• Sat. Jul 31st, 2021

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‘Take the Ship’: Conservatives Aim to Commandeer Southern Baptists

The most high-profile vote at the meeting will be the election of a new president, a race whose leading candidates are Mike Stone, a Georgia pastor who is the favorite of many conservatives, including Mr. Nelson and Mr. Jolly; Ed Litton, an Alabama pastor who has largely avoided culture war battles and has the support of the denomination’s first Black president; and Albert Mohler Jr., a lion of the denomination who helped usher in a conservative revolution decades ago and is now in the awkward position of being labeled a moderate “compromise candidate.” Mr. Stone, a onetime underdog, is considered a serious contender.

No matter which side emerges triumphant from the meeting next week, a schism looms.

“A lot of us will know if this convention is for us once it is over,” said Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, who has been leading antiracism efforts in the denomination. If Mr. Mohler or Mr. Stone wins the presidency, or if resolutions are passed that affirm racism, in his view, he will leave. Several other Black pastors have announced their departures within the past year.

Hostility over critical race theory among the Southern Baptists, which came to the foreground after Thanksgiving when seminary presidents denounced it, is interwoven with its weaponization by the G.O.P., he said.

“The litmus test now for being a Baptist is you have to denounce C.R.T. as they do?” he said. “We would be completely off our rockers to submit, give that kind of power to a white denomination, particularly on the subject of race.”

The convention has historically reflected divisions in the country. The most recent meeting, two years ago in Birmingham, Ala., focused on sexual abuse in evangelical churches. The year before, tensions were political. Mike Pence, then the country’s vice president, gave a keynote address to rally evangelical support for Mr. Trump ahead of the midterm elections.