The election of an African-American president to an organization with its roots in slavery is being heralded as a milestone in racial reform. The Southern Baptists broke off from Northern Baptists in 1845 in support of slavery. Having supported Jim Crow and resisted integration for more than a century, the organization officially apologized in 1995.
Anthony Jordan, Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma executive director and treasurer, said Luter’s election is a milestone, but believes he is being elected not because of his race, but “because he is a great preacher, pastor and leader.”
“Dr. Luter has led his church to grow from 65 members to more than 8,000, making Franklin Avenue the largest Southern Baptist congregation in the state,” Jordan said.
African-Americans constitute approximately 20 percent of SBC’s membership of 16 million members. Thanks to the work of Luter and other African-American leaders, black congregations have enjoyed substantial growth. Oklahoma is home to 36 SBC-affiliated African-American congregations — a small percentage of the state convention.
Black pastor Walter Wilson, who has led the Friendship Baptist Church in Lawton for five years, sees Luter’s election as an aid to encouraging.
“This is a very meaningful move,” Wilson said. “I believe, all in all, it will lead to greater involvement from African- American congregations. It’s going to be a great day.”
Luter, who grew up in New Orleans’ poverty-stricken Lower Ninth Ward, has won widespread acclaim for transforming Franklin Avenue church into one of Louisiana’s largest churches, boasting about 5,000 members and a $6 million budget.
“That I can be president of the largest Protestant denomination in the country is unbelievable,” the 55-year-old Luter recently told The New York Times.