NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Fred Luter, in his first sermon after his election as Southern Baptist Convention president, exhorted believers to place their trust in the Lord and work through the church to heal today’s troubled society.
Luter delivered a melodiously quick-paced message anchored in Jeremiah 17:7-8 at the National African American Fellowship banquet June 19 in New Orleans, just hours after being elected the first black to the lead the SBC in its 167-year history.
“God is expecting the church to stand up and be the church and be the people of God that God has called us to be. In other words, the church is supposed to be a light in a dark world,” Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, said.
“The church is supposed to be salt in a low sodium, saltless society. I truly believe in my heart that God wants the church in the midst of this craziness, in the midst of this chaos, in the midst of this crisis, to stand up and be the church,” Luter said. “I believe that the church … has the answer … for the … problems and situations that [are] happening in our society.”
Stating that many have questioned why he desires to lead the SBC, which apologized in 1995 for its pro-slavery past, Luter pointed to Scripture for an answer.
“I ran for this position because I believe in the right person, and His name is Jesus,” Luter said. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.
“Notice, ladies and gentlemen, that the name [President] Obama is nowhere in verse 7; that’s the wrong person. Notice the name [Mitt] Romney is nowhere in verse 7; that’s the wrong person,” Luter said. “As a matter of fact, notice the name Luter is nowhere in verse 7; that’s the wrong person. Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz is not in verse 7. That’s the wrong person.”
Luter spoke before a record-setting crowd at the event attended by about 400 people, including SBC leaders from various levels.
Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, hailed the historical significance of the moment.
“This is not the end, as Winston Churchill perhaps said best. This is not even the beginning of the end. But it may be the end of the beginning,” Land said.
“We have witnessed an extraordinary thing. A denomination that was born in slavery, a denomination that supported Jim Crow, has elected an African American pastor who has built a great church in perhaps the most difficult city in America to build a great church,” Land said at the banquet.
Executive Committee President Frank Page said Luter’s election is evidence the SBC is making an effort to do God’s will.
“What does the Lord require of thee? To do justly. To love mercy. To walk humbly before our God. I’m thankful today we at least got the first part of that right,” Page said. “I’ve never, never experienced the kind of electricity in the room that I did today. It was a wonderful moment, and I simply thank God for it. The Lord does require that we do justly. But He also says to love mercy. And I’ve seen … mercy in recent days, and I appreciate that.”
Luter referred to several verses from Proverbs, the Psalms and Isaiah, encouraging the SBC to keep its hope fixed on Jesus.
“My hope is not in Washington, D.C…. My hope is not in Nashville, Tenn. My hope is not in Alpharetta, Ga. My hope is not in Virginia,” he said, referencing the locations of various SBC entities. “My hope is not in my town or your town. My hope is in the Lord.”
James Dixon, a Maryland pastor finishing a two-year term as NAAF president, invited Luter to preach the sermon traditionally delivered by the outgoing NAAF leader.
David Lee, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, praised Dixon for his 35 years of service with the SBC and said he cherished the work he shared with Dixon in Kingdom building.
“James Dixon is my friend. James and I have worked alongside. We dreamed of a new day of racial reconciliation,” Lee said. “James, I believe those dreams are beginning to take on some feet and some movement.
“I believe when history is written, you will see that what happens in Maryland/Delaware, and I think influencing beyond that, that one of the great catalysts making that happen is James Dixon.”
In addition to Lee, Land and Page, others making remarks at the banquet were North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer, International Mission Board Vice President Ken Winter, GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins, Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Director David Hankins and Woman’s Missionary Union Executive Director Wanda Lee.
In other activities conducted in association with the SBC annual meeting, NAAF installed new officers: president, A.B. Vines, pastor of New Seasons Baptist Church in San Diego; vice president, K. Marshall Williams, chairman of the SBC’s African American Advisory Council and pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa.; treasurer, Mark Croston, pastor of East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va., and president of the Baptist General Association of Virginia; and secretary, Byron Day, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Md.
NAAF approved as regional directors Brian King, East, pastor of Ezekiel Baptist Church in Philadelphia; Roscoe Belton, Central, pastor of Middlebelt Baptist Church in Inkster, Mich., and president of the Michigan Baptist Convention; and Garland Moore, Mountain, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Milan, N.M. The Western District post remains vacant.
NAAF shared its objectives, including helping the SBC better understand the African American church, encouraging member churches to maintain a spirit of fellowship and cooperation, and promoting the appointment of at least one African American to the boards of trustees of NAMB, IMB, LifeWay and GuideStone.
In completing his presidency, Dixon encouraged NAAF as Paul encouraged the saints in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, exhorting them to watch and stand fast and to be strong, courageous and loving.
“If you’re going to watch, you want to be sure you’re watching with spiritual eyes. He will not reveal anything that He doesn’t want you to do anything about,” Dixon said. “Your bravery is not in humanity. Your bravery is in God.”
Dixon, pastor of El-Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md., thanked the group for allowing him to serve, an experience he said has taken his prayer life to a new level.
“You really need to stand fast in your faith,” Dixon said. “You’ve got to have a heart relationship that connects with your head.”
NAAF, composed of the nearly 3,500 SBC African American churches, preceded the SBC annual meeting with its annual fellowship service June 17 at Suburban Baptist Church, hosted by Jeffery Friend, president of the Louisiana African American Fellowship of the SBC.
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).