A shift has taken places as it has to do with the Presidency of the SBC regarding the old saying, “You don’t seek the office, the office seeks you.” Not that the saying was ever actually true to begin with. There have been plenty of guys who sought the office over the years with a growing and much more open campaigning effort happening more recently. Election websites and open campaigning have become the norm. So be it, whatever, I’m honestly not concerned about that “shift” as much as I am the implications. The point is, there are candidates who are clearly and now openly “seeking the office.”
At the time of the publication of this article there are 4 men whose names have been put forward by those intending to nominate them for the highest elected office of our convention. A convention, by the way, who has been shooting itself in the foot quite often lately. At this point I’m honestly not sure why anyone would want to take on that yoke. Regardless, and from my perspective only one of the four men who are being nominated doesn’t appear to be “seeking the office” having had no aspirations or designs on ever filling such a role. I’ll explain below why I believe that is the case but suffice it to say, I personally know folks who have approached one candidate in particular asking him to pray about allowing his name to be placed into nomination.
Before you challenge my observation allow me to offer evidence. One of the men to be nominated has had his name placed in the hat twice before (the first time having to step aside due to health issues and the second time was doomed by Covid-19 cancelling our previous meeting). Making matters more suspect is that this man (who I have always respected) is already the president of one of the most prestigious seminaries in America AND was also just elected president of the world’s largest Evangelical Theological Society. The question I would ask, with respect but mounting concern is, “how many presidencies is enough for one guy?” Two of the other men being nominated have an even more concerning candidacy, in my opinion. Both of them are openly and boldly campaigning on clear agendas. Agendas which I would call, respectively, fundamentalist and antagonistic at best and divisive and punitive at worst.
I am convinced we DO NOT need that division among us. This election will indeed chart a definitive course for our future: Either a future celebrating our cooperation under a large tent guided by the sufficiency of scripture and our agreed confession vested in the BF&M, or a future with narrowing borders leading to more and more people leaving our cooperative effort as an unhealthy and unChristlike fundamentalism takes hold.
Speaking only for myself—with a full rejection of the last two candidates I’ve mentioned—that leaves only 2 viable candidates for this office and I am happy to place my support behind the one candidate who is universally recognized as a humble pastor with a voice of calm and reason in a sea of peacocking and posturing. I will be voting for Ed Litton to serve as our convention president in Nashville this June.
Let me quickly add that the only other viable candidate has had my esteem and appreciation for many years. I am in awe of his intellect and I’m thankful for his service to our convention for as long as I have been involved in the SBC. However, and although I know there is no prohibition against an entity head serving as convention president (and that its happened before), I convictionally reject that practice. My concern has little to do with a lack of trust of the individual (although, serving in Louisiana I certainly have seen my share of undue influence). Rather, it is in the appearance of impropriety of an individual serving in a capacity that has influence (direct or indirect) over the entity which employs him. I just don’t like it and it is not a good look. Second, we have plenty of qualified leaders who are able to serve as convention president without such perceived “double dipping.” Third, in a time when our cooperative effort is under the microscope more than ever before (by those both inside and outside the convention), I’d want us to be so transparent that no one could ever come close to charging us with impropriety in any form.
What’s so great about Ed?
Our convention has a pastor/candidate sought out by men I respect who has agreed to allow his name to be placed into consideration. My friend and fellow regional co-laborer Fred Luter Jr. is nominating Ed Litton and I could not be happier about it.
Ed is a long-time, faithful pastor here on the Gulf Coast. Although he is well known around the county his name might not be as familiar as some others. To many he is a church planting/pastoring hero having served his current church for the last 27 years. He planted and served in Arizona before his time in the south. Some might know of the terrible tragedy both he and his wife Kathy experienced as they each lost their first spouses, Tammy (in 2007) and Rick (in 2002), in tragic automobile accidents. His love for and continued investment in church planting and planters, as well as his encouragement of established churches might be for what they are best known.
