NEW ORLEANS (RNS)
Pointing heavenward and wiping away tears, the Rev. Fred Luter was elected June 19 as the first black president of the predominantly white Southern Baptist Convention.
“To God be the glory for the things that he has done,” Luter said moments after more than 7,000 Southern Baptists leapt to their feet, cheered and shouted “Hallelujah” when he was declared their next leader.
Luter, 55, a former street preacher who brought his mostly black New Orleans congregation back from near annihilation after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, will lead the nation’s largest Protestant denomination for at least a year. Most Southern Baptist presidents traditionally serve two one-year terms.
Rather than rally behind a traditional white conservative candidate, white Southern Baptists leaders had urged the nomination and election of Luter for more than a year.
It was a dramatic move for a denomination born in 1845 in a defense of slavery.
“We have the opportunity to make history, to show a watching world the truth about our savior and ourselves,” the Rev. David Crosby, pastor of the mostly white First Baptist Church of New Orleans, said in his nomination of Luter.
After Katrina, Crosby’s church, which sustained less damage, shared space with the remaining congregants of Luter’s Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.
Black Southern Baptist churches make up about 8 percent of the SBC’s 45,000 congregations. Black Southern Baptists have attended the annual meetings in limited numbers, and some have complained they seldom saw people who look like them speaking from the convention platform.
SBC ethicist Richard Land hailed Luter’s election as “truly a historic moment.”