Fred Luter on Racial Diversity in the Southern Baptist Convention

Fred Luter will have to get used to the title “President of the Southern Baptist Convention” for at least the next year, maybe two. Luter, who was one of five children, was raised in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana. He nearly died at the age of twenty-one when he had a severe motorcycle accident.

Soon after the wreck, he made a vow with God: to serve him if he lived. He lived indeed, and was eventually preaching from street corners ever Saturday in the same area he was raised, the Lower 9th Ward. 

Luter, now pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, has helped that church grow from sixty-five to 5,000 members. After the displacement of most citizens of New Orleans, which included his own church members, by Hurricane Katrina, Luter, in 2006, began holding services in New Orleans, Houston, and Baton Rouge. Eventually in 2008, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church was reopened.

Very few can deny that Luter’s unopposed presidential election was a very momentous event. Nearly every media source is evidence of this fact, noting that an African-American was elected president of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination – one known for its racist past and since repented at the 1995 annual meeting in Atlanta. Speaking about this past, Luter said, “Here is a convention that has been talking about this racial reconciliation thing and now they’re putting their money where their mouth is.”

As president, Luter announced that his only agenda is an effort to build bridges to help Southern Baptist’s acquire a reputation as “the church getting along instead of folks who often fuss with one another.”

Luter said he desires to gather diverse groups “to make sure the gospel of Christ and the Great Commission is not watered down because of the fact that it seems we don’t get together.” From a recent USA TODAY, Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “Electing Luter will be the most significant event to happen in our history since our formation. It makes a statement about where the Southern Baptist Convention is and where it hopes to go in the future.”

Akin says convention leaders hope Luter’s election has a “trickle-down effect,” motivating more black congregants and pastors to join. The numbers have been rising, up from 1,907 African-American congregations in 1998 to 3,534 in 2010, according to the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board.

Speaking about ethnic diversity in the SBC, Luter told the Montgomery Advertiser, “I believe that’s God’s plan for us. We’re all, as believers, going to live together in a place called heaven, so we might as well start practicing it here on earth.”

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