NASHVILLE — In a dramatic showdown on Tuesday, Southern Baptists elected a average pastor from Alabama as their subsequent president, narrowly heading off an tried takeover by the denomination’s rebel proper wing.
The election of the pastor, Ed Litton, was the results of what was successfully a three-way standoff for the management of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. In the primary spherical of voting on Tuesday afternoon, Southern Baptists rejected a prominent mainstream candidate and one-time favourite for the presidency, Al Mohler Jr., who acquired 26 p.c of some 14,000 votes.
The race then headed for a right away runoff vote that pitted an ultraconservative pastor from Georgia, Mike Stone, in opposition to Mr. Litton, who has largely prevented the tradition wars. When officers introduced the outcomes from the stage — Mr. Litton bested Mr. Stone by simply 556 votes, or three proportion factors — the ground erupted in a mix of cheers and boos.
Some had warned that the stakes for the denomination, which regularly serves as a bellwether for white American evangelicalism, have by no means been larger.
A newly empowered ultraconservative faction within the denomination is pushing again in opposition to a nationwide management they describe as out-of-touch elitists. Mainstream Baptist church buildings and people on the far proper agree that the conference’s outcomes will function a referendum concerning the denomination’s priorities and will speed up the fracturing of an already shrinking establishment.
Delegates known as “messengers” had been voting in Nashville on a brand new president in addition to a collection of hot-button cultural points. Some on each side have threatened to go away relying on the ultimate outcomes.
Pastors and activists had spent months drumming up attendance for the conference from church buildings massive and small throughout the nation.
Conservatives, particularly, had made an uncommon effort to spice up turnout. The Conservative Baptist Network, an more and more influential group based final yr, released a video final week that includes photos of an empty motorboat slipping free from a pier and floating into the center of a lake below cloudy skies. “On June 15, Southern Baptists can stop the drift,” the community’s spokesman, Brad Jurkovich, intoned.
In Nashville, tempers had been working excessive. Irate messengers confronted not less than two high-profile leaders within the halls of the conference middle, accusing them of fomenting liberalism. Some leaders had been supplied with additional safety.
“We are at a defining moment for our convention,” J.D. Greear, the outgoing president, advised the meeting in a fiery speech hours earlier than they’d elect his successor. He excoriated the “Pharisees” inside the denomination who positioned ideological purity over its evangelistic mission, alienating Black and Latino pastors, sexual abuse survivors and others of their zeal.
“Are we primarily a cultural and political affinity group, or do we see our primary calling as being a gospel witness?” Mr. Greear requested. “What’s the more important part of our name: Southern or Baptist?”
Mr. Greear praised an earlier technology of conservatives who had stored the denomination true to its theological ideas. But he warned of a brand new risk to Southern Baptists within the 21st century. “The danger of liberalism is real but the danger of Phariseeism is also,” he mentioned.
Tuesday’s vote capped months of offended debate over race, gender and different cultural divides, throughout the Trump period and past, because the denomination’s leaders and insurgents wrestled over whether or not their future hinged on wrenching the church even additional to the fitting or broadening its attain.
Last summer season’s annual assembly was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and attendance — and stress — has not been this excessive because the mid-1990s, when conservatives accomplished a sweeping takeover that some now say didn’t go far sufficient. Organizers moved the assembly to a bigger conference corridor in downtown Nashville when it grew to become obvious in April that attendance would considerably outstrip expectations.
The day’s most anticipated second was the election of a brand new president.
But messengers additionally tackled a slate of resolutions on racial points, abortion and the Equality Act, a sweeping piece of laws in Congress that will lengthen civil rights protections on the premise of sexual orientation and gender id whereas eroding some spiritual liberty protections. A decision on “Christian citizenship” included a denunciation of “the Capitol insurrection of January 6, 2021.”
The most contentious matter heading into the assembly was vital race idea, an educational lens for analyzing racism in society and establishments that has swept the creativeness of American conservatives. Republican-controlled state legislatures have handed measures in opposition to the perceived affect of C.R.T. in public faculties.
On Tuesday afternoon, messengers handed a decision that the denomination, which was based earlier than the Civil War in protection of slavery, reaffirm its 1995 apology for systemic racism but in addition reject “any theory or worldview” that denies that racial discrimination is rooted in sin. At its 2019 annual assembly in Birmingham, Ala., messengers affirmed that vital race idea could possibly be used by devoted Baptists, a second that many conservatives in Nashville characterised as galvanizing.
The months main as much as the conference have seen a collection of high-profile departures and unusually poisonous clashes by a company that prides itself on unity within the necessities of the religion.
Russell Moore, the denomination’s head of ethics and public coverage, left on June 1. In two letters that leaked after his departure, he accused the denomination’s government committee of a sample of intimidation in opposition to sexual abuse survivors and “spiritual and psychological abuse.” The denomination’s conservative wing, in the meantime, has angrily accused some leaders of drifting leftward.
Many Baptists hoped that after months of savage sniping on-line, the act of gathering in the identical room would have a soothing impact. But the assembly in Nashville has included a number of moments of unusually direct confrontations.
On Monday afternoon, Mr. Mohler was accosted contained in the conference middle by a younger messenger who loudly accused him of permitting vital race idea into the seminary he leads. Mr. Mohler, arguably essentially the most well-known face inside the denomination, was holding his younger grandchild in his arms when the offended man approached him. He left the scene “more than a little shaken,” he mentioned later.
Mr. Greear’s workplace confirmed the same confrontation just a few days in the past, with a messenger confronting the denomination’s president within the conference middle and urging him to “repent.”
The conference was riveted on Monday by conflicting accounts of an impromptu encounter between Mr. Stone and Hannah-Kate Williams, a sufferer of sexual abuse who has advocated reform within the denomination. Ms. Williams was in an atrium of the conference middle handing out copies of an announcement signed by a number of victims who’re calling for an out of doors audit of patterns of abuse. Mr. Stone approached her and launched himself, seemingly with out understanding about her advocacy.
The encounter quickly turned ugly, in Ms. Williams’s account.
“He said I’m causing more harm to the Southern Baptist Convention than good, and I’m not doing right by survivors,” she recalled tearfully on Monday night. “And he said the Southern Baptist Convention is bigger than my problems.”
Mr. Stone characterised the dialog as “polite” in a statement posted to Twitter: “At no time was I unkind.”
The divide within the conference was obvious within the run-up to Tuesday’s voting.
At a smoky cigar bar close to the conference middle on Monday night time, a small group of messengers who largely opposed Mr. Stone’s candidacy gathered to debate their plans to make motions on the ground the subsequent day, and to make predictions of the presidential outcomes. Some of them wore teal ribbons pinned to their shirts, in help of sexual abuse victims.
At a standing-room-only breakfast hosted by the Conservative Baptist Network on Tuesday morning, Mr. Stone portrayed himself as a populist outsider with little interest in making good with the denomination’s mainstream leaders and its nationwide headquarters in Nashville.
He had planted oak bushes in his yard in small-town Blackshear, Ga., that he hoped his grandchildren would play below sometime, he mentioned. “In other words, you don’t have anything in Nashville that I want, and I don’t have anything in Blackshear you can take.”