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Left, Pastor Mike Stone, and right, Ed Litton. Photo by Brauda Studios, courtesy of Mike Stone and Litton from a video screengrab

Media spotlight was on future of Southern Baptists last week

The Southern Baptists held what they considered a critical convention in Nashville last week. The denomination conducted an election that will help decide which direction it will take — whether it will remain doctrinally conservative or move toward more progressive theology.

What is not in doubt is that the country’s largest, most influential media outlets have picked a side. Their coverage makes it plain they plan to do everything in their power to see the denomination transformed in their likeness. In the last week alone, a number of newspapers have run extensive stories on the convention, casting the conservative side as bigots and extremists. Even Apple got in on the act, making the SBC convention the top story on its daily news podcast Monday and labeling middle-way presidential candidate Dr. Albert Mohler “ultra- conservative.”

Understanding the cultural importance of what happens in the SBC, the media pulled out all the stops with front-page placement designed to apply maximum pressure on skittish, small-town convention voters unused to having the glaring light of the world’s biggest media outlets pointed in their direction.

CNN’s story, for instance, calls those who want to prevent critical race theory from influencing church teaching a “rightwing revolt” from a “hardcore vanguard of conservatives.” NPR gave its coverage the headline, “America’s Top Evangelical Group Is Deciding If They’re Further Right Than Trump.” Meanwhile, the “Washington Post” quotes unnamed observers saying the vote will “test the direction of white evangelicalism.”

Some say the message telegraphed to SBC rank and file through all of this was unmistakable — vote the way we want you to, or we will make sure the world sees you as racists.

Perhaps in an effort to offset some of this onslaught, Allen Nelson IV, an Arkansas pastor from one of the conservative groups introducing an anti-CRT resolution, agreed to an interview with “The New York Times.” Although the larger facts of the story were correct, the descriptive details suggested he and those like him are the radical aggressors in a culture war. He was startled to see himself described as part of an “ultraconservative populist uprising.”

“My issue with the NYT saying the conservative movement at this year’s SBC is ‘ultra- conservative’ is it makes it sound as though the conservative spectrum is very broad,” he said. “In reality, it’s not as broad as some want to make it. Those in our convention promoting women preaching to men and the ideologies of CRT want to claim they are still theological conservatives. But that’s simply not true. They are progressives. They are the ones who have pushed to the left, and we are the ones who have remained true to Baptist conservativism. It’s who we are. And we shouldn’t be ashamed of that.”

READ: Southern Baptists experience drop in numbers 

Ultimately, 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).

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

Litton, using the approved alternate name for Southern Baptists, stated, “We are Great Commission Baptists, and we’re called that for a reason,” Litton said. “Part of what I feel like God has called me to do in this office is to help us remember why we’re family, and what the focus and objective of our family is, which is to get the good news, the gospel of Jesus … to as many people as can hear it.”

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice