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The denomination, founded 167 years ago in a commitment to segregation, made it’s most significant break with the past at its annual meeting now underway in New Orleans. In 1995, the SBC apologized for its history and pledged to bring more minorities into leadership in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Past President Frank Page reiterated that pledge Tuesday before the election of Luter, who was unopposed.

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In a nominating speech, a speaker called him a “fire-breathing, miracle-working pastor” who would be a saint if he were Catholic. He grew a megachurch — twice — after seeing it destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, even as the city’s population fell drastically. The election was accomplished with a whistling, cheering standing ovation. Luter wiped tears from his eyes as he thanked God for this day.

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The SBC that Luter will lead is facing a critical challenge: Membership numbers have dropped for five consecutive years.

And it wouldn’t be an SBC gathering without dueling theological factions. One of the other hot items on the agenda was a power struggle over differing views on God’s plan for salvation. Page raised cheer