations than evangelism! We must return the focus to evangelism at every level of Baptist life. People are strategy, and we must have more people leading and doing evangelism, as well as developing evangelism resources and strategies. The SBC president must be more than a cheerleader for evangelism. He must work to rebuild the evangelism structure that was dismantled a decade ago. In the Northwest we provide evangelism resources to every church. We tell them that their CP giving has already purchased the materials. This can be done at the national level through state convention and associational partnerships.
LITTON: I believe we need to lead our people to discover the call of God in our neighborhoods, workplace and communities and to boldly reach others who do not look like us, don’t think or vote like us. Genuine relationship building with those who are lost is critical to sharing the love of Jesus. We must learn to love and reach the world around us as it actually is–not like it used to be. Our world has quickly grown far more diverse and far more secular. We need a bold outreach to flood in our cities, with strategies like the “Who’s Your One?” campaign.
THE INDEX: So much is being said and written these days about divisiveness within the SBC. We’re sure you have ideas that you think will work to help the SBC deal with these divisions, to bring the SBC back together. What would you do as president to help heal some of the rifts that we’ve seen widening in recent years?
LITTON: Theologically, we have never been more united. All of our convention officers, entity heads, nearly all state executive directors, and the associational leadership fellowship affirm the BF&M2k. We should rejoice in this! As I’ve traveled the country, I marvel at how Baptist’s desire to reach the lost, send missionaries, plant churches, and train up the next generation. We should be so focused on the Great Commission and so driven by the Great Commandment that spreading fear, sowing division, and fighting and fighting should rarely happen. I believe Baptist’s desire moving forward and I pray God would use me in unifying us around the vision God gave John while quarantined on the island of Patmos in Revelation 5.
STONE: There are many fault lines in the Convention these days. And the reality is, no president or other human leader can solve those problems. We need a powerful move from God to humble ourselves before God and one another. But I do believe there are some things we can do to put ourselves in position to see the Lord do a great work. First, we must understand that doctrinal precision leads to unity, not division. We will not achieve unity by sweeping doctrinal matters under the rug. Whether it is the debate of CRT and intersectionality, the discussion of complementarianism, or the matter of standpoint hermeneutics, we will not have true Biblical unity apart from agreement on doctrinal issues. And by “agreement,” that may very well include the agreement to disagree on certain issues not explicitly addressed by the Baptist Faith and Message. Second, we need more accountability and entity responsiveness. For a variety of reasons there is an atmosphere of confusion, mistrust, and frustration in many places across the SBC. There are too many cases where trustees appear to be serving the entity heads and not the churches of the SBC. I hope and pray we can address that perception. Third, we need a fresh awareness of the Lord and a keen awareness of the lost world. That will go a long way toward bringing us together on mission. That is why I believe a two-year evangelistic focus will strengthen our bonds of unity and union. To be clear, I do not think for a moment that unity will come merely by putting some events on the calendar. But a national evangelism emphasis will require humility, prayer, brokenness and repentance. It will require helpful and cooperative conversations. It will require the rebuilding of strained institutional relationships.
