Recently, Dr. Fred Luter made the much anticipated announcement that he would allow himself to be nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Convention. With this announcement, Luter is poised to become the first African American to head our denomination.
The day Southern Baptists elect our first black SBC president will be an important moment for the history and future of our Convention. The election of an African American president will be a capstone for a series of strong statements of our Convention about our attitude toward race and our understanding of the gospel’s implications for racial diversity. Such a move is the next logical step in our denominations path toward ethnic inclusivism and holds great symbolic importance. Among the previous milestones of this journey, we have expressed our repentance for the sin of racism in an anniversary resolution, our theology concerning race in our statement of faith, our thinking about the practical application of that theology through a series of resolutions, and our purposeful intent to practice these values by adopting a report encouraging ethnic diversity and electing Fred Luter as first vice-president last year. Now, we will take our biggest step so far by the election of an African American to the presidency.
This election is not merely symbolic, however. When one considers the power of the president to effect change and the historical importance of the SBC presidency to shape the future of the Convention and its agencies, the election of an African-American president becomes even more significant. In electing a president, we entrust the direction of our denomination to his leadership. The president is the face of our Convention and has tremendous platform from which to influence our churches and agencies. Further, our polity empowers the president to shape the direction of our Convention through specific appointments. Namely, the president appoints the Committee on Committees that in turn appoints the Committee on Nominations who recommend trustees for our various agencies. In layman’s terms, that means that if the Convention is to see a diversity of leadership in its trustee boards, that process begins with the election of the President. In recent years our presidents have moved toward a more diverse leadership. The election and influence of an African American president combined with the report approved in the 2011 annual meeting should prove to increase that effort exponentially.
To illustrate this influence historically, the Conservative resurgence was won by the election of conservative presidents. The turning point came with the election of Adrian Rogers in 1979. Rogers and the conservative presidents that followed him used their influence and limited but significant power to reshape the Convention and its entities. The change in leadership and direction across our Convention began with the election of the president of the SBC. To elect Fred Luter is to elect another president for whom racial reconciliation matters and diversity in SBC leadership is a priority. Our commitment to racial diversity at every level of the Convention will be achieved in large part by the election of presidents who not only reflect our diversity, but champion diversity through the platform the position affords and the appointment process that is his real power.
This summer, we will have an opportunity as a Convention to make another bold statement of our intent and thinking about race and diversity and take significant action for real change. The election of an African American president, committed to racial reconciliation and ethnic diversity, will be a historic and important moment as we continue together to take the gospel to the world.