Here are the three big reasons I will be casting my vote for Ed Litton in Nashville and why I’d encourage all of my friends to consider doing likewise.
- A Heart for the Gospel. Ed’s engagement in the difficult places (like the very secular west and the very “culturally Christian” south Alabama) speak to his love of the gospel and his desire to see lives changed. He speaks of his formerly drunken father who was evangelized by an SBC pastor and recalls the life-changing power of the Gospel as he witnessed it changing the life of his father and subsequently that of his whole family. Sometimes we need to be reminded that the emphasis on church planting is first and foremost one of evangelism. The purpose of new churches is to engage lost people and unreached areas with the Gospel. Ed and Kathy are seasoned veterans of planting and long-term pastoring and have been mentors of pastors and their wives for their entire adult lives. Ed is Gospel centered and is quoted as saying, “…for a convention of churches that has so much variety, our unity is in the Gospel. It’s in the Great Commission.” Ed is an evangelizing, discipling and sending pastor. We need that gospel-driven, pastoral sensitivity leading our cooperative work, maybe now more than ever.
- Unity within the SBC. Speaking of unity, we are currently in the midst of division in the SBC. I believe this is a self-made division that is not an issue of the gospel at all. It is an interpretive issue of how we see cooperation and whether or not we will suffer those with whom we might have differing opinions on secondary issues. After a long fought “Battle for the Bible,” in which many fought side by side against a common enemy (supposing that liberalism was our common enemy), it appears that there are some who have forgotten that we still have a very REAL and very dangerous common enemy who seeks to devour and destroy us. Thus, rather than continuing to stand side by side, recognizing we are not going to all believe exactly the same things on all issues, they have turned their swords against their brothers and have subsequently been pulled away in distraction from our great calling of loving one another and sharing Christ with the lost. Ed appears to recognize this distraction when he said, “… the Gospel is the heart of our unity – and the love of Jesus is the heart of the Gospel. The Great Commandment has been, I think, lost to some, or seemingly lost to some. We’ve lost sight of what Jesus told us would drive the Great Commission, and that’s to love one another. Love God first, love each other. By this will they know you’re my disciples.”
- Real Cultural Engagement. Pastor Litton is an advocate for engaging the culture. His work with “The Pledge Group” and his extensive engagement with the very real, and sometimes very volatile culture of the American South has brought him great credibility across denominations and ethnicities in an otherwise very segregated southern city. What I respect so much about Ed is that his engagement with his community is on a first name basis. By that I mean, when so many others don their bomber jackets and engage in the “culture wars” by carpet bombing Twitter and Facebook from 20,000 feet, Ed, as a pastor and leader in his community, interacts with his neighbors face to face and creates real and meaningful opportunities for gospel engagement and effectual life change. This sort of pastorally-guided, rubber-meets-the-road, interaction is exactly what Christ called us to. Ed is a regular guy just like the rest of us pastors who are trying to engage our neighbors and equip those in our care for the work of ministry. This pastor/servant is who we need in this role at this time.
I have been involved in “convention things” for over 25 years and I have never known a time when we were more in need of a candidate with a Unifying Heart and Pastoral Sensitivities than we do now. The one candidate who is bursting with both of those qualities is Ed Litton.
Let’s go to Nashville and elect Ed Litton as the next President of the Southern Baptist Convention.
P.S. Let me encourage you pastors to fill up all your messenger spots with members of your church and bring them to Nashville. Encourage some of your families to take a little vacation. The city is wonderful and it is a great place to explore. Living in a tourist town myself, I know how much those dollars will mean to that city after all the Covid-19 headache. Also, all you denominational employees who have to be there anyway, let your church know you’re going and have them register you as a messenger (not as a guest) and let your voice be heard.
I hope to see you all in Nashville!
For more information on Ed and Kathy Litton please see the following BP articles:
BP’s recent interview HERE
BP’s announcement of Ed’s candidacy HERE
BP article from 2011 about Kathy’s work with pastor’s wives HERE