NEW ORLEANS (BP) — In a historic vote, Fred Luter was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention June 19 at the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans. He is the convention’s first black president.
Luter, who was unopposed, is pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, one of the largest churches in the Louisiana Baptist Convention. He was elected last year as first vice president of the SBC.
Nathan Lino, pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church in Humble, Texas, a congregation he founded 10 years ago, was unopposed for first vice president. Dave Miller, pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, was elected in a runoff as second vice president.
Eric Hankins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., and Brad Atkins, pastor of Powdersville First Baptist Church in Easley, S.C., also were second vice president nominees. When no one received a majority of the votes, Hankins and Miller were in a runoff. Miller won with 1,202 votes, or 59.5 percent of the ballots cast, to Hankins’ 798 votes, or 39.5 percent.
Two men from Missouri were re-elected to their longtime posts. John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, was re-elected for his 15th year of service as recording secretary. Jim Wells, a state missionary for the Missouri Baptist Convention, was re-elected for his 11th year as registration secretary.
In other action, messengers elected Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, to preach the convention sermon at the 2013 annual meeting in Houston. David Allen, dean of the school of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was elected as the alternate. Charles Billingsley, worship pastor at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., was chosen as the 2013 music director.
Some mentioned the coincidence of Luter’s election on “Juneteenth,” a day celebrated as the day in 1865 that Texas slaves finally heard — two and a half years after the fact — that they were free.
Luter was nominated by David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans, whose three-minute nomination speech was interrupted four times by applause.
“[Luter] would likely be a candidate for sainthood one day if he were a Catholic,” Crosby said in describing Luter as “the fire-breathing, miracle-working pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.”
Luter grew Franklin Avenue from a remnant 65 people in a white-flight neighborhood to a congregation of more than 8,000 before “Hurricane Katrina plowed through this part of the world, destroying their facilities and scattering their people all across America,” Crosby said.
“Franklin Avenue is now [once again] approaching 5,000 worshippers each Sunday despite the depressed population of our city,” Crosby said, “and last year they baptized more than 200. Fred is the only mega-church pastor I know of who has had to do it twice, and he did it against the trends and against the odds.”
First Baptist New Orleans took in the Franklin Avenue congregation for two and a half years after Hurricane Katrina left the worship center in 13 feet of water for three weeks amid flooding across New Orleans and the surrounding region in late summer 2005.
The two pastors, Crosby and Luter, both with a heart for the city, began to work together in recovery of the devastated city and its returning residents. Out of that relationship, Luter asked Crosby to nominate him when in January — after prayer and a word from the Lord pointed out to Luter by his wife Elizabeth — the Franklin Avenue pastor stepped forward to be a candidate for the SBC presidency.
“He is qualified in every way to hold this office,” Crosby said of Luter. “He fully supports world missions through the Cooperative Program. … He is a man of integrity with a loving family and an unblemished, untarnished reputation in this community where he has lived all his life.”
Southern Baptists “are already a convention with great diversity in our membership ranks and our churches. If we are faithful in our work, this diversity will continue to grow,” Crosby said. “We need Pastor Fred at the head of the table, helping us understand our mission field and our mission. It is time to tap the great resource of his experience, wisdom and passion for this wider purpose….
“Messengers, we have the opportunity to make history, to show a watching world the truth about our Savior and ourselves and to affirm again the mission that undergirds everything we do,” Crosby continued. “Let’s give our ballots a voice and shout out to the world: Jesus is Lord. This is our president. We are Southern Baptists.”
Luter, on stage already, could be seen wiping tears from his eyes at the extended applause that followed the conclusion of Crosby’s nomination speech.
It’s customary, current SBC President Bryant Wright said, when there is only one candidate for elective office, for the SBC recording secretary to cast one vote for everyone.
“However, this chair on this occasion believes this historic moment should fully belong to the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Wright said. He instructed the messengers to stand if it was “their pleasure” that Luter be elected president.
As Luter came to the podium, he wiped more tears from his eyes, pointed toward heaven, and wiped his eyes again.
“To God be the glory for the things He has done,” Luter said with a choke in his voice. “God bless you. I love you.”
In 2011 Luter became the SBC’s first African American first vice president; in 2001 he had been the first African American to preach the convention sermon. He also served on the committee that proposed a revision of the Baptist Faith and Message in 2000.
Luter is a popular preacher at revivals, state conventions, evangelism conferences and other Southern Baptist gatherings.
Lino, born in Johannesburg, South Africa, immigrated with his family to the United States when he was 11. Northeast Houston Baptist — where about 1,000 people participate in Sunday morning worship — has planted seven churches in Houston and overseas and plans to start another 10 in the Houston area over the next decade, sending out 200 or more members each time to do so.
Lino, working on his doctorate in ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been on mission trips to 26 nations. He was elected this spring as a trustee of the International Mission Board.
Miller, who holds a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Seminary, was born in Iowa to parents who had been missionaries in Taiwan.
He has served the past 21 years as a pastor in Iowa — 14 as pastor of Northbrook Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids and seven as pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, where about 225 people participate in Sunday morning worship. Previously he served four years as a pastor in Virginia.
More than two years ago Miller became the editor of a blog — www.sbcvoices.com — that has become known for its collegial conversation.
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal for the 1,600-plus churches in the Louisiana Baptist Convention.