The Southern Baptist Convention must address its “stains” of racism and tolerating sexual abuse, President Ed Litton told members of the SBC Executive Committee Monday night, Feb. 21.
He spoke just hours after a group of sexual abuse survivors held a protest outside the Executive Committee building to draw attention to the work of the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force, which was to give an update to the committee today.
Monday night marked the first plenary session of the Executive Committee’s final meeting prior to the June SBC annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., where the Sexual Abuse Task Force will give its full report.
He also spoke alongside the Executive Committee’s first Black president, who is serving on an interim basis, after the resignation of Ronnie Floyd. In his address to the group, Willie McLaurin received standing ovations and applause for appeals for cooperation, relationships, service and legacy.
Litton, an Alabama pastor who narrowly won the presidency in June and remains strongly opposed by the most conservative wing of the convention, gave an impassioned address to the Executive Committee.
While the SBC “exists because of mission” the convention has several “stains,” he declared.
One of these is racism.
Litton emphasized the need for intentional and honest work to address the SBC’s troubled racial history: “We must identify the source of the sin and stain,” he said before eventually adding, “We cannot deny our history.”
Litton mentioned that part of his plan to address racism includes introducing a new initiative to the churches at the annual meeting in Anaheim.
Another of these “stains” is sexual abuse, he said.
“We must identify the source of the sin and stain,” he said before eventually adding, “We cannot deny our history.”
Litton praised the Executive Committee for its vote to finally waive attorney-client privilege in the investigation, remarking, “I’ve told people there was two kinds of fear — there was the fear of man and there was the fear of God. You sided on the fear of God.”
However, Litton lamented that there has been a “culture” in the SBC where abusers feel safer than the abused, and said of the ongoing Guidepost Solutions investigation and forthcoming Sexual Abuse Task Force report, “We must take this report seriously when we receive it.”
Litton also passionately pleaded with committee members to avoid the trappings of legalism, like the Pharisees of the New Testament, and not allow secondary issues to divide them.
Calling on members to make compassion and care their primary focus by alluding to the words of Jesus in the Gospels, Litton declared, “This is what is harming, if not destroying, our public witness: we have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness.”
McLaurin’s address was marked by emphases on cooperation, relationships, service and legacy. His job, he said, is to “wash the feet of those who serve the Bride of Christ.” He further explained that his plan is to operate in the framework of “partnerships, cooperation and generosity” and to “see and shape the future” in view of the questions and concerns some Southern Baptists have about the Executive Committee.
“May this world know that the Southern Baptist Convention stands against all forms of sexual abuse, and may this world know that this convention of churches stands against all ethnic discrimination!”
McLaurin echoed Litton’s condemnation of abuse and racism and amplified calls for compassion for survivors of abuse and victims of discrimination before passionately declaring, “May this world know that the Southern Baptist Convention stands against all forms of sexual abuse, and may this world know that this convention of churches stands against all ethnic discrimination!”
He also emphasized the need for confession. “God only blesses those who have clean hands and pure hearts,” he said in reference to the forthcoming release of the Sexual Abuse Task Force’s report.
McLaurin ended his address by reminding the committee of the call to faithfulness and service: “We are called to serve well. We are called to steward well. And we are called to submit to the lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
At the end of McLaurin’s address, Executive Committee trustees broke out into a sustained standing ovation.
Today, the committee will resume its work, addressing several crucial matters, including appointment of a presidential search committee.