Southern Baptists elect first
black president

Running unopposed, Fred Luter, is the newly-elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the first African-American to hold the post. AP has a report.

You can follow the convention: see the Baptist Press is living blog or follow the convention's live webcast.

As the AP reports,

Seventeen years earlier, Luter was one of the authors of an SBC resolution that apologized to African-Americans for its past support of racism and resolved to strive for racial reconciliation.

Since that gesture, the denomination has grown its non-white congregations from only 5 percent in 1990 to 20 percent in 2010. But its leadership has not diversified as rapidly as membership.
Lifeway Research President Ed Stetzer said [that] faced with declining membership ... the 16-million strong Nashville-based denomination will have to be deliberate about its efforts to diversify. “I think they thought racial diversity would happen ... now they realize they have to make it happen,” he said.

The Root paints a less rosy picture:

Even those in leadership roles with the Southern Baptist Convention agree that the association has a lot to answer for when it comes to race. "We were a segregated, virtually all-white denomination as late as the 1960s," Richard Land, president of the convention's policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told the New York Times. (Yep, he's the guy who recently accused President Obama of trying to capitalize politically on the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida, called the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton "race hustlers" and suggested that racial profiling was justified.) Not to mention, it was created in 1845 in defense of slavery and provided a spiritual home to white supremacists for much of the 20th century.

Yet, Land received a reprimand from the church for some of his remarks.

In a NYT blog post, Molly Worthen wonders about the fit:

Conservative black Protestants and the Christian Right also have different memories of American history. While David Barton and other amateur evangelical historians have baptized the founding fathers as orthodox architects of a new Zion, African-Americans remember them as the authors of the Three-Fifths Compromise. “For far too long Anglo Christians have wrapped the Christian faith in the American flag, often creating a civil religion that is foreign to the way God intended His church to function,” Evans writes in his book, “Oneness Embraced.” For black Christians, American history is not a narrative of decline from an arcadia of Sunday family devotionals and McGuffey Readers to the godless fleshpots of modern America. It is a narrative of liberation that is not yet complete.

These divergent understandings of history have amplified disagreement over what it means to follow Jesus’ and the prophets’ command to “set at liberty those who are oppressed.” There is a cliché that white evangelicals are too busy straining toward heaven to care about social justice here and now. This is unfair. Even the most Apocalypse-obsessed preachers have had a heart for the underprivileged: Dwight Moody — a 19th-century evangelist and the spiritual grandfather of the “Left Behind” novels chronicling the end times — founded a school for orphans, the children of slaves and other needy students. William Jennings Bryan, the creationist anti-hero of the Scopes trial, was a progressive politician who opposed the laissez-faire policies of his day.

Low-income white evangelicals appear capable of voting against what an outsider might believe is their economic interest, but can this apply to African-Americans in the same numbers?

Not unrelated, the convention adopted a recommendation for an alternative descriptor, Great Commission Baptists. Advocates said in some parts of the country and among the black community the word "southern" was an obstacle to evangelism. A ballot vote was required. (Results will be available here Wednesday morning. Update: The recommendation was approved 53% to 46%.)

Turning the spotlight on The Episcopal Church, the picture is different, but is it better? Let us know what you think.

Comments (7)

For black Christians, American history is not a narrative of decline from an arcadia of Sunday family devotionals and McGuffey Readers to the godless fleshpots of modern America. It is a narrative of liberation that is not yet complete.

SRSLY! Just yesterday in my local shopper rag, I was reading another Jeremiad by an old white Protestant, lamenting over "The Good Old Days Done Gone". You know how many African-Americans were LYNCHED on a regular basis on Those Good Old Days???

[Doing historical research on American religion in the early 20th century, I looked at a lot of newspapers. Time and again, there would be a *little* box on a back page: "Negro Lynched". La-Dee-Dah. Kyrie eleison!]

JC Fisher

Better, yes…Good? No.

“Better” in that we have no Rev. Land making outrageous statements on TEC’s behalf as cited in the news piece. “Not good” in that we are still a monochrome church. We have many excellent programs to oppose racism and try to be more open and inclusive, but progress is glacially slow. So slow that we should not fault someone who might conclude that we are not sincere in our efforts; we are…it’s just that we’re not very good at it?

May I suggest: missions to diverse/primarily-black neighborhoods. Open up store-front churches, or even cell churches. We left the urban areas, along with the rest of late-20th century white folk; let’s go back.

Kevin McGrane

The focus has been more so on being inclusive of homosexuals and their lovers. Everything as has and by large has went to the wayside as far as TEC is concerned.

Well, there goes my "we have no Rev. Land" thing.


Kevin McGrane

Nicole meant "Imago Dei made gay who are spouses-in-Christ, Kevin. No problem!


JC Fisher

Erm no Mr.Fisher, what I said was exactly what I meant. Don't write that I said something else.

Thanks, John, for writing and posting this piece. When I read the news reports of Fred Luter's election, my initial jubilation soon turned to dismay at the things he was reported saying and espousing. I'm still shaking my head. I also suspect that the media are having a field day with this story, pitting one group against another. Kyrie eleison, indeed.

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