Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton, and his wife, Kathy, spoke at the conclusion of the annual SBC meeting on June 16, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Who is Ed Litton, the new Southern Baptist Convention President?

By Bob Smietana

In a hotly contested election decided by just over 500 votes, Alabama pastor Ed Litton was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Litton, the longtime pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, a congregation with 3,900 members, was considered a long shot in the presidential race. Two other candidates — Georgia pastor Mike Stone, a leader among critics of current SBC leaders, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler — had been considered the favorites.

Mohler was knocked out during the first round of ballots, receiving about a quarter of votes. In a runoff, Litton got 52% of the vote, and Stone got close to 48%.

Litton told reporters he considered it an honor to serve as SBC president and would work to “iron out some of our difference.”

“I want to be clear that my goal is to build bridges and not walls,” he said.

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During a session at SBC’s annual meeting Wednesday, Litton displayed that approach by paying tribute to Mohler, thanking him for his service to the denomination.

“The Scripture says give honor where honor is due. Sir, you are due great honor,” said Litton, standing at the microphone during Mohler’s report on the work of Southern seminary.

Mohler congratulated Litton in response, saying it was important for brothers in the church to speak well of one another.

Here are a few facts about the new SBC president.

Litton is conservative.

In his news conference, Litton described himself as both theologically and politically conservative. Like Stone, Mohler and other candidates, he is an inerrantist and a complementarian — believing the Bible is without error and that men and women have different roles in the church and family. 

Some critics of Litton have referred to him as “moderate” or liberal. The term “moderate” was used during the Southern Baptist conflicts over the Bible and theology of the 1980s and 1990s to refer to those who opposed inerrantists and other conservatives. Many of the moderates formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a more progressive denomination that ordains women as pastors.

The current debates among Southern Baptists are among varying conservative camps.

He is known for working on racial reconciliation.

Fred Luter, the pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and the first Black president of the SBC, brought down the house at the denomination’s annual meeting with his nomination of Litton: “Take it from Fred, vote for Ed.”

“In a time when conservative Southern Baptist African American leaders are questioning their connection to the convention, Ed has uniquely shown his commitment to racial reconciliation,” Luter said.

Litton has been active in the Pledge Group, which works on racial reconciliation in Mobile, Alabama, where he has been pastor for 27 years. That work has taught him the need for humility, he said, something that has become a hallmark of his ministry.

The Rev. Ed Litton, center, participates in a panel during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 15, 2021, in Nashville, Tennessee. (RNS photo: Kit Doyle)

Litton’s family was changed by a Southern Baptist pastor.

During his initial news conference, Litton talked about growing up in a family that did not go to church. His dad was an alcoholic, and the family was troubled. But a Southern Baptist pastor helped them in their hour of need.

“The day came where everything seemed to unravel like a cheap sweater and my dad cried out to God,” Litton said. “This pastor led him in a prayer to trust Christ as his savior. And we watched in my household a miracle take place.”

Seeing how God changed his father set the course for Litton’s life, leading him to eventually pursue a call to ministry.

Litton’s life has been marked by grace and tragedy.

In 2007, Litton’s first wife, Tammy, a musician and women’s ministry leader, was killed in a car accident. His second wife, Kathy, lost her first husband, Baptist pastor Rick Ferguson, in a car accident as well. That kind of profound loss and grief changed both of their lives.

“We love to tell people the story that there is a God who loves us,” he said. “And he doesn’t go distant in the most painful things in life. He actually does the opposite. The Bible says it this way, he draws near to the brokenhearted, and those that are crushed in spirit.”

Litton told reporters he and Kathy have been loved by people in the convention, who cared for them in their grief and sorrow, something they are grateful for.   

Litton doesn’t like to talk about politics.

While a political conservative, Litton said he has avoided talking about politics in the pulpit or trying to persuade people to vote the way he does. Instead, he said he tries to teach them the Bible and what it says about being a good citizen. And Litton said he is open to working with political leaders of all parties if asked, saying he would treat political leaders with honor and kindness.

He is a Great Commission and Great Commandment Baptist.

Litton refers to himself as a “Great Commission Baptist,” an alternate title adopted by some Southern Baptists in recent years. He said he doesn’t want to change the name of the denomination but uses the Great Commission Baptist name because it reflects that the SBC has moved beyond its Southern roots. 

