June 16 (UPI) -- Alabama pastor Ed Litton has been elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, in a runoff vote in which he beat out a fellow pastor from Georgia.
Litton's election on Tuesday, which comes at a time of uncertainty for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention, is seen as one that aims to unite factions within the United States' largest Protestant denomination.
Litton was elected by thousands of Southern Baptists over Georgia pastor Mike Stone in the runoff.
The election began early Tuesday with four nominees -- Litton, Stone, Northwest Baptist Convention executive director and treasurer Randy Adams and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Abert Mohler Jr.
More than 14,000 ballots were cast, but none of the candidates received enough votes to win the post outright in the first round, which led to the runoff.
Now head of the Nashville-based convention, Litton said his goal is to build bridges. His election comes as the convention has grappled with gender roles within the clergy and how to handle sexual abuse cases and racial reconciliation.
"We want you here. We love you here. We can't reach every man woman, man, boy, girl in this nation without you," Litton said after his election, according to USA Today. "I'm just so grateful for my brothers and sisters in Christ of color ... we have much to learn from them."
Louisiana pastor Fred Luter Jr., a former convention president and the first Black leader to serve in the role, told USA Today that the convention needs uniting leadership and that Litton is "uniquely qualified."
A group within the convention -- some of whom are rallying around pirate imagery and a "take the ship" slogan -- is pushing the convention to reject critical race theory and to rely solely on scripture.
Some critics say the group is calling for fundamentalism and trying to remove pastors of color. Several Black pastors have left the convention since it met last in 2019.