Southern Baptists meeting in Phoenix to try to boost minorities in their top leadership posts and elected an African American pastor as first vice president for the first time in the denomination’s history.
Fred Luter Jr., the head pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, was elected with 1,558 votes, or 77 percent. Some of his supporters had expected him to be unopposed, but he picked up a local Arizona challenger in Tuesday’s session. Rick Ong, a deacon at First Chinese Baptist Church in Phoenix, received 441 votes, or 23 percent, according to results from the Baptist Press.
The move to elect Luter comes at the same time the SBC is making a push for greater participation among what it sometimes calls its “non-Anglo” members in the life of the convention, particularly in leadership roles. Luter’s church is one of an estimated 3,400 black churches in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, a small minority of more than 45,700 total SBC-affiliated churches with about 16 million members total.
His election also sets up the potential for his election to the top position of president when the denomination holds its annual meeting next year in Luter’s hometown of New Orleans.It’s a big step for a denomination whose history is rooted in a split over race. The denomination originally formed in 1845 in a split with the American Baptist Convention over the question of whether slave owners could be missionaries.