Southern Baptists Elect Ed Litton as New President

The Alabama pastor, known for his inclusion of women and work on racial justice, beat out Mike Stone of the Conservative Baptist Network in a runoff.

Pastor Ed Litton, championed by supporters as a force for gospel unity and racial reconciliation, was elected the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), overtaking the candidate backed by a passionate faction of conservatives.

Litton’s election is seen as a signal of the direction of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, where infighting has broken out over approaches to race, abuse, and other issues while the Conservative Baptist Network raises alarms about liberal drift and “woke” theology. The close race also reveals how much ground the vocal group has come to hold in the SBC within a year and a half of its founding.

“This vote … shows we desire a leader whose character, humility, and voice for unity represents us a whole over those who call for division,” said Jacki King, who serves on the steering committee for the SBC Women’s Leadership Network.

In a race with no clear frontrunner at a convention with a 25-year-high turnout of more than 15,000 messengers, Litton won out over Mike Stone, a pastor endorsed by fellow Conservative Baptist Network leaders, and Albert Mohler, the longtime president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Critics of the new network worried that if Stone won, that could cause the denomination to divide on political lines. They were also concerned about leaked letters alleging he resisted abuse response efforts while chair as the Executive Committee. Stone secured the highest level of support among candidates in the first round of voting and won 48 percent to Litton’s 52 percent in a runoff.

Litton is expected to carry on the priorities set forth by outgoing president J.D. Greear and said he would continue Greear’s ...

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Southern Baptist to Debate Oversight of Abuse Investigation

Pastors speaking on behalf of victims push for task force to direct inquiry into the Executive Committee.

Some Southern Baptists are calling on their denomination to appoint a task force to oversee what would be its largest investigation into sexual abuse responses and coverup.

While the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) recently commissioned its own independent inquiry, a motion being debated at the denomination’s annual meeting would transfer oversight of that investigation or launch an additional one.

“It is the least we can do for abuse survivors. It is worth the extra effort. It is worth the money. It is worth the time and attention,” said Grant Gaines, a Tennessee pastor who made the request for an outside task force with an SBC abuse victim at his side. “If this investigation is worth doing, then it’s worth doing right.”

Scrutiny of the Southern Baptist Convention’s response to abuse has recently focused on the Executive Committee, a decision-making body within the denomination. Letters leaked in the weeks leading up to the annual meeting described leaders dismissing victims, quickly clearing churches of accusation, and resisting broader efforts to address abuse.

The investigation proposed by Gaines—and backed by a group of survivors and advocates—would cover 20 years of allegations of abuse claims mishandled by the Executive Committee. It would also examine the two-year-old committee tasked with reviewing abuse and coverup as grounds for dismissal from the convention.

“I can’t even begin to fathom going through an investigation short of what Gaines proposed,” tweeted Jen Lyell, an SBC abuse survivor whose story of being maligned was referenced in ...

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Lebanon’s Christian Schools Are Full of Muslims—and They Need Help

Devastating deflation means evangelical and Catholic schools can barely pay teachers and keep classes open. Yet it’s cheaper than ever for the global church to support them.

The 2021 graduating class of the National Evangelical School in Nabatieh (NESN) is entirely Shiite Muslim.

While certainly not the image of a typical Christian school in the United States, it is hardly an outlier in Lebanon, where 35 evangelical schools average student bodies that are two-thirds Muslim.

Located 35 miles south of Beirut, Nabatieh originally had a 10 percent Christian population when American Presbyterian missionary Lewis Loe founded the school in 1925. Based in the city’s Christian quarter, NESN drew students from all sects until the civil war drove the once integrated communities apart. From 1978 to 1982, Israeli occupation forced the school to close altogether.

When the city was attacked again during the 2006 war, the school’s bomb shelter gave refuge to frightened children. Relative peace since then has allowed the shelter to become a storage room, but less than 40 Christian families remain in the city. Even so, NESN draws from surrounding villages to maintain a Christian share of 10 percent among its 100-some faculty.

But the new crisis facing Lebanon is financial. Year-end inflation for 2020 was 145 percent, as food prices surged over 400 percent. The World Bank judged the economic collapse to be one of the world’s three worst in the last 150 years.

Teacher salaries have lost nearly 90 percent of their value.

Three years ago, NESN’s 100-foot Christmas tree was Lebanon’s largest. This year—as debt equaled the entire operational budget minus teacher salary—the school could not afford even the Charlie Brown version.

A highlight of the school calendar, Christian elements are welcomed by the local Shiite population—including its substantial number of Hezbollah-affiliated ...

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Meet the Conservative Evangelicals Practicing ‘Strategic Hibernation’ in the American Northwest

They might embrace their marginal status, but they don’t plan on staying marginal forever.

In September 2020, about 150 Christians gathered to stage an informal Psalm Sing in the parking lot of Moscow, Idaho’s city hall. They were there to protest the local mask mandate.

