Historic Week for Southern Baptists
For the first time an African-American will lead the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, after the Southern Baptist Convention elected a new president at its annual meeting in New Orleans last week. And if hurricanes are indeed acts of God, divine providence may well have had a hand in the Rev. Fred Luter, Jr.’s election.

The former street preacher started a church in New Orleans that had phenomenal growth, and reached a membership of 7,000 members before Hurricane Katrina destroyed the church’s buildings and scattered the congregation.

Members of Luter’s mostly black church came to worship at white pastor David Crosby’s mostly white First Baptist New Orleans church while Luter worked to rebuild. His congregation has regrown to about 5,000.

Crosby nominated Luter as SBC president, and he was elected without opposition.

It’s quite a milestone for a denomination that started 167 years ago in a split with northern Baptists over slavery, with the SBC supporting the right to own slaves. The denomination now counts 20 percent of its 16 million members as people of color. Luter said he doesn’t think his election is a token gesture, but noted it will be important for other African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics to find acceptance in leadership positions to be sure it isn’t a “one-and-done deal.”

Denomination leaders see Luter’s election as a sign of moving beyond a divisive racial past.

Delegates at the convention also approved the use of the term “Great Commission Baptists” to describe the denomination. It’s a reference to Jesus’ instruction to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

Greater inclusion of people from all nations in the church’s home base could very well lead to greater acceptance of their message as they reach out to others in domestic and foreign evangelistic missions.

We applaud the denomination for crossing the color line as one of the steps in carrying out their mission, and wish Rev. Luter success in his leadership.

© 2012