NEW ORLEANS — A Louisiana pastor says he has no plans to be nominated as the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) first African-American president this summer in Orlando, Fla.
Fred Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, was mentioned publicly as a possible candidate in a March 31 blog by Texas pastor Dwight McKissic.
McKissic, who is also African-American, said electing a black president would go a long way toward unifying a denomination long divided by issues including race, the role of women and attempts to silence dissent.
Luter said in an e-mail April 3 that McKissic isn’t the only person who has suggested that he seek office, but he has not agreed to be nominated. “There are a lot of guys throughout the convention who would like to see that happen,” Luter said. “I truly appreciate their trust and confidence in me, however that will not happen this year.”
Luter has broken ground before for African-Americans in Southern Baptist life. In 1992 he was the first black elected to the Louisiana Baptist Convention executive board and in 2001 was the first African-American to preach the annual sermon at the SBC.
Started as an all-white Southern Baptist church in the 1940s, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church turned its building over to the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans during “white flight” in the 1970s as white people moved out of the neighborhood and black people moved in. When Luter came as pastor in 1986, there were 65 members on the roll. Today the church has grown to more than 7,000 worshippers and describes itself as the largest Southern Baptist church in Louisiana.
Fred Luter has been mentioned as a possible candidate for president of the Southern Baptist Convention, but he says it isn’t going to happen this year.
McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, cited in his blog a reference in a book written in 2002 by Paige Patterson, a co-founder of the “conservative resurgence” that led a leadership change in the nation’s second-largest faith group in the 1990s, supporting the idea of an African-American SBC president by 2005.
“Why not now?” McKissic wrote. “Why not Fred Luter?”
The SBC passed a resolution in 1995 repenting of past racism, including lack of support for and sometimes opposition to the civil rights movement. The statement, coinciding with the convention’s 150th anniversary, pledged to “commit ourselves to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry.”
While much of the convention’s growth since the 1980s is attributed to ethnic churches, relatively few people of color serve in leadership roles.
McKissic was elected a trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but he resigned over controversy about a 2006 chapel sermon at the seminary in which he said he had used a “private prayer language” in his personal devotions since his days as a student at the seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
McKissic said the practice, commonly associated with charismatic and Pentecostal churches and problematic for many traditional Southern Baptists, isn’t anything controversial in African-American churches.
That didn’t stop fellow trustees from trying to expel him in March 2007 for publicly criticizing decisions by the board’s majority. Trustees later decided not to remove him, but McKissic resigned that June saying the controversy had become a distraction to his ministry at his church.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)