HOUSTON -- The Rev. Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, was elected Tuesday as the first African American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
Luter’s candidacy at the convention’s annual meeting in New Orleans on Tuesday was unchallenged.
Before the vote, the Rev. David Crosby of First Baptist Church in New Orleans, who became an ally of Luter after Hurricane Katrina, took the podium. He addressed the packed convention hall and a live online audience in nominating Luter for president.
Crosby described Luter, 55, as “a man who would probably be nominated for sainthood if he was Catholic” and “a fire-breathing, miracle-working pastor.” Luter, he said, is a man “with a great family and an unblemished, untarnished reputation in this community, where he has lived all his life.”
“The church was on its last legs,” he said of Luter’s congregation at Franklin Avenue. “Fred Luter led this church of 65 members to become the largest worshiping congregation of Southern Baptists in Louisiana, baptizing thousands.”
“Fred Luter’s the only megachurch pastor I know who did it twice,” he said.
Crosby, who is white, recalled how the two men teamed up “after the great storm,” leading multicultural ministries for men, women and children.
“We continue to do those things today, together,” Crosby said. “If we are faithful in our work, this diversity will continue to grow.”
In closing, he alluded to Southern Baptist history -- the convention was founded in defense of slavery and later supported segregation -- and noted that it was time to signal a change.
Baptist Press noted, “Some observers felt it was appropriate that Luter’s election took place on the day many celebrate ‘Juneteenth’ and the anniversary of slavery’s end in the United States.”
The election comes at a time when minorities make up a growing share of convention membership, about 20%. But it also comes on the heels of recent controversies concerning church leaders’ racially motivated rhetoric.
“We have the opportunity to make history and tell a watching world the truth about our savior and ourselves,” Crosby said, drawing applause and cheers from the packed hall.
But the real cheering started after current convention president Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., proposed that members rise in support as the convention’s recording secretary cast the historic vote.
Luter stood behind the officials on the podium. As the vote was cast, he appeared to wipe tears from his eyes with a handkerchief.
Then it was time for the newly elected president to speak. The normally voluble Luter was brief and clearly moved.
“To God be the glory for the things that he has done,” he told the crowd. “God bless you, I love you.”
Wright then hugged Luter’s shoulders and offered a closing prayer.
“Lord, as we think about our beginnings, as we think about how far we have come, as we think about how you have divinely called Rev. Luter for this position, we thank you and ask you to help him in the days to come.”
Luter officially takes over as president Wednesday night when the annual meeting adjourns.