Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Southern Baptists Prepared to Elect First Black President

Photo Credit: Franklin Ave. Baptist Church
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the nation's largest Protestant denomination with over 16 million members, is close to making history by potentially electing its first president of African descent this summer.

Rev. Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church and friend of The Impact Movement, has announced that he plans to seek the SBC's top office at its convention in New Orleans this June. The SBC was founded in 1845 after splitting with northern Baptists on the biblical justification for slavery.

Because of its historic roots, the SBC has had a difficult time attracting (and keeping) African American members. But the potential election of Pastor Luter as its leader would provide a visible demonstration that the denomination is moving beyond its unfortunate history. In fact, the SBC formulated a resolution in 1995 in which it denounced its racist past and expressed its desire to be more welcoming to not only African Americans, but all ethnic minorities. Over one million black Americans are now members of SBC congregations and the denomination claims that 20% of its members are now people of color.

Sojourners comments on this exciting development:
"The Southern Baptist president has no authority over the denomination's 51,000 autonomous churches and missions, but the president exerts influence by appointing the most important committees in Baptist organizational life. The denomination's turn toward theological conservatism in the 1980s was triggered by the election of a succession of conservative presidents.
Akin, Moore and others say they are eager to elect Luter, both for his leadership gifts and to demonstrate Southern Baptist acceptance of the changing face of their work.
Luter is widely known around the convention, having preached in hundreds of pulpits. Moreover, supporters said he is widely admired as a pastor in his own right. Luter built Franklin Avenue Baptist Church into a major success, then led his congregation in rebuilding after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Luter's church was a once a predominantly white Southern Baptist congregation dying on the vine after its neighborhood became increasingly black in the 1970s. A street-corner preacher with no previous pastoral experience, Luter took over in 1986. The church kept its Southern Baptist affiliation while he built it into the predominantly black powerhouse it is today.
Akin said several Baptist congregations around the country tried to recruit Luter as a pastor or co-pastor, believing he might be available after Katrina. "He was like Peyton Manning as a free agent."
Akin said Luter's stature grew in his decision to remain in New Orleans. "You have to have unbelievable respect for a man who made that kind of commitment," Akin said. "My God, look at what he did."
To read more of the Sojourners article please click here.

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