ADAMS: Unity requires truth and trust. Southern Baptists are suffering from a lack of agreement on what is true and a substantial deficit of trust. I have a plan deal with these divisions. Transparency builds trust. Southern Baptist churches have a right to know the truth about finances and mission effectiveness. The bankbooks must be opened for trust to be restored. As president, I will dig out the truth, tell you the truth, and appoint trustees who require our entities to operate with transparency. Trustees must represent the churches to the SBC entity, and they must require transparency from the entity and its leadership. Your church deserves this. Accountability stops corruption. Corruption is a strong word, but in the past year alone we have learned that the former trustee chairman of Lifeway Christian Resources gave the outgoing president of Lifeway a compensation package exceeding $1,000,000 without informing the compensation committee of the trustees. That trustee continues to serve on Lifeway’s board, while also signing three book contracts with Lifeway while he is a board member. Christian Index readers may remember your own reporting on this matter. In another matter, after losing a judgement by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, NAMB has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for 1st Amendment protection for defaming or tortuously interfering with a minister who serves churches and organizations that cooperate with the SBC. The ERLC filed an amicus brief with the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in which they claimed that Southern Baptists are a “hierarchy,” with the SBC as an “umbrella” over all churches, associations, and conventions. Yes, this really happened in the fall of 2020. The SBC ERLC actually claimed that Southern Baptists have a “hierarchy” with the SBC at the top. When this deception was discovered, the ERLC admitted their court filing was factually wrong, but there has been no accountability for a dangerous deception of a federal court that could set precedent regarding ascending and descending liability in future lawsuits involving the SBC, churches, state conventions, and associations. Now this matter is before the U.S. Supreme Court. Accountability must be restored to the SBC missionary system if trust is to be restored. Participation empowers churches. We need more churches sending messengers to the Annual Meeting of the SBC via remote locations in associations and state conventions. It’s too expensive for many to travel to the SBC. The widow who gives her mite should have an opportunity to participate. The “normal-sized” church pastor who turns a wrench to earn a living and pastors a church to fulfill his calling, needs an opportunity to vote on how CP dollars are spent. Getting more grassroots Baptists involved in SBC life will produce greater support for SBC missions. Partnership enables missions. In the last decade the SBC has become top-down in its mission work in North America. Partnership with local associations and state conventions have been greatly diminished or destroyed. Even partnership with churches has been reduced to a small subset of churches rather than the broad-based partnership that built Southern Baptists into the largest force for advancing God’s mission in U.S. history. New Testament missiology is bottom-up, never top-down. We must return to the biblical model of mission partnership. Just as the U.S. Federal government can’t run your local city with the same accountability as your mayor and city council, SBC and NAMB leaders cannot direct church planting in 50 states as well as those who live in those states. Southern Baptists were put on this earth to advance God’s mission. We do this best when we work together, with mutual respect, empowering every church to participate in this grand missionary effort.
MOHLER: A good start would be diagnosing our problem. There can be no doubt that there are big issues that could divide Southern Baptists and could be handled either poorly or well as the denomination advances in its work. It is not a sign of unhealth that the Southern Baptist Convention is facing these questions. It is however a test of faithfulness and we are going to have to respond with very clear conviction and with an increased understanding of the importance of the Baptist Faith and Message as foundational to our work together. But we also need to diagnose our problem by understanding that, even as Southern Baptists have always been confronted with issues that could divide us, all of this is now been turbocharged by the context of social media that can represent some of the most acrimonious and irresponsible communications we can imagine. If the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention turns out to be nothing more than a mass meeting of all the messaging on Twitter, we are doomed. And yet, I am confident that is not the case. I have seen Southern Baptists meeting in a room do the right thing over and over again, and I believe that Southern Baptists will continue to do the right thing together. But it is going take time, it is going to take respect, and it is going to take courageous conversation. We must be up to that challenge.
THE INDEX: What counsel would you give to a church or church leader who may be considering ordaining women as preachers or deacons?
MOHLER: The Baptist Faith and Message is emphatically clear that the office of pastor is restricted to men as authorized by Scripture. That is not an incidental or negotiable Baptist conviction. We believe that the Bible clearly limits the teaching office to men and that faithfulness to the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God means that we must obey the Scripture in affirming the distinctions that the New Testament makes concerning ministry. We have clear passages such as found in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2. We also have passages about the qualifications for ministry found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The central issue here is the teaching office in the church and it is clearly defined in Scripture that the teaching office is limited to men. This does not mean that women and men are not called together to serve the church and the cause of the Great Commission. It does mean that God’s plan for the teaching office, and most particularly the role of preaching, is to be entrusted to faithful men. When it comes to the office of deacon, my belief is that the historic office of deacon, as has been practiced in Southern Baptist polity, is an extension of the authoritative ministry of the church which is rooted in church teaching. The issue becomes more complicated when churches use the word “deacon” in different senses. It is for that reason, the Baptist Faith and Message does not state the issue as a matter of confessional stature. In other words, the Baptist Faith and Message speaks to the fact that the offices of the New Testament church are pastors and deacons and it makes clear that the office of pastor is limited to men as authorized by Scripture.
