The SBC’s First Black President … And Why it Matters

Fred Luter, an African-American pastor from New Orleans, was recently elected as the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention.  You can read more about it here.

Regardless of how many of our readers may or may not be Southern Baptists, here are some reasons you might be interested in this.

*The Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845 years ago in explicit support of slavery.  The Presbyterians and Methodist also split into northern and southern contingents around this time … and of course, the nation itself would do so soon afterwords.  Believe it or not, the SBC did not issue a formal apology for supporting slavery until 1995 — 150 years after its founding.  Electing an African-American president is an important historical moment for the Convention.

*The SBC is the largest Protestant religious group in the United States, and is by far and away the largest conservative evangelical group in the nation.  Anything that happens in the SBC has the potential for tremendous impact in the religious life of the nation.  If you’re interested in thinking about religious life in America, you should keep an eye on what’s happening in the Convention.

*Segregation is still a de facto reality in most Christian denominations.  This is not to say that black and white Christians won’t welcome each other into their churches (though some won’t), but rather that most racial and ethnic groups in American tend to worship with their own kind.  Sometimes there are pragmatic reasons for this (e.g. shared language, shared cultural expressions that drive worship), but it’s still a sad state of affairs.  Having a multicultural leadership structure in place in a large Christian denomination is significant.

*Luter opposes Barack Obama on many issues, in particular gay marriage.  What happens when the head of a large conservative group — and the largest evangelical constituent — opposes Obama … but he’s black, too? What happens when none of the media or internet pundits can play the race card? I would expect Luter to be in the headlines quite a bit during this election season (whether he wants to be, or not).  How will Luter, and other African-American conservatives, change the conversations we have about race and politics in this country? Should be interesting!

What do you think? Does Luter’s election matter to you? Why or why not?

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Photo by Boston Public Library

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