The Southern Baptist Convention tamped down a push from the right at its largest meeting in decades on Tuesday, electing a new president who has worked to bridge racial divides in the church. Ed Litton, a pastor from Alabama, won 52% of the vote in a runoff against Mike Stone, a Georgia pastor backed by a new group called the Conservative Baptist Network that has sought to move the already-conservative denomination further right, the AP reports. Litton, who is white, was nominated by Fred Luter, the only Black pastor to serve as president of the nation's largest Protest denomination. Luter praised Litton's commitment to racial reconciliation and said he has dealt compassionately with the issue of sexual abuse in SBC churches, another hot-button subject at the gathering of more than 15,000 church representatives. The message that seemed to resonate with voters was that Stone—who supported a motion to repudiate critical race theory, an academic construct for framing systemic racism that has been a target of religious and political conservatives—was a divisive choice.
"We're a family, and at times it seems like an incredibly dysfunctional family," Litton said after the results were announced in Nashville. "But we love each other." Delegates rejected the proposal that would have explicitly denounced critical race theory. Instead they approved a consensus measure that does not mention it by name but rejects any view that sees racism as rooted in "anything other than sin." The measure also affirmed a 1995 resolution apologizing for the history of racism in a denomination that was founded in 1845 in support of slavery and for "condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime." Several Black pastors have voiced frustration over critical race theory debates playing out in the SBC instead of the denomination confronting systemic racism itself. In an enthusiastically applauded address, outgoing President J.D. Greear, himself a target of criticism, lamented the "baseless accusations" some SBC leaders have endured. While denouncing liberalism, he also criticized what he saw as power-seeking and divisiveness over secondary issues. The SBC cannot be a "cultural affinity group" or "voting bloc," Greear said, but must focus on its spiritual mission.
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