It is anticipated that in this month the Rev. Fred Luter , pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, will be elected as the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). According to the results of a recent poll conducted by Lifeway Research, the majority of SBC pastors believe such a historic event would be good for the denomination.
In the survey, pastors were asked to express the level to which they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “Without regard to any individual, I think it would be a good thing to have an African-American as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.” Nearly 1000 pastors responded. Sixty-one percent agree it would be positive, 10 percent disagree, and 29 percent don’t have an opinion.
Generally speaking, a Luter presidency should be no news because in Christ there is no black, white, Hispanic, etc. The only thing that should matter is that the new president is deemed qualified for the job. But given Rev. Luter’s past work in the SBC, including his current position as vice president of the SBC, it is reasonable to assume that his qualifications are not in question.
On the other hand, the prospect of the first African-American SBC president is newsworthy because the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination, it is predominantly white, and the split among Baptists that lead to the SBC’s formation in 1845 was rooted in race and slavery. It was not until 1995 that the denomination issued an apology to blacks for slavery. During that same year, Luter became second vice president of the SBC.
Reflecting on the question posed to church leaders in the survey, I am not exactly sure what is meant by “a good thing.” But I do agree that having a qualified black leader at the top post in the SBC will be a very positive statement.
The denomination has experienced a decline in membership during the past several years, and about a 5 percent drop in baptisms in 2010 relative to 2009. Leaders recognize the need to become more inclusive if they are to reverse the current trend. Also, according to Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway Research, seven percent of SBC churches are primarily African-American, and in the last 20 years, the percentage of non-Anglo SBC churches has grown from five percent to 20 percent. Also, in the body of Christ, diversity is a good thing—even at the very top.
Copyright © 2012 by Frank King. All rights reserved.