The Southern Baptist Convention elected Rev. Fred Luter, Jr. on June 19 to serve as the first African American president for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. The election by a unanimous vote of the 56-year-old Luter to succeed current president Bryant Wright marked a stunning break from the Southern Baptist Convention’s 167-year history, according to the {Baptist Press}, the media arm of the convention.

“This was a genuine, authentic move by this convention that says our doors are open,” said Luter to the {Baptist Press} and other media outlets in a press conference June 19.

The landmark election comes just one year after Luter made history as the first African American vice-president of the same convention he helped create a “racial reconciliation resolution” for in 1995.

The veteran pastor says the organization “is not just putting up an African American president, but seeing other ethnic groups in other areas of this convention.”

Luter believes that his election as the first minority leader is a sign of things to come, though he told the {Baptist Press} he is aware of, and understands, skepticism among African Americans within the denomination.

“If we stop appointing African Americans or Asians or Hispanics to leadership roles in this convention after my term is over, we failed. We absolutely failed,” said Luter to the {Baptist Press}.

Luter said his call to ministry came in 1977 after a near-fatal motorcycle crash at age 21 left him in the hospital with a crushed leg and serious head injuries.

Upon recovery, the young man took to the streets- setting up his own guerilla-style ministry at the corners of Galvez Street and Caffin Avenue in New Orleans, his hometown.

Every Saturday at noon Luter could be seen and heard preaching to any one within earshot. By 1986, he was so well known in the city and surrounding areas, that he was able to garner a position as pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church (FABC). Within twenty years, the young pastor added 6,935 members to church roster.

Then came Hurricane Katrina.

With both his home and church submerged in water, Luter’s strength was tested as he found himself rebuilding a ministry and a life from the ground up.

No stranger to miracles coming out of hard times, in April of 2008, the minister opened a new building, in addition to the FABC branches that had sprung up all over the country as Luter traveled to displaced congregation members in other states, says official church history.

“By the grace of God, He allowed us to come back,” said Luter to the {Baptist Press}. During this time, Luter called upon family and friends, such as David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist New Orleans Church, to find a way through the trials.

“I trust him,” said Crosby, in a press release from Franklin Avenue Baptist Church. “His presidency is not going to be about him. It’s going to be about the health of our convention. And we need his help. We need his perspective. We need his wisdom,” said Crosby, who opened his doors to Luter and his congregation while the church rebuilt from hurricane damage. 

 

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer