The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that 11 a.m. on a Sunday is “the most segregated hour of the week,” and even with an African American in the White House, that critique is still a sad reality in many Baptist churches.
But history was made this week in New Orleans when a 55-year-old African American preacher was elected unanimously to lead the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, which was founded in 1845 by Baptists who were defenders of slavery.
Although the Southern Baptist Convention remains a predominantly white organization of 45,000 congregations, the election of Fred Luter Jr. to a one-year term as president sparked hopes among Baptists in more progressive circles that diversity would trickle down through the leadership ranks.
Luter has long had a prominent national presence in faith circles, rising from a street-corner preacher with a few dozen followers two decades ago to lead a congregation of more than 5,000 members as senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in his home town of New Orleans.