Five individuals were cited by police for violating the local order to wear masks, and two were arrested “for suspicion of resisting or obstructing an officer.” One of the event’s organizers was Douglas Wilson, pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, a 900-member congregation with historical connections to Christian Reconstructionism (also known as theonomy), a movement that hopes to see earthly society governed by biblical law. One month earlier on Twitter, Wilson had framed his concerns about the issue in revealing terms: “Too few see the masking orders for what they ultimately are. Our modern and very swollen state wants to get the largest possible number of people to get used to putting up with the most manifest lies.”

In Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America: Christian Reconstruction in the Pacific Northwest, historian Crawford Gribben recounts how in recent decades conservative evangelicals, inspired by assorted strands of theonomy and survivalism, came to settle in the Pacific Northwest. Gribben explores how this group of “born-again Protestants who embrace their marginal status” has thrived in the wilds of Idaho and adjoining states, proposing “strategies of survival, resistance, and reconstruction in evangelical America.”

Turning toward triumphalism

Gribben describes his book as a “social history of theological ideas” based on long-distance interviews of several subjects and in-person fieldwork. Rather than crafting a journalistic exposé or a theological critique, ...

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The American Church Is a Mess. But I’m Still Hopeful.

Attrition rates and leadership failures are only one part of the story.

A recently leaked letter from Russell Moore describes profound institutional rot, overt racism, and the toleration of sexual abuse inside the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). (His claims were later substantiated in leaked recordings.) The public square has been consumed with discussing this controversy, especially as the SBC annual meeting is underway.

But the problems Moore describes are not limited to one denomination. Many so-called “moderate” evangelical leaders—those who hold to historic orthodoxy and traditional sexual ethics but speak out on behalf of women and racial minorities—have similar stories to tell. It feels increasingly hard to find institutions in America that aren’t knee-jerk conservative or progressive.

Beyond that, Christian institutions—whatever their doctrine or ideology—often hold in common a thirst for power, an unrepentant self-defensiveness, and a lack of courage that altogether belie the gospel. Many of them don’t seem to function all that differently than institutions outside the church.

In the midst of this upheaval, I’ve watched friends and acquaintances leave the church, others who are in the process of “deconstructing,” and still others (including orthodox church leaders) who are deeply disheartened, even depressed, about the state of the church in the West. We have reason to be discouraged. The statistics are dismal. In a recent survey from Lifeway, two-thirds of young adults reported that they stopped attending church, citing religious or political disagreements with the church or hypocrisy among members. Two recentinterviews in CT paint equally dark pictures. What is happening to the institutional church in the United States? ...

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How to Proclaim the Good News in the Fastest-Shrinking and Fastest-Growing Cities in America

As the US census charts a decade of dramatic changes, two congregations have lived it.

Matt Friend is a proud native of Charleston, West Virginia. But the lead pastor of Bible Center Church will admit that the city has changed.

“There’s definitely a lot less traffic now,” he said.

His home city has the dubious distinction of being the fastest-shrinking city in the United States, according to the US Census. In 1960, Charleston had a population of 85,796. The city has gotten smaller every decade since and now has fewer than 50,000 people.

Preliminary census data released in April suggests that other areas across the country are suffering similar declines. While the American population grew over the last decade, the rate of growth is the slowest since the Great Depression: only 7.4 percent. Three states—West Virginia, Mississippi, and Illinois—lost population since the last time the federal government did its official decennial count. Ten more states saw less than 3 percent growth.

The full census report, scheduled for release in August, is expected to show the results of declining birthrates, life expectancy, and immigration. In the places that have been hardest hit, though, local churches have long seen the impact of demographic decline.

Friend says he can remember as a child going to downtown events like the Charleston Sternwheel Regatta and navigating crowds of tens of thousands. “It wasn’t New York City, but to go downtown Charleston might as well have been New York City for me as a kid. Now it’s not that way at all,” he said.

The nondenominational Bible Center Church began to notice the effects of the change in the community on the church in 2008, after lax regulation of housing mortgages caused a banking crisis and then a financial crisis. Fossil-fuel industry ...

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SBC Polity Gives People in the Pews the Power to Stop Corrupt Leaders

This week at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, attendees will ask for change from the top. But regular members also bear responsibility.

I come from a long line of freedom-loving religious nonconformists. I can trace my lineage back to Swiss Anabaptists who fled Europe for Pennsylvania in the late 1600s, and I grew up in an unaffiliated congregation in the same commonwealth 300 years later—working and worshiping under the certain belief that God had endowed me with “certain inalienable rights.” I’ve also spent my adult life ministering in churches descended from English Baptists (whose exact relationship to continental Anabaptist groups is best left to historians).

Today, I live in Virginia, where Thomas Jefferson drafted the 1777 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom that eventually gave us the religious liberty clause of the First Amendment—a proposal spurred in part by Virginia’s state-sanctioned persecution of Baptists.

