Following his decision to not seek a second term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Ed Litton took time to reflect on his past eight months in that role and the challenges that lie ahead as the 2022 SBC Annual meeting in Anaheim nears.
In a March 2 TAB Media Special Report, Litton spoke with Jennifer Davis Rash, president and editor-in-chief of TAB Media. The two discussed his decision not to seek a second term, his calling to pursue racial reconciliation on a local and national level, expectations surrounding the Sexual Abuse Task Force report and a few highlights of his time as the 63rd SBC president.
Litton’s decision not to seek a second term may have come as a surprise for some. The last SBC president to serve one term as president was Adrian Rogers (1979–1980). Rogers would later go on to be reelected in 1986 and serve two consecutive one-year terms.
But on Tuesday (March 1), Litton, pastor of Mobile-area Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, shared in a video released on his church’s YouTube channel that he wanted to focus more on pursuing racial reconciliation, and he believed he could do a better job from the role of a pastor than as SBC president.
Less than 24 hours following his announcement, Florida pastor Willy Rice announced his intentions to accept the nomination for SBC president at this year’s annual meeting. Rice is the pastor of Calvary Church in Clearwater, where he has served since 2004.
Challenges and the power of prayer
Litton, who acknowledged facing his share of criticism and controversy during his time in office, noted that being in the position of SBC president brings a level of scrutiny that some might not be prepared for.
“The political climate we live in today means you’re going to be scrutinized in ways you never imagined, and so if you’re not up for that game, don’t do it,” he said.
But on a positive note, Litton said he has become more aware of the power of prayer as Southern Baptists have prayed for him as president of the convention.
He recalled former SBC president Jimmy Draper, who shared that when his second term was up in 1984, it was like “someone unplugged the refrigerator. It’s powerful. People who don’t know you are praying for you.”
Litton added, “And that says something about how unified we really are. I know we can be very disunified and contentious, but I just appreciate [the prayers in spite of that].
“I hope people don’t stop praying,” he said, “because we have a lot of work to do, and we will follow through to Anaheim.”
Litton said he’s looking forward to presenting a plan for racial reconciliation during the annual meeting.
“This is something our convention has been asking for,” he said, “and I believe God has uniquely positioned me and given me experiences in this that we can, with the help of a lot of good people, present a simple, grassroots effort that I think will make a huge difference in the future for us.
“My job is to encourage people to follow through and to begin movements of God in our cities,” he said.
“… My hope in this racial reconciliation is that a side effect will be that we will begin seeing people in our communities that we are disconnected from, and in the process, we’ll see needs that need to be addressed.”
Bracing for action
With the release of the Sexual Abuse Task Force report coming up in a couple months, Litton said he has been pleased with the progress of the investigation and is encouraging people to “brace for action.”
“Don’t brace for impact, like we’re getting ready to have a car crash,” he said. “Brace for action.”
“Southern Baptists need to respond, to act, and it’s going to take a long time for us to work through this to find healing and everything else involved. But to change the culture of the SBC, be willing to hear what God’s going to say to us through that report.”
Litton expressed how he has enjoyed the opportunity as SBC president to travel and see firsthand Southern Baptists serving others on the state, national and international level.
He also noted successes that included opportunities to be involved with a church planting initiative in California that he’s hoping will see 50 more churches planted, in addition to those that the North American Mission Board’s Send Network already has launched.
“I was just out there last week, met with a group of pastors that are looking to come and help support church plants, and we’re going to make that a focus at the Anaheim convention,” Litton said.
During his time as SBC president, Litton said, he also has developed more of an appreciation for state conventions and their heart for God’s work.
“I’ve gotten to know the state level execs of all our states at some level and at least casually meeting them. These are serious people,” he said.
“And they are serious about the gospel, and they are serious about cooperation,” he said. “They have profound concerns about the national organization, and they care, and I think that’s been very heartening for me.”
“Southern Baptists are a good people, and they deserve to be led well.”