The Rev. Fred Luter, pastor of New Orleans' Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, is settling in as the new president of the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention after his recent election during the group's annual meeting in New Orleans.
Luter, 55, is the first African American elected president of the group. He said the lesson of his election (June 19) is 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."
According to the Annual Church Profile, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has approximately 15 million U.S. members and of those, an estimated one million members are African Americans. The selection of an African-American minister for the highest post in the SBC has particular relevance because of how the convention was founded nearly 167 years ago. The SBC 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 a measure calling for more ethnic diversity in their leadership ranks; in 1995, they formally apologized "to all African-Americans' for their past stance on slavery.