Hi and welcome back! Please pardon a brief segue today. Lately, we’ve been following the lead-up to the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It’s winding down today. And they just elected their new president for the next two years: Ed Litton, an absolute nobody of a pastor who somehow gained the favor of the slightly-less-rabidly-authoritarian faction of the denomination. In the wake of his election, the SBC is losing its mind right now. Today, let’s look at the SBC meeting, the election of Ed Litton, and just the sheer audacious state of these guys.
Everyone, Meet Ed Litton.
Ed Litton is a pastor from Alabama. He’s been a pastor for many years, with his projects often intersecting with some very big names in the denomination. His wife, Kathy Litton, has inroads with a great number of equally luminous names, since she’s the SBC’s very first woman to act as the secretary of their registration committee. She’s won awards for her service to the SBC.
Still, Ed Litton’s been a very behind-the-scenes guy. He came out of absolutely nowhere earlier this year as a contender for the presidency of the SBC. J.D. Greear, then the president of the SBC, supported him — as did Russell Moore and Fred Luter, who is the only Black man who has ever been elected to the SBC’s presidency.
I nicknamed their faction the Pretend Progressives because they make a lot of noise about wanting to fix the SBC’s firmly-entrenched problems, but they can’t seem to make any headway at all. And as we saw with Russell Moore’s leaked letters, they are happy to put up with shocking displays of hypocrisy without speaking up for victims.
That said, this faction certainly does make a lot of noise about wanting to make things right by the SBC’s many victims of sexism and racism. So yeah, I could see them convincing a number of Southern Baptists that they would make good on that noise if Ed Litton won the election.
By the time the flocks realize nothing substantial is happening still, all of these guys will be long gone and enjoying their new publishing contracts.
Interestingly, this faction contains a lot of Calvinists — Greear himself is Calvinist, and so is Moore. Infiltration and false flag saga when?
And In the Other Corner…
Ed Litton ran against a cabal of braying hardliners who are deeply furious about what they perceive as the SBC’s growing liberalism. Yes. Liberalism. They hates it, they hates it forever.
And this faction seriously thinks that the SBC is in any danger at all of becoming liberal.
I call this cabal the Old Guard because many of them look back on the Conservative Resurgence fondly and want to extend its power-grabs even further. Their major faction was led by Al Mohler, throwing his hat in the ring with what I can only imagine was the world’s biggest gloating smirk. Mike Stone leads a splinter faction of ultra-extremists.
Both of these men have been big huge honkin’ names in the SBC for decades now. Al Mohler leads the SBC’s flagship seminary, influencing many thousands of young SBC-lings every year. Meanwhile, Mike Stone has been a popular ultra-conservative gadfly and agitator for years.
If Mohler won the election, the SBC would definitely swing even more firmly to the right. And if Stone won, the SBC could look forward to an accelerated race to the bottom of the authoritarian barrel. As a New York Times (NYT) article tells us, Stone’s faction seriously thinks this is the best thing that could possibly happen to the SBC! As this faction’s leaders grimly assured their followers before the vote:
We indeed do not wage war against flesh and blood, but we do wage war.
Oh, wow, y’all! Lookit all that Christian love pouring out!
Strangely, it never seems to be a big leap for these sorts of Christians to go from “oh no we’d never actually get violent, this is all just pretendy, y’all” to agitating for armed revolutions in the streets.
An Important Election.
Any time the SBC is dealing with an internal ruckus, it seems like more people attend their Annual Meeting. There’s a good reason for that heightened attendance, too. Southern Baptists can only vote on the denomination’s big resolutions and choose officers if they attend the meeting. For some reason, the SBC has always flat-out refused to allow digital voting or remote attendance.
And to gain the privilege of attending this meeting and having a say in the denomination’s business, Southern Baptist churches must contribute a certain amount of money to the SBC’s Cooperative Program (CP). (It’ll be interesting to see how that fund did last year.)
I knew that a lot of people in the SBC were deeply upset about how the denomination’s leaders have been handling issues like racism and sex abuse. However, I also knew that a lot of very prominent voices were screeching loudly about liberalism and feminism. I could see a schism forming between these two sides.
Then, we heard a couple of weeks ago that the SBC expected almost double their usual number of convention attendees. They normally get 5k-7k people at these bigotry shindigs. The last couple of years were bigger than normal (8k in 2019; 9k in 2018), but normally they’re right there. Last year’s convention was cancelled, of course. Then, this year, they expected 13k+ people.
The final tally was 15k.
Southern Baptists clearly felt that it was extremely important that they attend the meeting this year, and I bet the election was uppermost on their minds.
And folks, this election was anybody’s guess.
How the Election Went Down.
Earlier, J.D. Greear offered an address that sounded a lot like a campaign speech for his candidate, Ed Litton. Baptist News brings us the deets there:
Speaking June 15 before 15,000 messengers gathered at the SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., the North Carolina pastor doubled down on the convention’s dedication to the Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement, the inerrancy of Scripture, the ideology of complementarianism and an opposition to Critical Race Theory.
But he devoted the majority of his fast-paced sermon to urging, demanding and seemingly even begging Southern Baptists to avoid falling prey to legalism as they necessarily and uncompromisingly affirm central doctrines. Failure to keep Christ first could undo the SBC’s victory over liberalism in the late 20th century, foster more in-fighting and frighten off those outside the already declining denomination, he said.
Yeah, he’s extremely worried about sales. So much for his own campaign promises!
Then, another NYT article tells us, the meeting attendees conducted a first vote to eliminate one contender.
