The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), America’s largest Protestant denomination, made history June 19 when it elected the Rev. Fred Luter its president, the first black leader in the SBC’s 167-year existence. Luter was chosen in his native New Orleans, where the SBC was meeting for its annual denominational conference, and where Luter pastors Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.
Luter was nominated by fellow New Orleans pastor David Crosby, whose three-minute nomination speech was repeatedly interrupted by enthusiastic applause for the popular Luter. Crosby described Luter as a “fire-breathing, miracle-working pastor,” adding that his friend and fellow minister “would likely be a candidate for sainthood one day if he were a Catholic.” Crosby said that Luter is “qualified in every way” to guide the traditionally southern, White denomination. “He is a man of integrity with a loving family and an unblemished, untarnished reputation in this community where he has lived all his life.”
Baptist Press News, the SBC’s official news organ, recounted how Luter had grown the fledgling Franklin Avenue congregation “from a remnant 65 people in a white-flight neighborhood to a congregation of more than 8,000” before the church’s facility was destroyed by flooding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Crosby’s own First Baptist Church took the devastated congregation in, helping Franklin Avenue Baptist Church get back on its feet. “Franklin Avenue is now [once again] approaching 5,000 worshippers each Sunday despite the depressed population of our city,” Crosby said during his nomination speech. “… Fred is the only mega-church pastor I know of who has had to do it twice, and he did it against the trends and against the odds.”
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Photo: Fred Luter, Pastor of the Franklin Ave. Baptist Church in New Orleans, right, reacts as he is elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, at the convention in New Orleans, June 19, 2012: AP Images