Recently, the Rev. Fred Luter, pastor of New Orleans’ Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, was elected as the first Black president of the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) during their annual meeting in New Orleans. The two-day annual meeting’s theme was “Jesus: To the neighborhood and the nations.” The previous SBC president is Bryant Wright. When asked what message he hopes his nomination and SBC presidency will send, Luter, 55, explained that the lesson people should learn is about the importance of faith. “Why me out of all the thousands and thousands of preachers in this city and state and nation?” he asked. “I believe it’s not because I’ve accomplished so much; I just believe it’s because of the faithfulness of God and that He has honored me because of my faithfulness,” Luter said at the June 19 election According to the Annual Church Profile, the Southern Baptist Convention has approximately 15 million U.S. members and of those, an estimated 1 million members are Black. The selection of a Black minister for the highest post in the SBC has particular relevance because of how the convention was founded nearly 167 years ago. The Southern Baptist Convention was created in 1845, when participants decided to leave the Northern Baptists because they believed slavery was biblically just. Many, including Luter, have difficulty believing the racial injustices perpetrated by SBC churches and their members. “I’ve been in this thing four years now,” he said. “I don’t feel a need to leave. All of us got a past. All we can do is apologize about those things and move on.” The SBC is well aware of its racist history and in recent years has made moves — big and small — to address its past and shape its future. In 2011, the convention passed an historic measure calling for more ethnic diversity in their leadership ranks. In 1995, they even formally apologized “to all African-Americans” for their past stance on slavery.
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