The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has tapped Fred Luter, a pastor from New Orleans, to be its first African American president. Luter, who is running unopposed, is expected to be elected at next week's convention meeting in New Orleans.
Last year, Luter made history when the SBC elected him as first vice president, the denomination's second-highest post. He was the first African American elected to that position. A decade earlier, Luter was the first African American to preach the convention sermon, which also occurred in New Orleans.
"There is a convention-wide movement of people, who often disagree about other things, who all agree that the time is way past when we should have elected someone of an African American background to the presidency," said Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson.
Luter gained respect in the SBC by attracting young black males to his church in New Orleans, and by sticking with his church after the city was leveled by Hurricane Katrina.
"He did what everybody said couldn't be done," Patterson said. "He achieved the most respected thing among Southern Baptists—we're a people who believe in reaching people for the Lord and building churches. He did it and earned great respect."
The SBC was founded in 1845 after a split with northern Baptists over the issue of slavery. In 1995, the convention passed a resolution publically apologizing for its participation in slavery and Jim Crow laws.
"To have a son of slaves now leading this denomination as it reaches the world with the gospel is a sign of God's mercy," Southern Baptist Theological Seminary dean Russell Moore said.
It's also a signal from SBC leadership that demographics need to change, he said.
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