(AP) — Ed Litton, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, announced Tuesday (March 1) he will break with tradition and not seek a second term in the top convention role. Litton, who narrowly fended off an ultraconservative candidate with his 2021 victory, said he plans to spend the next decade promoting racial reconciliation at the local level, something he thinks is best done “as a pastor and not from the office of president of the SBC.”
Litton did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment Tuesday, but in a short video message, he spoke of his plans to bridge the racial divide through “gospel-based racial reconciliation.” He did not divulge specifics, instead noted the genesis for his racial reconciliation work was in the days after Michael Brown, an 18-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by a White police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
Litton, the pastor of Redemption Church in Alabama, said a group of Christians who convened in Mobile after Brown’s killing, has continued to meet at a local car dealership and has grown in membership over the years.
“We’ve taken the message of reconciliation to our local community and are continuing to try and shrink the racial divide,” he said.
Litton’s announcement comes after a tumultuous year when the SBC dealt with heated internal debates about the role of women in ministry, the concept of systemic racism, and several allegations of mishandled sexual abuse claims.
Last year in Nashville, Tennessee, Litton had prevailed in a runoff against Georgia pastor Mike Stone to become the SBC president, winning 52% of the votes among more than 15,000 delegates at a meeting roiled by controversy and a power play by the denomination’s ultraconservative wing.
During his tenure as president, Litton appointed a task force to oversee an investigation into the mishandling of sex abuse cases. The task force is expected to release a report shortly before the convention’s national gathering slated for June 12-15 in Anaheim, California.
In his video message Tuesday, Litton acknowledged that “it’s been a difficult year” and took responsibility for “mistakes made in the preparation and delivery of particular sermons,” a reference to accusations of plagiarism for which Litton apologized in the initial days of his presidency.
On Feb. 22, during a meeting in Nashville, the SBC’s Executive Committee offered a public apology and a confidential monetary settlement to sexual abuse survivor Jennifer Lyell, who was mischaracterized by the denomination’s in-house news service as having had an inappropriate relationship with her seminary teacher when she decided to go public with her story in March 2019.
During that meeting, Litton emphasized the seriousness of the sex abuse investigation.
“People’s lives have been damaged, hurt and ruined,” he said during the Feb. 22 meeting. “We all need to remain sober, yet determined, about this.”
Litton concluded his video message Tuesday by urging members of the SBC to focus on the important tasks that lie ahead, including being prepared to act in June on the report that will be delivered by the sexual abuse task force.
“We must keep working to eradicate the stains of sexual abuse and racism from the convention,” he said.