Given its history of profound racism, the Southern Baptist Convention took a historic step in the other direction on June 3 when the more than 8,000 “messengers” at their annual conference in New Orleans unanimously elected a black preacher as their president.
The Rev. Fred Luter Jr., 55, now heads the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, a high point of a journey that started in the city’s Lower 9th Ward that saw him embrace the church after a near-fatal motorcycle accident. He went on to become pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church and gain national attention as a preacher worth listening to.
But Rev. Luther’s journey is not complete. His elevation to the lofty position he now holds will mean nothing if its only significance is that there is a black man among the otherwise all-white leadership of the convention.
He must take to his leadership the experiences he has acquired as a black man growing up in America, as a black preacher leading a mainly black flock, and transform the Southern Baptist Convention in such a way that diversity will be meaningful.
He is from a people whose faith has given them the fortitude to survive slavery, the strength to overcome racial segregation and the resilience to withstand the economic and social disparities that they face today.
Rev. Luter must make the convention a partner in challenging those disparities not by rhetoric but by actions that show Black America that this Christian organization has embraced the principle of fairness and equality for all and will from now on work to give meaning to that belief.