A miracle of sorts: Baptist group picks a leader who defies its history
Share with others:
The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. It is also the denomination with the most baggage when it comes to racial justice and diversity.
Because it was militantly pro-slavery in the run-up to the Civil War and supportive of Jim Crow laws that enforced segregation throughout the last century, the SBC has a lot of fence mending to do with African-Americans.
This week, the denomination moved dramatically to deal with its lingering reputation as a bastion of racial intolerance. Rev. Fred Luter, 55, the pastor of the largest megachurch in New Orleans, was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Rev. Luter, who ran unopposed for the job, is the first African-American elected president in the denomination's 167-year history. In what was once the spiritual home of such scoundrels as Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, Jesse Helms and Lester Maddox, this is in itself a miracle.
In 1995, the SBC formally apologized for its support of slavery and segregation. The denomination committed itself to broadening its appeal to non-white Christians. Since crafting that resolution, black membership in the SBC has gone from 350,000 to 1 million.
Rev. Luter doesn't look like his predecessors, but he's as theologically conservative as they were. Like them, Rev. Luter subscribes to SBC orthodoxies that limit opportunities for women in the pulpit and to important leadership roles in the denomination. Former President Jimmy Carter left the denomination over its treatment of women.
While the SBC is to be congratulated for renouncing its racist past and electing a black leader, women in the denomination are praying for the day when some of that justice will spill over in their direction.
First Published June 22, 2012 12:00 am