NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- Newly elected Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter Jr. engaged a roomful of reporters in his hometown of New Orleans June 19, sharing his surprise at "the confidence Southern Baptists are putting in me and my leadership skills and what God has done in my life."
Photo by Morris Abernathy
The unanimous endorsement of the first African American to serve America's largest Protestant denomination is more than symbolic, Luter said, though he understands why fellow blacks might view it as such, waiting to see that "this is not a one and done deal."
"If we stop appointing African Americans or Asians or Hispanics to leadership roles in this convention after my
Luter "loves being part of this convention."
term is over, we failed. We absolutely failed," Luter said. Instead, he said, "This was a genuine, authentic move by this convention that says our doors are open, and the only way they can see that is not just putting up an African American president, but seeing other ethnic groups in other areas of this convention. Time will tell and I'll be a cheerleader promoting that."
Luter's only announced agenda at the news conference is an effort to build bridges to help Southern Baptists acquire a reputation as "the church getting along" instead of folks who often fuss with one another, a concern he addressed the night before when speaking to the SBC Pastors' Conference.
Appealing for prayer, Luter said he hopes to get diverse groups together "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." He asked Southern Baptists to pray that he would have wisdom in dealing with the media, so that nothing he says will hurt the convention, his church, his family or the Kingdom of God.
"There will be some pitfalls, but I hope I will learn from them and study more on things I anticipate being asked," he added, hopeful he will be known as a person, pastor, husband, father and man of God who loves the city of New Orleans, the state and the country, "and loves being part of this convention."
Luter hopes his church's reputation for having strong participation by men will serve as an example to other congregations. "When I became pastor of this church, I said, 'Lord, I know the impact a man could have on a child's life,'" he said, having promised God he would be the role model in his own son's life that he never had.
At the outset of his church's development, Luter said he noticed most of the members were women and children. He thanked them for their involvement, but then set about discovering a way to attract their husbands and other men. By inviting men of the neighborhood to his home to watch a pay-per-view broadcast of a fight between Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard, he developed relationships that multiplied into a steady increase in the number of men attending Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.
"They came with boom boxes and loud music, with a beer can in one hand and a wine cooler in the other," Luter said. "I appreciated them coming but they were going to have to throw away the beer and the wine cooler," he remembered. "It was not a problem. They wanted to see the fight."
While insistent the message of the Gospel must remain the same, Luter said, however, "We cannot expect to reach this do-rag, tattoo-wearing, ear-pierced, iPod, iPad, iPhone generation with an eight-track ministry. Things are changing and so we've got to some way, somehow change the methods of how we do things."
The historic coincidence of being elected on the day when many African Americans celebrate Juneteenth, commemorating the enforcement of emancipation of slaves, had not occurred to Luter until a reporter asked for his comment on the day's significance. While Southern Baptists cannot avoid the fact that support of slavery factored into the founding of the convention, Luter said, "All of us have done some things in our past we're not happy about. We cannot do anything about that past. It's over with. However, we can do a lot about our future."
Luter recalled the 1995 SBC racial reconciliation resolution that he helped write with Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land, a man he described as his good friend and brother. ... Read More