NASHVILLE (BP) – A conversation among Southern Baptists could provide another move toward racial reconciliation and an opening for the Gospel of Jesus, says Ed Litton.
“I think we have made some good strides in our [Southern Baptist] family, but the next step needs to be going deeper with one another, learning to love one another and learning how to give hope through the Gospel,” said Litton, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, in an interview Wednesday (Feb. 16) with Baptist Press.
He will be part of a conversation on the subject during an 11 a.m. (EST) online event Feb. 23, when the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) hosts: “Pursuing Unity: A Discussion of Racial Reconciliation Efforts and the SBC.”
In addition to Litton, participants in the conversation will be:
- Fred Luter, the SBC’s only African-American president (2012-14) and senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans;
- Missie Branch, assistant dean of students to women and director of graduate life at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary;
- Jon Kelly, lead pastor of Chicago West Bible Church.
Brent Leatherwood, the ERLC’s acting president, will moderate the discussion. More information on and registration for the webinar are available here.
For Litton, racial reconciliation is about the Gospel.
“I believe this Gospel makes us, according to Paul in Ephesians chapter 2, one new man,” said Litton, senior pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Ala., a suburb of Mobile.
“And I think a lost world is looking at a divided church in America and asking itself: ‘Is Jesus real?,’” he said. “I don’t think it’s something we can delay. I don’t think it’s something we can put off to another generation. I think we need to take the opportunity before us, because the culture … can’t resolve the issue. Only the Gospel can resolve this issue.
“There’s so much in our past. There’s so much difficulty here that we need to learn to love one another, enjoy one another, give honor to one another. And I think it’s an amazing opportunity for the Gospel.”
At the SBC’s annual meeting June 14-15 in Anaheim, Calif., Litton desires to “present a strategy to Southern Baptists that I think is very much a grassroots strategy, that I think any pastor, church member can take ahold of and work with other people in their communities to help bring calm but also to help bring a biblical, Gospel-centered solution to what divides us.”
The Feb. 23 online conversation, according to the ERLC, will attempt to help viewers “navigate challenging conversations about race,” implement practical actions to foster unity in their churches and encourage the pursuit of racial reconciliation in their communities. The ERLC also intends for the webinar to highlight the SBC’s work in recent years toward increased unity and the ways the convention can promote racial reconciliation.
Litton hopes the webinar discussion “will start some conversations,” he said. “One of the things that I encourage people to do on a regular basis is: ‘Don’t wait to initiate.’
“For a long time, I avoided this subject,” Litton acknowledged. “It’s somewhat easy to avoid, because you can tell yourself, ‘I’m just here to preach the Gospel. I don’t want to get involved in politics, social issues.’ But the reality is the community I live in is waiting for me to not wait but to initiate, to reach out to a brother, to reach out to other people of different color and to get to know each other, start a conversation, start building relationships and friendships long before you plan events, long before you do anything.”
Litton’s years-long work with other pastors for racial reconciliation in the Mobile area began with conversations.
“We actually spent almost two years every other week in some really powerful conversations, painful conversations, and I would also say they were productive conversations, because what was produced was friendship and trust,” he said.
Messengers to annual SBC meetings in recent decades have adopted multiple resolutions condemning racism and calling for racial reconciliation. Maybe most notably, messengers to the 1995 meeting approved a resolution upon the SBC’s 150th anniversary in which they lamented and repudiated slavery, apologized to African Americans “for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime” and asked for forgiveness from African American Christians.
At last year’s meeting, messengers approved a broad resolution on the Bible’s sufficiency regarding race and racial reconciliation but decided not to address specifically the contentious issue of critical race theory.