On the cusp of completing his two-year presidential tenure as the first African American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, pastor Fred Luter sat down for a question-and-answer session with the Baptist Message, the newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
“My prayer and hope is that this diversity will continue once my term ends at the Baltimore convention,” Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. “I truly feel strongly that it will.”
President Luter’s answers to Baptist Message questions
MESSAGE: Would you reflect on being president of the Southern Baptist Convention for the past two years?
LUTER: It has truly been overwhelming to serve in such a position. On one hand, you are doing your best to visit as many churches, associations, state conventions, seminaries, colleges and entities as your time and schedule permit. On the other hand, you are getting phone calls, emails, texts from people all across the country making all kinds of requests from book endorsements, writing letters for all types of events, to media requests for interviews on current events happening in our country as well as throughout the world. Then, to add to that I have to still maintain my most important roles as a husband, father and pastor. Whew!
MESSAGE: What do you think you were able to accomplish during your time as president?
LUTER: I have been truly proud to visit a lot of smaller churches, associations and conventions where it is the very first time an SBC president has been there. I also think I was able to accomplish more diversity in meetings across the country and our convention. There is more participation from ethnic groups getting involved in the SBC. Finally, I believe I was able to remind our churches and convention of how important revival and prayer are to us carrying out the Great Commission.
MESSAGE: What were the greatest challenges you faced during your terms?
LUTER: My greatest challenge was trying to accommodate all of the requests for speaking engagements. I could have used at least three more of me the past two years.
MESSAGE: In your opinion, what is the state of the SBC at this time?
LUTER: I believe the state of our convention is good; however there is a saying that goes, “We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.” We as a convention have to address our declining numbers in church attendance, baptism, reaching our young people and CP giving. Until we can do better in those areas there will always be room for improvement. That is why revival and prayer are so critical at this time.
MESSAGE: Does the Cooperative Program remain strong and viable today? How do you see the CP’s future shaping up?
LUTER: The Cooperative Program is not only viable but also critical to this convention if we are going to impact our world with the gospel. Because of our CP giving we are able to put missionaries all over the world to share the gospel with unreached people groups. We are also able to start and strengthen churches, as well as assist students at our seminaries who are being trained as future leaders in our convention. As for the future of CP giving, our churches must make our CP giving a priority because it is the engine that runs the SBC.
MESSAGE: Having been the SBC’s first African American president, do you think the SBC is doing a better job of becoming more diverse? Do you see this diversity continuing after you leave office?
LUTER: Because I was elected unopposed as the first African American president, I have certainly seen more conversation, both written and spoken, about the importance of involving all ethnic groups in SBC activities. And to that I say, “Praise the Lord.” In all of my travels across the country I have truly been impressed by the diversity at each function, whether it was a worship service or a Q & A time with the president. My prayer and hope is that this diversity will continue once my term ends at the Baltimore convention. I truly feel strongly that it will.
MESSAGE: You mentioned in your first SBC presidential press conference that the president of the convention is not a position of power but of influence. How much influence do you think have you had in that position?
LUTER: I think I have been able to influence more African American pastors and churches to consider becoming a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. I also think I have had an influence in showing it is possible for all of us to work together regardless of race or the size of your church or convention.
MESSAGE: As president of the SBC, you traveled quite frequently. What is your favorite new city that you visited and favorite new food you ate while on the road?
LUTER: I have been to so many cities and eaten so much food; however I vividly remember the bacon-wrapped shrimp in a small town in North Carolina. Being from New Orleans, I was truly impressed. The cheese biscuits at Jim ‘N Nicks in Alabama however came in a close second.
MESSAGE: If you could give a word of advice to the next SBC president, what would that be?
LUTER: Get out of the election! No seriously, make sure he has a good staff at his home church taking care of the pastoral responsibilities while he is traveling for convention business. Also if at all possible, make a commitment to preach in your pulpit on Sunday mornings. Your church members will understand your being gone during the week however they want to hear their pastor on Sunday mornings.
MESSAGE: With the changing landscape of American culture, what do you see as the biggest threat to the family structure today and what will it take to turn that around?
LUTER: The biggest threat to the family structure is husbands and dads not accepting their roles as priest, protector and provider for their family. I am convinced that “as the man goes, so goes the family.” A close second is the absence of discipline. Again, I am convinced that love for God, respect for mankind, values and morals start in the home. To turn this around, our churches need to challenge the men in our congregation to accept their God-given role as leaders of their families. I am convinced that our kids can never be what they have never seen.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – The Baptist Message is the newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)