Despite this pedigree, I find myself perplexed by my fellow Baptists, who seem to think that our soul liberty—the belief that the individual is directly responsible to God in all matters of faith and conscience—stands opposed to our communal responsibilities. During the pandemic, for example, tension between individual rights and the common good emerged as religious liberty issues. When civil authorities placed limits on large gatherings, including church worship services, Baptistic pastors like John MacArthur cited soul liberty and local church autonomy as their reasons for opposing such measures.

But another, more pressing question about independence confronts the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention this week as they gather for the annual meeting in Nashville. In early 2019, Houston Chronicle special investigation detailed how sexual predators used the ...

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The American Mosque: More Suburban, Less Conversion

As “mosque planting” and “unmosqued youth” increasingly resemble patterns in the church, evangelical experts reflect on implications for faith and witness.

The American mosque increasingly resembles the American church.

New data released in the US Mosque Survey 2020 reveals a plateau of conversions, a shift to the suburbs, and a challenge with “unmosqued” youth.

“Muslims and their mosques are becoming more integrated into American society,” said Ihsan Bagby, the lead investigator, “and more adjusted to the American environment.”

Released every 10 years, the survey aims to comprehensively dispel misconceptions about the locus of Muslim community in the United States.

How might the findings guide American evangelicals?

Begin with the contrast: an increase in the number of new mosques—the Muslim equivalent to church planting.

The survey counts 2,769 mosques in the United States, an increase of 31 percent since the 2010 report. The prior decade had a growth rate of 74 percent, from 1,209 mosques counted in the 2000 report to 2,106 in 2010.

The survey also shows that Muslims increasingly appreciate the suburbs.

The share of mosques in the downtown areas of large cities has dropped from 17 percent in 2010 to 6 percent in 2020, while the share in small towns has dropped from 20 percent to 6 percent. The survey found that 8 in 10 Muslims now live in a residential or suburban area.

“As we begin to share the same neighborhood, engaging the Muslim community is no longer just the domain of missionary specialists,” said Mike Urton, the associate director of Immigrant Mission, a ministry of the Evangelical Free Church of America.

“It is now the domain of the local church.”

Muslims also “tithe” similarly to their Christian neighbors.

Including contributions toward operating expenses and the obligatory zakat charitable giving ...

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Southern Baptists Are at a Fork in the Road

The SBC will be making choices about how we respond to abuse, race, and more at this watershed convention.

I could have titled this piece “Southern Baptists are at a Crossroads.” Southern Baptists have faced many crossroads in their history. Yet where things sit for Southern Baptists in June 2021 isn’t a crossroads moment, but a fork-in-the-road moment.

The choices facing Southern Baptists in the year of our Lord 2021 remind me of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.”

In that poem, Frost talks about how two roads diverged in the woods, leaving him with a choice of which road he was going to take. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in a few days will be facing votes on a series of issues—including a president—that have the weight to set the trajectory of the denomination either positively or negatively for years to come.

The Issues

First, there needs to be an independent investigation regarding recent accusations of mishandling abuse claims. We need to ask hard questions about what was handled well, what went wrong, and more. Truth be told, survivors and our Baptist family deserve better than leaked letters with accusations followed by counter accusations. Given the severity of the issue at hand, we need clarity on these accusations that only an independent third-party investigation can give.

If we are people of truth, we need to seek the truth.

Second, we must continue to deal with the issue of race and listen to our African American brothers and sisters more and to the voices claiming CRT has infiltrated the SBC less. Also, race will likely be a key factor in both the resolutions report and the presidential election.

The issue is not (usually) blatantly racist comments; it is the inability to recognize—and consequently address—issues of systemic racism that remain. ...

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Mission Fields in the Northern Hemisphere

Hospitals and housing for senior citizens

In 2020 I experienced a massive stroke and was confined to hospitals for close to six months. There, I lived with suffering patients and various medical personnel. Many hospital staff were new Canadians and minorities from all over the globe—assisting me were medical staff originating from the global south (Asia, Africa, and Latin America). They were physicians, nurses, laboratory technicians, dietitians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, porters, and other vital staff.

Many had left their homelands because of suffering, including political oppression, regional conflicts, and natural calamities. Many had migrated to North America seeking better economic opportunities and educational advancement and were here contributing to the building of a strong nation.

Of course, they saw me in pain, and with tears, but they also heard me pray and praise God for my life. At the hospitals, particularly the University of Alberta Hospital, I also witnessed patients who transitioned peacefully to eternity, even to the very end expressing their faith in Jesus Christ. I was surprised that, often, the patients and the staff were open to talking about spiritual life.

In the course of my time in the hospitals, I was given the opportunity to talk about Jesus to several of the staff who worked with me. I thanked them for their compassion, care, and competence. Before my discharge from the hospitals, I gifted them with DVDs of the Life of Jesus in the Gospel of John. They gladly received the gifts and my thank you cards. They even let me pray for them. One of the supervising nurses and unit managers said to me, “Tira, thank you for bringing light and joy into this unit.” Other nurses, originating in Somalia, Rwanda, Tanzania, ...

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