ROCKWOOD, Tenn. (BP)–Ever since his election as first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention at the annual meeting in June in Phoenix, Fred Luter has heard the same question repeatedly.
“Will you allow yourself to be nominated as president of the convention next year?”
Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, heard the question once again in early August prior to speaking at a summer Bible conference at First Baptist Church in Rockwood, Tenn.
Luter gave his standard answer that he is excited people are encouraging him to consider the nomination and that he is praying about the possibility to see if God is leading him in that direction.
But during the course of an interview with the Baptist and Reflector, Luter acknowledged he is about “80 percent” leaning toward the idea.
Luter stressed he is still seeking input from close friends, as well as leaders at Franklin Avenue where he has served as pastor for 25 years. He said it would be important to have his church’s support should he decide to allow his name to be placed in nomination.
But Luter also acknowledged that the most important input will come from the home front. “I’m henpecked,” he joked.
“I have to have my wife’s input. Elizabeth will probably be the toughest one to convince,” Luter laughed. “It is an awesome responsibility [to serve as SBC president]. I don’t want to take it lightly or for granted.”
Luter has given serious thought to the idea, which was voiced through Twitter following the annual meeting.
Among those who advocated Luter for the presidency was Union University President David Dockery, whose post read: “Good day for SBC: 1st VP Fred Luter. Hope he will be elected president next year in New Orleans.”
Luter knows his election as president would be a milestone. He would be the first African American to be elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“You cannot get around the fact that I am an African American and we have never had an African American president,” Luter said.
While it would be a historic vote if he is elected, Luter already has achieved several milestones. He is the first African American to preach a convention sermon and the first to serve as a trustee at LifeWay Christian Resources. In addition to his current role as first vice president, he also is a former second vice president of the convention.
Luter hopes he will be elected for his accomplishments over the years — if he allows his nomination.
Luter recalled that when he preached the convention sermon, then-SBC President James Merritt was asked if Luter was asked to preach because of his race. He noted that Merritt replied that the reason he was chosen was “because he was a respected preacher.”
Luter is proud that Southern Baptists recognize him for what he has accomplished during his 25-year ministry at Franklin Avenue, a church that began as a mission and is the only church he has ever served.
Luter also is an ambassador for the Cooperative Program. “Our church would not be where it is today if it was not for the Cooperative Program,” he emphasized.
As a result Luter has led his church to increase its giving through the Cooperative Program. In 2007, the church gave $44,000 through CP. In 2010, that amount had increased to $261,798, according to Southern Baptists’ Annual Church Profile.
“I am a strong supporter of the Cooperative Program. It still works,” Luter affirmed.
If he decided to allow his name to be placed in nomination, Luter said his goal, if elected, would be to “bring us together as a convention” so that “we can truly be the body of Christ…. We need to major on the things that have made this convention great through the years — evangelism and discipleship.”
Luter said he hopes to make a decision about the presidency shortly after the first of the year. In the meantime, he is content in working with and assisting current SBC President Bryant Wright.
Luter said he knows the future is in God’s hands.
“I’ve been faithful to my calling, to my church and to my convention. God rewards faithfulness,” Luter said.
Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector (www.tnbaptist.org), newsjournal for churches of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.