Fred Luter, immediate past president of the predominantly white Southern Baptist Convention, says he mistakenly believed the nation had turned a corner when it elected a black president.
The first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention says he believes the United States is more racially divided today than when the country elected its first black president in 2008.
“I really thought that this nation was ready to move forward from our days of segregation when Barack Obama was elected as president of the United States of America,” Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, said in a video for Black History Month produced by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
“Regardless of his politics and how you feel about some of his decisions that he’s made, this was an African-American who was voted president of the entire United States of America,” Luter said, “meaning there’s a lot of Anglos and other ethnic groups beside African-Americans that voted for him as president.”
“As much as we needed racial reconciliation in America, I really thought that was the opportunity for our nation to come together and make us one as a nation,” Luter said. “But unfortunately, you know and I know that is not the case. I think it’s gotten even worse as a result of what we’ve seen in recent years in America.”
Luter, immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention elected in 2012 and 2013, said when he decided to seek the office, media from around the world flocked to New Orleans, all asking the same question: “Why would a black man want to be president of a convention that started as a result of slavery?”
“That race question will always come up, just because of our past as a convention,” Luter said. “I don’t mind dealing with it. I don’t mind talking about it, and the things I told each of those reporters is: ‘Listen, all of us have a past. I’ve got a past. You’ve got a past. Every last one of us has a past.’”
“We regret the past of this convention,” Luter said. “This convention has publicly apologized for our past at several conventions that I’ve been a part of. We’ve made it known through resolutions that we want this convention to be more diverse, and it is.”
“I believe the Southern Baptist Convention is the most diverse convention of any convention in America,” Luter said. “When it comes to Anglos, Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans, there is no other convention that comes close to our diversity in the Southern Baptist Convention, but we’ve got to get to the point, hopefully, that one day that will not be an issue.”
“The issue needs to be: What are we doing in evangelism? What are we doing in discipleship? What are we doing in reaching the lost and changing this world?” he said. “That’s what I pray will happen. We’re not there yet.”
Luter said he looks forward to a day he can visit a Southern Baptist church of any predominant ethnicity and “be introduced not as the first African-American president but be introduced as, ‘This is our brother, Fred Luter.’”
“That’s my prayer for this convention and for America,” Luter said.