STONE: My simple advice would be, “Don’t.” Our church practices complementarianism not merely because we will not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. It is because we cannot allow it. We literally do not have that right. It is the Lord’s church and He alone has the authority to determine the criteria for its leadership. God’s Word is clear. Women preachers in mixed settings and women serving in authority over men in the Lord’s church are simply not allowed according to the sacred text. In 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Paul mentions this prohibition and cites the reasons for the restriction. And the reasons have nothing to do with the cultural trends of Timothy’s day. And they have nothing to do with some specific problem or person in Timothy’s congregation. The reasons given, under Divine inspiration, harken back to the Garden of Eden and the doctrine of creation. Further, the Scriptural qualifications for the pastor are given in First Timothy 3. The criteria are clearly written in reference to a man. If we believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scripture then we must acknowledge the use of masculine pronouns. And regardless of how one seeks to apply the phrase, “husband of one wife,” only a male can fit that description. As I wrote in an article for “The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, “There are already leading voices who suggest that Southern Baptists should avoid this debate and merely unite around the essentials. But denominations and, in our case, conventions of churches exist because we have agreed to agree on far more than the mere fundamentals of the Christian faith. We are not a group of ecumenists. We are Southern Baptists.” And Southern Baptists have already agreed on the subject of women pastors.
ADAMS: Don’t do it. The explicit teaching of the New Testament (1 Tim. 2:8-15, 1 Cor. 14:33-36), and the fact that every pastor mentioned in the New Testament was male, make it clear to me that pastors should be God-called, qualified men. I personally do not believe the Scriptures support having a woman serve as the “preacher” in church. As a pastor for 19 years, and in my role as a State Convention Executive Director, I have never invited a woman to preach, nor have I participated in the ordination of women to deacon ministry.
LITTON: I would counsel them to read Scripture and the BF&M clearly. I would also counsel them to do their best to ensure that women are flourishing in multiple avenues of service in the church.
THE INDEX: Resolution 9 has certainly created lots of controversy and concern within the SBC family. What are your feelings about critical race theory?
STONE: Every person has been created in the image of God. As common descendants of Adam and Eve, we are all members of one race. The human race. For these reasons, I am very concerned about the introduction of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality into the conversations of the Southern Baptist Convention. When the SBC relied on the Word of God as led by the Spirit of God, we were making progress in our ethnic relationships. But in the last two years, this discussion has created much confusion, division, and needless controversy in our Convention. That’s because Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality are not tools of unity but rather they are weapons of division. And they are accomplishing that very purpose in the SBC. Therefore, I have spoken repeatedly about my concerns with Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. I am the primary author of a resolution entitled, “On the Incompatibility of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality with the Baptist Faith and Message.” This resolution will be presented to the SBC in Nashville for the 2021 annual meeting. I strongly urge my fellow messengers to support this resolution. My ministry has been marked by ethnic inclusion. Our church reaches into our entire community regardless of ethnicity. In the state convention, I made a motion as GBC president to remove a church from our fellowship because of discrimination. As chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, I personally authored a constitutional amendment which specifies that churches found to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity are not in fellowship with the SBC. That amendment should receive final approval in June. Southern Baptists have much work, healing, and conversation on this issue. But we must begin with the agreement that the Word of God is sufficient to bring the people of God together in unity.
ADAMS: Critical race theory (CRT) is a racially prejudiced theory in which individuals are placed in categories of “victim” or “oppressor” based on skin color, rather than personal belief and behavior. CRT is dangerous to the fabric of a community as it creates divisions and animosities between peoples, simply because of their skin color. Most insidious is that CRT is being taught to children in public schools, even elementary schools. CRT is antithetical to biblical teaching on the nature of humankind, sin, justice, grace and redemption. The Bible is the only tool a believer needs to confront the very real problem of racial prejudice. Every human being is created in the image of God, and Jesus’ shed blood is the only means of peace with God and peace with others.
LITTON: I do not endorse or teach Critical Race Theory due to the fact that it is not consistent, and oftentimes contrary to God’s inerrant, infallible, all sufficient word. It does not have a biblical doctrine of sin or a biblical solution for reconciliation rooted in the gospel. I do not know any leaders that endorse it in the SBC. But we are in danger of the way CRT is being talked about in conspiratorial terms, of creating enemies among each other, by stating that this is being promoted in our seminaries or entities. It is clearly not. At the same time our African American brothers and sisters are rightly offended that we focus on and debate a theory rather than seeking a gospel centered solution to racial divisions. They see our outright rejection of it as a theory, yet with no other thought given to how we might deal with injustice in our culture. We as Baptists know that all truth is God’s truth and must work to show all peoples that God hates injustice and the church is God’s plan “A” for fighting this evil.
