Unity for empowering mission would be key Ed Litton SBC aim
April 6th, 2021 / By: Art Toalston | TEXAN Correspondent / comments
SARALAND, Ala. – Ed Litton envisions nurturing relationships in the Southern Baptist Convention to strengthen unity of mission if elected as SBC president during the June 15-16 annual meeting in Nashville.
One of four announced nominees for SBC president, Litton was the convention’s first vice president in 2001-2002 and president of the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in 2009. He has been pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Ala., since 1994. The Mobile-area congregation, online at goredemption.com, was known as North Mobile Baptist Church until 2014.
Litton is a former Arizona Southern Baptist Convention evangelism staff member; Arizona and Alabama pastors’ conference president; and trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
His wife Kathy was elected as SBC registration secretary in 2019 but has resigned since the Registration Committee oversees balloting for SBC president and other officers during the annual meeting.
Litton addressed the priorities he would set forth as SBC president in answer to questions from the Southern Baptist TEXAN:
1) Four proponents of biblical inerrancy have declared their willingness to serve as SBC president. What is distinctive about your vision for serving in this role?
First of all, I am thankful that the foundations of the SBC are not shaking like the foundations of our culture when it comes to truth. We’re people of the Book. I’m so grateful that all four people seeking this office believe in the inerrancy, infallibility and sufficiency of God’s Word. If our messengers elect me as president, I hope they will see that God’s Word and the Holy Spirit will be my guide.
God’s Word highlights that the world will know we love him by the way we love one another. I want us to be a convention unified in his love and unified in his gospel. God’s Word tells us that we are to make disciples. So we must be a convention that plants churches and sends missionaries. I think one of the signs that God is moving among a people -- a sign of genuine biblical revival -- is that there is visible unity. Revival is not so much a tent meeting as it is repentance, seeking the Lord, and being unified in the gospel.
2) What are two of the foremost challenges facing the SBC today?
It concerns me that our growing divide in the SBC mirrors the political culture we live in, and not a focus on God’s call to missions and church planting. Nor is our unity in our sameness or complete doctrinal alignment on every issue. Our doctrinal alignment is aided by the Baptist Faith & Message, but our unity is based in the gospel. And we must be unified in this mission, church planting, revitalization and training the next generation.
Ken Burns’ documentary on the Vietnam War quotes a General Wilson who said, “Americans fight their next war the way they fought their last war. We thought that we could defeat the Vietnamese with raw power and then rebuild them.” He said, “We were ignorant and arrogant.” Then he said, “You cannot dispel ignorance until you deal with your arrogance.” I think we need to deal with our arrogance first through repentance. We are a warrior tribe and I believe that God would rather have us fight for love.
My second serious concern is the failure of our churches to robustly engage lostness. In the face of a rapidly growing secular culture, many believers are sequestering within the walls of the church. In the face of increasing globalization we are not seizing the opportunities among those who are coming to our shores. We must to learn to live as exiles in a world foreign to us. We need to abandon nostalgia and embrace and adopt an aggressive love to reach as many as possible with the gospel. I often encourage my church family to “engage with those who don’t look like you, think like you or vote like you.”
3) Has the COVID pandemic amplified or accelerated these challenges?
COVID has certainly accelerated the challenges facing our churches. While everyone has been affected by the pandemic, some have been crushed by it. We’re looking around in our community for those who need encouragement and help. I think that’s something churches, associations and state conventions can do, and we as a national convention of churches likewise can care about each other because a lot of people have suffered loss.
4) How would you hope to use the SBC president’s influence/bully pulpit to impact these major challenges?
If God were to put me in this role, I believe in being honest and open with people about our unity and disunity, and helping bring our focus back to our mission. I will lead us to catch a vision for what we can cooperatively do together. It’s just too easy, in our autonomy, to turn away from each other. We must strive for unity. It will take all of us committed to this task. We truly are better together.
5) What would you say to those, particularly Black pastors, who are considering leaving the SBC because of discouragement over racial tensions?
I can certainly understand why some are exhausted. It can be very exhausting when you feel like people don’t grasp what you’re facing. It can be crushing when others appear not to care. My years of experience in diversified relationships in my own community has brought these realities into light for me. Listening and learning has changed my heart, and the heart of so many other Southern Baptists, pastors and leaders. For those who are wondering, “Why should we stay?” I want us to envision a better future together for the gospel to the nations. We need all hands on deck for this great heroic battle against darkness. We cannot spare one soul that God has called for this fight. This convention needs all people to reach all people. The fastest-growing demographic in our SBC family is among our brothers and sisters of color, and I celebrate that. It will be exciting to see more of these men and women on our committee appointments and taking leadership roles in the SBC.
In my local racial reconciliation experience we have discovered how many ways we are alike and how many ways we are different. We’ve learned to give honor to one another. We’re seeing God heal wounds and strengthen fellowship and relationships among Black and white pastors as well as civic leaders. The gospel has been the center of the whole thing.
6) Why should any pastor or church remain with the SBC, or join it – what is good and strong about our convention right now?
I don’t think I could answer any better than my friend Fred Luter when he was asked this question recently. He said, “I don’t remain in the SBC because we’re good at racial reconciliation, because we’re not.” He said, “I choose to stay in and work through those issues because this convention is the best at training evangelists, planting churches and sending missionaries.” I would add that, while I agree with Fred, we have to do better at reconciliation. We have serious work to do together. We need more people joining the dialogue, more people reaching across lines. We need to humble ourselves and develop deeper relationships with each other. Jesus said, ‘By this they will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” We need visible expressions of that. It needs to be a reality, not something we do because it’s politically correct or trending. It’s something we do because the Scripture commands us to do it. We glorify Jesus when we do this together.