The Rev. Fred Luter II of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, La., is set to become the first ever African-American president of the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention, as he is so far the only candidate for the election in June.
The Southern Baptist Convention, which has long dealt with issues of race since splitting in 1845 with Northern Baptists over the right to hold slaves, has grown to accept a diverse array of cultures within its congregation. Once an all-white membership, nearly 20 percent of its current congregation nationwide now is composed of minorities. Until now, however, it has never had an African-American president – Luter himself was the first ever African-American first vice-president of the denomination, appointed in June 2011.
Luter has had a long and turbulent road to rise in the ranks, The Tennessean reported, revealing that when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, his church was destroyed and lost its entire 7,000-member congregation, most of whom fled the city. Three years later, however, the Franklin Avenue Baptist church reopened its doors after help from the entire neighborhood, and now draws 5,000 people for church services. The report goes into detail about Luter's background and upbringing, sharing how a near-fatal motorcycle accident when he was 21 guided him in the right direction toward God.
The pastor is well aware of the importance of his election as the first vice president of the SBC, and now the very real possibility that he may become the first African-American to take over as its leader.
"There's no way we can get around it. Here's a convention that started on slavery. Years later you have an African-American one step away from the presidency. I can't deny that," Luter reflected in June when he became first vice president.
The Franklin Avenue Baptist Church pastor has received widespread approval and backing from the SBC community, including the support of the current president, David E. Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans.
"Our election of Fred Luter as the first African-American president of the SBC will send a great, hopeful, powerful message to our city, our culture, our convention and our country," Crosby said, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
"Luter's nomination would be a move in the direction of rehabilitating the denomination's unfavorable perception as a segregationist entity, a view further enhanced by its recent decision to retain the label, 'Southern Baptist,'" wrote Robert Judkins, a Nashville resident, in an opinion piece for The Tennessean.
"I know my background. I have not accomplished this on my own. It was the grace and mercy of God, committed folk, and my wife Elizabeth," the pastor shares on the church's official website about his accomplishments.