MOHLER: Critical Race Theory is a subset of Critical Theory, and I believe that Critical Theory is incompatible with our theological convictions. I have been aware of Critical Theory now for over forty years. As a theologian and apologist, it is my responsibility to understand Critical Theory in light of biblical truth. Critical Theory starts out with a materialistic worldview and an assumption that any form of established power and authority is inherently oppressive and must be undone. I do not believe that is compatible with biblical Christianity. I am glad to say that even as Critical Race Theory has become an issue of debate in the Southern Baptist Convention, I am aware of no Southern Baptist who embraces it in totality. Resolution 9 appeared to be an effort to reject Critical Theory as a “transcendent worldview” but to accept aspects of Critical Theory as an acceptable “analytical tool.” That is a distinction I find unhelpful. To put it another way, I do not believe that Southern Baptists will say that the liberal biblical criticism cannot be accepted in totality, but there are parts of it that can be deployed as analytical tools. I believe that Critical Race Theory, as a subset of Critical Theory, will be endlessly divisive among Southern Baptists by its very nature. At the same time, Southern Baptists hold to a biblical theology with a robust understanding of sin. Southern Baptists have made clear our condemnation of the sin of racism in every form, understanding racism to be a heinous sin that must be not only resisted and rejected, but detected among Christ’s faithful people. At the end of the day, I do not believe that Critical Race Theory points us toward any vision that can lead us into greater faithfulness to Christ.
THE INDEX: A high-profile role like that of the SBC president comes with certain pressures and headaches. Would you please share with us any experience or experiences from your ministry that you believe has especially prepared you for this role?
ADAMS: Serving effectively as a pastor in churches of various sizes is invaluable. All three churches were strong supporters of Cooperative Program missions, each sponsored new church starts and was effective in reaching the lost. Currently I am a volunteer pastor/elder in a church plant that God is richly blessing. In 2 ½ years of existence we are already sponsoring three additional church plants. As a leader in two state conventions (Oklahoma and Northwest), I have experienced a number of issues that have required courage, wisdom, and the fear of God. Moreover, I’ve been involved in mission work in many parts of the world, including places where believers are persecuted and experience severe suffering. This helps me keep the pressures we face in perspective.
LITTON: Thirty-four years of experience as a church planter and pastor have helped me learn much about working with people in and outside of the Kingdom of God. Profound suffering and loss have humbled me and made me more dependent upon the Lord than even the finest education afforded to me by Southern Baptist. Leading a church by God’s word and His vision has also helped me guide a flock to have as its chief aim to glory the Lord by obeying His word and not living for ourselves. What I lack in any arena, I am confident that the Lord will enable me to do what He calls me to do.
MOHLER: For nearly 30 years of my life as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and as a leader among Southern Baptists. I invested my life, my personal reputation, and the full measure of my heart and soul in the fight for the recovery of biblical truth in this denomination during the Conservative Resurgence. It was my task to bring reformation to the institution I serve, and Southern Baptists know that was done only with great difficulty and resulted in international controversy. My great confidence was that what we were doing would honor Christ and represent the biblical convictions of Southern Baptist churches. I was convinced that the Southern Baptist Convention would stand behind us, which it did. I learned through that process that God alone will vindicate his truth. I affirm emphatically that he did, and he does.
STONE: For starters, pastoring a local church has prepared me for this possible role. The SBC is not a convention of seminaries, entities, agencies, state conventions, or associations. We are a convention of local churches. And ministering daily in a local church is some of the best preparation I could have received. I believe in many ways the SBC has lost touch with rank and file Southern Baptists. We will do well to have a president who has served from the local church all the way down to national positions. And I use the word “down” because the headquarters of the SBC is the local church. In my ministry, I have served in the local association. We are the leading contributor to the Piedmont-Okefenokee Association. I have served the state convention as Executive Committee Chairman (2015-2017) and as president (2017-2018). It was also my privilege to serve as chairman of the SBC Executive Committee (2018-2020). Because of these positions of service, I have described myself as an organizational insider but a relational outsider. Having led in some of the highest positions in the Convention, I definitely have institutional knowledge. I know how the Convention operates. But I am first and foremost a husband, dad, and a local church pastor. I am grateful for friendships all across the SBC. But I have never “run with” the power brokers of the SBC. With so many challenges within our Convention, I am convinced we need a president who is relationally independent from those who presently control our Convention. As the only nominee whose household income is not derived in some way from the Cooperative Program, I believe I could represent well the average church and pastor within the Southern Baptist Convention.
