Besides the personal reasons to be looking forward to this year's Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in New Orleans, the June meeting of Baptists has taken on the prospect of being a very historic occasion. Not so much because of programs, potential name changes, etc. but due to the fact that an African American will allow his name to be placed in nomination for President of the world's largest Protestant group. Fred Luter, Pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans has announced to his congregation that he will allow his name to be entered into nomination. Here is the latest story regarding Luter's decision on Baptist Press. http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=37097
I pray that there will be no other nominees this year (do you hear that Wiley Drake?) in order that we may come together in unity to elect this dynamic pastor to lead our Convention during these difficult times. He was elected SBC 1st Vice President at the Annual Meeting in Phoenix last June.
The obvious fact that no black man has ever been nominated to the top office in the Convention makes this year's meeting unique. The SBC has often been maligned by liberal detractors as racist, due to policies that go back to the days of slavery in America. Several years ago, in a public display of repentance and racial harmony, SBC leaders apologized for racial wrongs that had been done in the past. Our convention desires to be a mutli ethnic body of born again baptized believers who follow Christ - which can only be accomplished by reaching out to every people group on earth. I personally pray that one day the ethnic makeup of Westmoreland Baptist Church will mirror that of the entire Body of Christ. All reasonable Christ Followers desire such!
However, my desire to see Fred Luter ascend to that leadership position goes far beyond the racial reasons. Fred Luter is a man of God. He is a man of the Word. He has the soul winning fervor of an evangelist, and the shepherd's heart of a pastor. He is an eloquent preacher, and a man who models the grace and love of God to everyone he touches. I have met him personally on only three occasions (my son, Jay, knows him well) but on the occasions when I have had opportunity to speak with him and to shake his hand, I knew I was in the presence of a man who loves Jesus, and one who loves telling the Good News to anyone who will listen.
Fred has been used by God to help build Franklin Avenue Baptist Church from a small inner city work to one of the great churches in Louisiana. He was a catalyst and an inspiration, not only to the congregation of Franklin Avenue Baptist, but to the entire New Orleans area during the dark days that followed Hurricane Katrina. He and Pastor David Crosby of First Baptist New Orleans became the public face of NOLA's Baptists who welcomed in Disaster Relief workers, and led the way in the spiritual and physical rebuilding of their community.
Luter held his congregation together, even though many of them were scattered to places like Houston and Baton Rouge. That is the kind of shepherd that is needed to lead this great Convention at this point in its history.
When it comes to secular politics, I am saddened by the mediocre choices that we Americans have to choose from in our nation's Presidential race in 2012. I do rejoice, however, in the prospect that we Baptists DO have a real leader we can support to lead our divided (and in some ways declining) Convention.
Thank you, Fred Luter, for being open to the call of God in your life. And thank you, Franklin Avenue Baptist for being willing to share your shepherd with all of us!