Tuesday, Rev. Floyd Luter of New Orleans should make history as the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.
The organization holds its annual meetings then and Luter, 55, is the only candidate for office.
His anticipated victory is being hailed as a milestone by white and black pastors alike in the convention, a grouping of 51,000 congregations with 16 million members, about a million of them black. Acutely aware of the nation’s changing demographics, the fiercely evangelical Southern Baptists have been working to draw in more black, Hispanic and Asian members, often by starting new churches in ethnically diverse urban areas in the country.
The SBC was created in 1845 in defense of slavery and a spiritual home to white supremacists for much of the 20th century.
“Unbelievable,” Luter, said to the New York Times about his impending appointment.
Luter got his start preaching on the streets of the Lower Ninth Ward and revitalized a faltering congregation at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church into one of the largest churches and then rebuilding it after Hurricane Katrina, when most of his 8,000 of its members fled to other cities.
Luter’s appointment, “Given the history of the convention, this is absolutely stunning,” said Michael O. Emerson, an expert on race and religion at Rice University.
Luter shares the Baptists’ rejection of abortion and same-sex marriage, but he preaches more about personal salvation than politics. Though he never completed seminary training, he is renowned for his rapid-fire sermons filled with wordplay and hypnotic repetition.
By example and through his ability to help shape the convention’s powerful missionary, policy and governing boards, Luter hopes he can give the minority recruitment goals a boost during his two-year term.
“I want to carry that torch,” he said. “When I go to evangelical conferences, I’ll be Exhibit A.”