THE INDEX: Southern Baptists are people of The Book, and they will be looking for a president who stands with them on the infallibility of the Bible. Would you please share with us a time when you stood on God’s Word even in the face of opposition and/or criticism, whether from believers and non-believers?
LITTON: Having lived through the Conservative Resurgence as a foot soldier, I have played a role in the overall objective of returning our foundation to God’s Holy Word. In 1999 our state of Alabama initiated a political referendum to allow gambling in the form of a state lottery. By the nature of our state constitution, this would have thrown open the doors to casinos and many other forms of destructive gambling. For the sake of our poor and marginalized people in our state, a group of pastors formed the only opposition to this movement. We based our message and our tactics on the Word of God and we stood. We prepared our people to consider the issue and to participate in the decision making process on this matter. The end result was a defeat of that referendum. I have faced opposition on the issue of church discipline. We held fast to God’s Word and have seen the blessing of true repentance as well as many others who would not endure sound teaching. There are too many other stories to recount. Like any pastor who seeks to be faithful to God’s Word and lead the Lord’s sheep we often have to stand on God’s Word and trust the Holy Spirit to move among God’s people. I have joy in the work God called me to do. It is His joy that He gives me. May He be glorified and always find me ready in the next battle whatever that may be.
MOHLER: I had to learn to meet this challenge very early in my ministry, when as an extremely young man I found myself facing down academic audiences, cultural contexts, and onslaught of national and international media in which I had to speak with conviction based in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Word of God or have nothing to say. I will simply say that I spent my life having to define and defend the Southern Baptist convictions before the world. I hope to encourage others Southern Baptists to do the same.
STONE: Serving for decades in a local church there is hardly a way to isolate a single incident. Like many pastors, I have engaged in matters of church discipline that angered the wayward member and their family. I have refused to perform weddings for couples who would have been unequally yoked. Every pastor who takes his ministry seriously could testify of times where he has stood on the Word of God to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all patience and instruction. I recently completed preaching verse-by-verse through my 34th book of the Bible. Expository preachers will regularly encounter difficult subjects and confrontational topics. When a pastor preaches on sexual perversion, God’s will for marriage, gossip, envy, commitment to the church, giving, and more, he had better have steel-toed shoes and a pair of asbestos britches. Like most pastors, I have received threats of, “We will leave the church” or “We will withhold our money.” In those moments, the God-called man proves he is not a hireling as he stands on God’s Word in the midst of opposition. The SBC is filled with faithful pastors who have that same level of commitment. This resolve has also served me in service to the SBC. I am continually amazed at the viciousness that some SBC pastors and professing Christians utilize on social media. And it is often by those who claim to be advocates of unity and Christian civility. But I pray regularly for thick skin and a soft heart that will allow me to graciously stand for what I believe is right and true, even in the face of slander and false accusation. These are indeed challenging days in our SBC. May the Lord grant us each wisdom, discernment and grace as we move toward SBC21 and beyond.
ADAMS: I became a Southern Baptist in 1980 for two primary reasons: cooperative missions and our commitment to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. In 38 years of preaching God’s Word, most instances of criticism have occurred when dealing with personal sin, especially in the life of a church leader. On one occasion, when I was a pastor in a small Texas town of 1,700, several Mormon families move to town to start a business. I received criticism from some for a handful of messages I preached, intended to educate our people on the differences in our beliefs, as well as help our people know how to share their faith with our new neighbors. Many in that town thought the Mormon church was a Christian church, and to learn otherwise brought a modest level of criticism from some. I have preached to Muslims in South Asia and Africa, and witnessed to people of all types, always sustained by words of Jesus, “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (MT 28:20).