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Litton stresses ‘removing stains’ of the SBC in EC address

Ed Litton, SBC president, speaks to the SBC Executive Committee at their Feb. 21 meeting in Nashville. (Baptist Press/Brandon Porter)

NASHVILLE (BP) – During his address to members of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee Monday night (Feb. 21), SBC President Ed Litton said in order to fulfill the “sacred effort,” of the Convention, Southern Baptists must first address the “stains” that have been left on the Convention.

Identifying those stains as racism and sexual abuse, Litton said addressing those issues with integrity will be vital in fulfilling the cooperative mission of the SBC.

“The SBC exists because of mission,” Litton said. “We cooperate together to reach the world for Christ. This is our one sacred effort. That every person, everywhere, every man, woman and child will have an opportunity to hear and to know the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“We all love to see the progress and we all love to see good examples, but in order to do Gospel work we must regain moral credibility, we must deal with the stains on the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Litton mentioned two ways the SBC is attempting to deal with the stain of sexual abuse – the ongoing investigation into the potential mishandling of sexual abuse claims by the SBC Executive Committee and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s convention-wide assessment on the handling of sexual abuse, which will take place over the next three years.

Though the results of the investigation and the assessment (both to be conducted by Guidepost Solutions) remain unknown, Litton said it is already clear sexual abuse has left a negative mark on the SBC.

“This last fall’s EC meeting was painful for everyone,” Litton said, referring to the long and at times contentious meeting Sept. 20-21, 2021, which was followed by several long, online meetings to work out the details of the EC investigation. “The meeting was complicated, and it was difficult. I watched this body face something, and I watched fear pour out into this room and fill this place up. I’ve told people there was two kinds of fear – there was the fear of man and there was the fear of God. You sided on the fear of God.

“We don’t fully know what we will learn from this upcoming report. We don’t fully know what we will learn from the assessment that the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission just began. Yet, what we do know is that there has been a culture among us where predators found safer places to hide than the vulnerable found safe places to rest. That is a stain. And it can’t be solved in one meeting or by one vote. It requires intentionality over the long haul.”

Litton also spoke about the stain of racism on the history of the SBC. Referencing an essay written by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler, Litton expressed that eradicating racism will take much more than acknowledging the evil of slavery (such as the 1995 SBC resolution repudiating the convention’s previous defense of slavery).

“That (the 1995 resolution), was a horribly delayed but important start,” Litton said. “But today, far more is required of us. Repudiating slavery is not enough. We must repent and seek to confront and remove every stain of racism that remains and seek with all our strength to be the kind of churches of which Jesus would be proud – the kind of churches that will look like the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.”

The stains in the Convention are not easily removed, Litton said, but he reminded trustees of 2 Corinthians 5:21, saying: “Christ bore our sins on the cross. The one who knew no sin became sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.”

“Dealing with our stains will be a powerful testimony to a watching world,” Litton said.

“All stains have a source. Pride is the root of our disorder. What leprosy is to the human body, pride is to the soul. Pride numbs the feeling the pain in our own lives, our own churches, in our communities for victims and survivors, in our states, our nation and our world. We lack empathy and compassion for one another. When we genuinely care we engage with help, comfort and the truth of the Gospel.”

Litton closed by pleading with the EC members, and the entire SBC, to display the love of Christ toward one another and toward the world, rather than drift towards legalism.

“In my time as your president, I’ve heard a lot of things said about the SBC. … But the one thing that I never hear anyone say is this: ‘O how they love one another,’” Litton said.

“The danger we face is that of being pharisees. Right now some may think I am addressing a particular group in the SBC. I am not. I’m talking about all of us. Because we are conservative in our theology and hold fast to the Word of God, we can become legalistic overnight. The Pharisees started as a conservative resurgence, but they ended up in a bad place where Jesus called them out as hypocrites. They looked very religious, but Jesus said they neglected the weightier matters of the law like justice, mercy and faithfulness.

“Our churches again need to address the issues on the frontlines. … We can tell the truth in love. This is our great challenge and a sanctification moment for us.”