When Southern Baptists met in Nashville this week, they decided that a moderate – not a conservative – will lead the denomination for the next two years. But they only debated what was perhaps the most controversial issue before them: critical race theory.
The choice on Tuesday evening came down to a second-ballot faceoff between conservative Georgia pastor Mike Stone and moderate Alabama pastor Ed Litton. Litton (pictured) won the vote by four points. Conservatives within the denomination likely were disappointed when the "messengers" in Nashville elected a moderate. Some now are predicting a major split will follow; others say conservative congregations will withhold their money from Southern Baptist coffers.
Dr. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist-Dallas says the jury is still out on what kind of leader Litton will be.
"I don't know Ed well. I've been in meetings with him," Jeffress tells One News Now. "But I think people will pray for him [and] that he continues to lead the Convention in the conservative direction it's been going for many, many years."
Christian apologist Dr. Alex McFarland says Litton's election was a blow to conservatives. "For many who are more conservative – and by conservative, I mean copiously biblical in all of their beliefs and practices – it's a disappointment," he states.
He admits he's worried that Litton is going to further widen a split in the denomination that's been growing for a couple of years – and predicts conservative congregations will have a strong response.
"I know [due to] merely the perception of a candidate or president being 'moderate' – less than conservative – many, many, many churches will withhold their giving, because they don't want their giving going to what they fear are 'woke' causes," McFarland adds.
Jeffress, however, argues that even if Litton does push the SBC to the left, nothing will happen. That's because Southern Baptist churches are autonomous – that is, the leaders of the denomination have absolutely no say in decisions made in a local church.
"Shakespeare actually had the best analysis of what happened in Nashville this week: 'Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,'" he quotes. "Nothing that happened this week in Nashville has one iota of impact on any of the 40,000 churches that make up the Southern Baptist Convention."
But the Dallas pastor does think there were some important issues left on the table in Nashville. "The question Southern Baptists were grappling this week is what every mainline denomination is dealing with – and that is what is the relationship between the Church and the culture," he concludes.
How about that CRT controversy?
In 2019, the SBC adopted a resolution (Resolution #9) that endorsed the use of a Marxist-inspired concept called "critical race theory" to help work through racial issues. The SBC has been arguing over the contentious issue of race relations ever since. Conservative Southern Baptists say the Bible is all that is needed to address any human condition. Moderates and a group of African-American churches took the pushback personally.
Litton, the incoming president, has been behind the effort to include CRT as an analytical tool in the SBC – an indication, according to Christian radio talk-show host Janet Mefferd, that the denomination will continue its slow slide to the left.
"I think what we probably will see is the same trajectory that we've seen under [outgoing SBC president] JD Greear," she laments, "which is more talk about racial reconciliation and how we are just terrible racists – [just] more of his critical race theory jargon."
The messengers did pass a resolution that stressed the sufficiency of scripture to deal with racial strife and reconciliation. While intended to gut Resolution 9, this year's motion did not specifically mention the socialist-backed worldview. Mefferd contends the motion was merely symbolic.
"The fact that they tossed out Mike Stone's resolution, which was signed on to by about 1,300 Southern Baptist names, and they wanted to instead put forward a resolution that didn't explicitly condemn it should tell you everything you need to know," she states.
The future of the SBC?
Mefferd is pessimistic about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. "I do think that if things continue to go as they have gone over the last six or seven years, that the Southern Baptist Convention will not recover," she shares.
"Unless there is a widespread repentance and honest appraisal of past sins and corruption and a fixing of it, I don't see how you can save the Southern Baptist Convention," Mefferd concludes.
For his part, McFarland says the SBC will survive without too many defections – but he urges that now, more than ever, the Church needs to be strong and crystal clear.
"Voices that are less than clear, words spoken with something less than conviction, more conciliatory and placating than prophetic – that's really not going to change this culture," says the Christian apologist. "At a time when we really need a clarion call of truth, this is not really the time to put middle-of-the-road people in places of leadership."