And that contender turned out to be Al Mohler. Seriously.
I bet he was just shocked by that. His Twitter concession was, at least, graceful. But don’t miss the Christians replying to Mohler’s tweet. They’re overwhelmingly salty over the whole thing. One replied, “Stick a fork in the #SBC. It’s done.”
Later, the SBC’s attendees voted on the two remaining contenders, Mike Stone and Ed Litton.
And Ed Litton won by 556 votes — 4% of the tally.
When the vote was called, the attendees immediately exploded into cheers and boos.
Yes, the Christian love flowed forth!
Mike Stone’s Christian Love: On Parade.
The hardline authoritarians of the Old Guard, especially its splinter faction, have been getting downright testy and aggressive as they see their dominance fading. Their language has grown more and more belligerent, and their rage at being thwarted has become downright palpable. Several incidents from the Annual Meeting stand out in my mind as emblems of just how sheerly toxic they are:
On Monday, Mike Stone ran into Hannah-Kate Williams, a sex abuse victim clamoring for reform. He didn’t seem to know who she was, according to NYT. But he felt very free to say some shockingly nasty things to her:
The encounter soon turned ugly, in Ms. Williams’s account.
“He said I’m causing more harm to the Southern Baptist Convention than good, and I’m not doing right by survivors,” she recalled tearfully on Monday evening. “And he said the Southern Baptist Convention is bigger than my problems.”
Yikes, that is just horrifying. Of course, Stone had a different account of the conversation. His focused on his tone, which he insisted was “polite.” Alas for him, non-Christians know very well that toxic Christians can be snarlingly cruel while also maintaining a perfectly polite tone. His official statement, posted to Twitter, does not in any way deny the content reported by Williams. Nor did Williams ever accuse him of impoliteness or an unpleasant tone, so I can’t imagine any legitimate or constructive reason why he zeroed in on his tone in the first place.
However, I can think of a lot of unsavory reasons why he might have gone there.
Christian Love for Al Mohler and J.D. Greear.
Also on Monday, NYT tells us, Al Mohler was hanging out at the convention and holding his grandchild. And then this happened:
On Monday afternoon, Mr. Mohler was accosted inside the convention center by a young messenger who loudly accused him of allowing critical race theory into the seminary he leads. Mr. Mohler, arguably the most well-known face within the denomination, was holding his young grandchild in his arms when the angry man approached him. He left the scene “more than a little shaken,” he said later.
To my knowledge, Mohler stands 100% against critical race theory (CRT). I’d be surprised to hear it’s taught at his seminary, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS).
We can set this confrontation on the shelf beside a similar one between J.D. Greear and a convention attendee a few days ago. This attendee demanded that Greear “repent.” Of what? I’m assuming that Greear’s big crime was even pretending to want serious systemic reforms in the SBC.
Considering what an authoritarian group the SBC is, the mind boggles at the sheer aggression on display in all of these events — and being shown to its top leaders and its abuse victims.
By Far the Best Summary of the SBC As a Whole.
We’ll wind down the festivities today with the very best hot take I’ve seen about this entire convention. It comes to us from Hannah-Kate Williams, who had that confrontation with Mike Stone described above. On Monday, she tweeted:
The pastor who helped cover up my abortion and sexual abuse is outside the #SBC21 protesting abortion.
If that does not perfectly sum up the sheer dysfunction of the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole, I can’t imagine what could do a better job.
(See also: The only moral abortion is my abortion. It’s amazing how often these forced-birther guys suddenly see the value of legalized abortion when their own futures are on the line.)
Obviously, I wish Hannah-Kate the very best in her quest to reform the SBC, and I hope that hypocrite of a pastor gets held accountable one day. I doubt her case was the only one he’s handled like that.
So Now Ed Litton is President of the SBC.
Ed Litton’s trying to be as nice and calm as he can in the wake of his victory. According to NYT, he gave a news conference afterward:
At the news conference after his victory, Mr. Litton called for an independent investigation into the convention’s handling of abuse, and said the denomination needed to be “pastoral” in its approach to victims.
Frankly, I’ve seen what their pastors do. I think they need to do way better than “pastoral” here. But whatever. The word has soothing connotations to evangelicals. Earlier, according to The Daily Beast, Fred Luter said that Litton would bring “a compassionate and shepherding heart,” which means he’s forgotten exactly why shepherds keep sheep in the first place.
Also worth noting: the SBC voted on a bunch of resolutions too, as they always do at these things, and these votes fell along absolutely expected party-line, culture-war lines. CRT bad, abortion awful, Equality Act scary, etc. They did condemn the January 6 insurrection attempt, so that’s nice.
Blah, blah, blah; rinse and repeat. The culture wars can’t ever die, it seems.
What Happens Next?
Even though I don’t expect Ed Litton to do a gosh-gol-durned thing about the SBC’s problems, he’s got the Old Guard completely het up. They were calling their enemies “the Biden Baptists” and complaining about their “woke”-ness. They’re not happy.
I’m seriously expecting his faction’s furious enemies to peel off from the SBC soon, though they might try again to hijack the denomination at its next election to make the SBC into their dream Republic of Gilead.
So that’s that. Here’s to another two years of SBC leaders piously insisting they want reform, yet not doing a thing that might make it happen — while their hardliner peers bleed away into some new and terrifying organization.
And here, too, is to another two years of “Jesus” not lifting a single finger to help all the victims of SBC abuse crying out to him — unless it’s his middle finger, of course. He seems really good at that move by now.
NEXT UP: Hell as crafted and honed by 4th-century Christian leaders. See you tomorrow!
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