SARALAND, Ala. (WKRG) — Ed Litton hasn’t walked into the job of leading the largest Protestant organization in the country with his eyes shut.
“We do, at least in our two-day meeting, appear to be the most divided people in the world,” said Litton, who was elected last month as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. Some twenty thousand delegates attended the convention in Nashville in June.
Litton, who has been pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland for more than twenty-five years, said even with the issues that appear to seriously divide the organization that includes racial reconciliation, declining membership, and allegations of sexual misconduct by some members, the overall mission is in agreement.
“I don’t know how divided you can be but there are good people who are called southern Baptists,” he said. “And they care about the word of God–they care about the culture they live in—and they care about the gospel getting out.”
One of the biggest issues facing the convention–a decline in membership. Published reports indicate as many as two million people have quit in the past 15 years.
Litton said, “Let me tell you what’s happening in Southern Baptist life. Our greatest progress has been through ethnic work. Our Asian, Hispanic, and African-American churches have grown at a rate of 222 percent. Our Anglo churches have been in decline. What that reflects is the culture we live in.”
The Pastor has been a voice for racial unity and reconciliation within the Southern Baptist Convention. Along with that, he is also now in charge of reconciling the organization’s response to sexual assault allegations leveled against some clergy and others within the organization.
The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News first reported in February 2019 that as many as 380 clergy, leaders, and volunteers had faced charges of sexual misconduct and that there were as many as 700 victims. The investigation also showed how member churches of the SBC largely turned a blind eye to the allegations.
Litton said he supports establishing an independent task force to investigate.
He told WKRG News 5, “As a matter of fact that’s my first task. I’ve been tasked by the people of the convention overwhelmingly–they voted I would appoint a task force and I’m in the process of doing that right now.”
Because the Southern Baptist Convention is not a ‘top-down’ organization like the Catholic Church, meaning member churches are autonomous, Litton defended the organization saying it was difficult to keep track of members accused of such crimes.
“So how do you hold people accountable? We are developing a mechanism and we’re learning as we go, but we’re trying to have a mechanism where we can separate company from people who refuse to deal with this problem,” he said.
Litton is also finding out how brutal things can be as the leader of the largest Protestant group in the country. Less than two weeks after becoming president, he was hit with un-sourced charges of plagiarism–that he’d lifted passages from sermons of his predecessor. Litton responded in a statement that he had permission from Pastor J.D. Greear to use those passages, and Greear agreed.
As for where those charges originated, Litton said, “They are unnamed. So unnamed sources are presenting these things which should make everybody take a pause.”
Litton is expected to hold the job as President of the Southern Baptist Convention for the next two years.