Southern Baptist election features candidates with Alabama ties
In the two years since the last meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham, the denomination has been rocked like a liter bottle of Coca-Cola.
This week, they unscrew the cover.
Tuesday’s election to replace incumbent JD Greear, whose term is expiring, will be a rare and hotly contested race with three major candidates.
Two of them have close ties to Alabama: Albert Mohler, a graduate of Samford University, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Reverend Ed Litton, who served as pastor of Redemption Church (formerly North Mobile Baptist) in Saraland since 1994.
Mohler is one of the best-known figures of Southern Baptist life, dedicating his career to Frankish conservatism.
Litton has a lower national profile. He has advocated for sustaining the gains made by Southern Baptists in racial reconciliation and will be appointed by Reverend Fred Luter, who was elected in 2012 as the first black president of the SBC.
Another presidential candidate, Reverend Mike Stone, pastor of the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga., Since 1996, is leading the charge for a new strong condemnation of critical race theory, which argues that systemic racism is responsible for racial inequity in America. .
The last time the Southern Baptists gathered for their annual convention in June 2019, 12,000 gathered at Birmingham’s Legacy Arena, pledged to fight sexual abuse and adopted a statement on the critical theory of race who did not condemn it but said such theories of systemic racism should never replace the gospel.
After a year off due to the pandemic and the end of in-person worship in 2020, the Southern Baptist Convention will meet in person in Nashville, doing business Tuesday and Wednesday at the Music City Center after pre-convention meetings such that the commissioning of missionaries tonight.
The Birmingham Critical Race Theory statement has now garnered criticism that has offered stronger condemnation. This has some prominent black pastors in the denomination worried about a decline in Southern Baptist history.
The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 as a break with the Northern Baptists over the issue of slavery. The denomination apologized for its role in slavery, segregation and racism in 1995 and had made great strides in attracting black members, who now make up about 10 percent of the denomination’s 14 million members. Total membership is down from a peak of 16 million in 2006.
The cultural context has changed dramatically since the 2019 meeting in Birmingham. George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020, triggering nationwide protests, fueling the Black Lives Matter movement and precipitating the overthrow of Confederate monuments in the south, where Baptists are the largest denomination.
President Donald Trump, who enjoyed wide support among Southern Baptists, lost the 2020 election. The January 6 riot at the United States Capitol put a cloud over the presidential transition amid continued allegations of Trump’s electoral fraud.
Now Southern Baptists are ready for a post-Trump reset, but appear to be drawn into a backlash against the 2020 unrest. Many are still loyal to Trump, who has scratched his itch for a more conservative US Supreme Court by appointing three new judges.
Outgoing SBC chairman JD Greear warned at the 2019 Birmingham meeting that the denomination should not be beholden to a political party.
“If we’re known as one party’s sidekick, we’ll lose all hearing with the other,” Greear said. “When we tie our message too tightly to a political platform, we put an unnecessary obstacle in the way of the gospel for half of our mission field. “
Opponents of Critical Race Theory raise emotionally charged arguments reminiscent of a century ago when Tennessee banned the teaching of evolutionary theory prior to the Scopes trial of 1925.
The Resolutions Committee is grappling with this behind closed doors and will release its proposed resolutions on Tuesday morning for the assembled messengers to vote on. The resolutions have no binding power over Baptist churches – all of which are self-governing and self-governing. They’re just an expression of how the Baptists gathered at this convention feel on a certain issue.
Stone, a former chairman of the SBC executive committee, has also come under fire over allegations he tried to stifle reform efforts to crack down on clergy sexual abuse. Before Russell Moore resigned last month as chairman of the Ethics and Religious Freedom Commission, the lobbying arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, he accused Stone and others of resisting sexual abuse reforms approved in Birmingham. Executive committee chairman Ronnie Floyd said on Friday that an independent review of his treatment of sexual abuse issues would be carried out by Guideposts Solutions.
The Southern Baptist Convention opens Tuesday at 8 a.m. and ends Wednesday at 5 p.m. The election and the presentation of resolutions are scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. The International Mission Board will be holding commissioning services tonight at the Music City Center for missionaries sent around the world.
Southern Baptist meeting drew 12,000 to Birmingham, BJCC’s largest convention of this century