He also has linked the Great Commission, Jesus’ call for his followers to evangelize the world, to the Great Commandment, Jesus’ command for his followers to love their neighbors as themselves.

Litton has preached with his wife.

Like other Southern Baptists, Litton affirms the denomination’s statement of faith, which declares “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” In the past, however, Litton’s wife, Kathy, has helped him preach about marriage during church services.

“My wife is a great teacher, and she helps me communicate to our people,” he said.

Some Baptists, including Mohler and Stone, believe only men can preach during worship services. Litton said there is room in the SBC’s statement of faith for local churches to make that decision for themselves.

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.

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9 thoughts on “Who is Ed Litton, the new Southern Baptist Convention President?”

  1. Dawn Zimmerman

    The Rev Ed Litton sounds like the right leader needed for this moment.

    Given the long-ago founding of the SBC for their noted support of slavery, a focus on unity – especially with African American brothers and sisters – seems more than wise.

    And it’s hopeful to see how the messengers spoke through their votes.

  2. “Litton is conservative.” I don’t know any conservatives that are pro-critical race theory?

    I was wondering if he actually was, or if that was just exaggeration by his opponents, but sure enough he outright endorsed it being taught in SBC-affiliated seminaries. Seems like the wrong man for the job.

    1. Joel Stoddert

      Litton was interviewed in World magazine after his election. He spoke of Dr. John Perkins being a friend and also a mentor regarding racial reconciliation. As one who has also sat at Perkins’ feet, I can tell you he has no patience with the thinking behind CRT, saying we stumble into racism when we lose sight of the fact God only created one race–the human race. Brother Litton has a reputation as a man of integrity; so if he says he agrees with John Perkins on CRT, I choose to believe him.

      1. Dawn Zimmerman

        Thank you for your support of Rev Litton and not assuming that because he cares about racial unity, it means that he’s in hard core support of CRT.

        In the midst of such polarization, I’m glad to see that the messengers voted for this man of humility.

      2. Did Litton specifically say that he “agrees with John Perkins on CRT”? Or are you just assuming?

        Litton has liked numerous tweets in recent months (i.e. Dwight McKissic) that talk about how helpful CRT is, is on record saying he doesn’t think it’s a problem that CRT is being taught in the seminaries, and even helped craft a statement in retaliation to the one the seminary presidents released that warned about CRT. So Litton seems to clearly support CRT, by both his words and actions. No need to make assumptions about what he may or may not believe, he’s pretty open about his support for it, regardless of what John Perkins believes.

        Al Mohler has repented of his previous support of CRT, and I pray Ed does the same.

  3. Yes, another acolyte of Greear/the two rock star Moores. I don’t care how good a person he is or how much grief he’s endured–if he endorses CRT he is endorsing a different “gospel” and creation/Fall narrative. Most of the Mormon “apostles” are probably excellent human beings too and we don’t want them to lead actual Christian denominations.

    I’ve said it before and will repeat it, the entire SB church is broken and rotten beyond repair. Maybe it always was (like Liberty University), being as it was founded around the defense of slavery and white nationalism. Even if that’s gone now, all of the taint can’t be undone and you can’t fix historic racism with new, opposite-direction racism. For whatever the reason, it’s time for a breakup and dissolution. Let the righteous in the SBC find other church homes.

    1. If churches with deed restrictions that would return the property to the SBC or one of its entities, can have them removed, I’m all for it.

      1. Even if the churches lose their buildings and property–would it not be worth it to take a stand against the systematic corruption and degeneracy of the sinking ship? This is a lost cause. The SBC was founded on racist roots and a long legacy of enabling and covering up abuse and perversion. The “answer” seems to be to go racist/cover up sex crimes in the other direction. It’s not salvageable and at this point isn’t worth saving. Christ’s church is eternal–not some broken, fallen denominational body politic.

        (I don’t just feel this way about the SBC by the way–a lot of denoms are hopeless cases–C&MA comes to mind, too.)

    2. steven w davenport

      Where is the evidence that Liberty University was founded upon the defense of slavery and white nationalism? CNN or MSNBC doesnt count.

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