Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Southern Baptist Convention as a messenger representing my church. It was an historic meeting, as we elected the first African American president of the SBC. As I sat in the meeting and listened to what everyone had to say about the election of Pastor Fred Luter of Franklin Ave. Baptist Church in New Orleans, several thoughts came to mind…
1. I don’t know Pastor Luter personally, but from what I’ve read about him and heard about him from those who do know him personally, he is a Godly man with a genuine love for our denomination and a concern to see it flourish in a biblical way for the furthering of God’s kingdom. I was glad to have the opportunity to vote for him.
2. I wish this could have happened about 30 years or so ago. I’m afraid that the perception from outsiders, and even from some Southern Baptists, is that, up until last Tuesday, there has been a concerted effort by the majority of Southern Baptists to keep African American pastors out of the SBC presidency. I concede that there may have been a small amount of that going on behind the scenes in the last few decades, and that even today, there is probably a tiny minority of unrepentant racists who call themselves Southern Baptist who were not happy with Pastor Luter’s election to the presidency. In a word to those folks: repent.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that African American pastors (SBC presidents are nearly always pastors) are a very small minority in the SBC to start with. Sometimes, this is because of the African American pastor’s own choosing, not because the SBC is trying to exclude African American pastors. I have heard African American pastors say that they were strongly discouraged by other African American pastors, friends, and loved ones from joining the SBC denomination because of the perception (and admittedly, decades ago, the actuality) that it is a racist denomination.
My guess is that we haven’t had an African American president before now (in the last 30 years or so), not because those behind the scenes have been actively trying to keep African American pastors out, but because: a) a suitable African American candidate could not be found, or b) the African American pastors who were approached about the presidency would not accept the nomination.
3. A lot of the speeches and talk surrounding Pastor Luter’s nomination/election were saturated with phrases like, “diversity,” “this is long overdue,” etc. Of course, this type of talk is true, and it was proper for things like this to have been said, however, as Christians, skin color and diversity should not take center stage when it comes to electing ANY president of the SBC. God should. The Bible should. Theology should. I honestly think more people were focused on the diversity issue than finding out about Pastor Luter’s theology, and as Christians, that should not be.
4. Because of all the talk of this finally happening and everyone –rightfully so—being glad about it, there was a slight aroma that all of these white guys were patting themselves on the back for electing a black man. I want to stress here that I absolutely do not think that was the intention of any of my brothers’ or sisters’ hearts, but sometimes unintended perceptions arise. It made me feel bad for Pastor Luter that he might have felt any hint whatsoever that he is just a “token black.” I do not believe that is the case. Quite the opposite, in fact.
5. I think there will be a lot of pressure on Pastor Luter to focus on diversity when he has clearly stated that the main focus of his presidency will be on strengthening evangelism and discipleship in the SBC (which I was extremely happy to hear). This pressure, unintended or not, is not fair to Pastor Luter. We need to be sure to give Pastor Luter the space and freedom to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in whichever direction He might take him. Though diversity is indeed an important issue, the SBC is facing a lot of important issues besides diversity, and Pastor Luter will need to be able to focus on all of them.
6. I’m excited to see how God will lead us as a denomination through Pastor Luter, and I’m expecting great things from him.