In his “state of our union” address to trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee Feb. 21, Ed Litton affirmed the “sacred effort” of Southern Baptists advancing the mission of God, while also calling out the stains of racism and sexual abuse in the denomination.
Southern Baptists’ “one scared effort” is to reach the world for Christ, Litton said. This effort has been carried out through disaster relief, ministry to the hungry and hurting, perseverance through difficulties, response to sex trafficking, church planting, an increase in ethnic believers and congregations, seminary education and generous financial giving to Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program and missions offerings.
“The best examples of who we are come when we work together for one sacred effort,” he said.
‘Historical stain of racism’
Still, to continue forward with moral credibility, the denomination must address the stains of racism and sexual abuse, Litton stated. Racism, he said, is a “historical stain,” one that must not only be repudiated but removed “from the fabric of our SBC life.”
The early church, Litton explained, dealt with racial divides between Jews and Gentiles, and the Apostle Paul called on the Ephesians to address the issue. Just as everyday stains are difficult to remove, the stain of racism cannot be removed by human effort.
“God will enable us by His love to kill the hostility and thus begin removing the stain,” Litton said.
Litton quoted Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who said, “If the church gets this (racial reconciliation) wrong, it is not just getting race and ethnic differences wrong. It is getting the gospel wrong.”
‘Urgency long overdue’
With Southern Baptists’ Sexual Abuse Task Force work underway, Litton said, “There have been credible reports (regarding sexual abuse) for decades, and our urgency is long overdue. We know enough that we can acknowledge that there has been a culture among us where predators found safer places to hide than the vulnerable found safe places to rest.”
Just as Jesus called on the cleansed leper in Matthew 8 to show himself clean to the priest as a “testimony,” He calls on the denomination to show itself cleansed to the world.
“The cleansing of the SBC could be a powerful testimony to our watching world,” Litton said.
The source of the two stains of racism and sexual abuse is pride, Litton explained.
“Pride is the root of our disorder,” he said, because it numbs people from feeling pain, much like the leper does not feel pain.
A lack of compassion — of feeling another person’s pain — causes believers to turn on one another, find fault with one another and declare war on one another.
“Attacking others who are made in the image of God is not God’s way,” he said.
As Litton has traveled on behalf of the denomination as president, he has “never” heard anyone remark about how much Southern Baptists love one another. “Jesus says it as plain as it can be said: ‘The world will know that we belong to Him by the way we love one another.’”
Litton concluded by calling on EC trustees to walk in justice, mercy and faithfulness.
“This is our greatest challenge to hear and heed the words of Jesus. I’m convinced that if we do, Christ stands ready to wash His bride, the Church.”