The indisputable highlight of the Southern Baptist Convention was the election of Dr. Fred Luter as president. The historic fact that Dr. Luter is the first African-American to be elected to this position has been headline news from The Los Angeles Times to The Washington Post and in other outlets across the country. That is indeed a reason to celebrate his unanimous and unopposed election as the leader of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.
The fact that a Black pastor was elected to this post is a good reason for everyone in the Southern Baptist family to be excited, but it is not the greatest thing about Fred’s election to this post. The greatest thing about the election of Fred as our leader is the content of his character. At this time in Southern Baptist life, we need a gentleman with the kindness of Fred’s spirit, the passion of his heart, and the integrity of his life. We need a statesman-like leader. We know that he will be focused on “the main thing.” We know that he can absolutely lead through storms, just as he did at his church in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The SBC has storms that will demand focused and faithful guidance—the kind that this brother and friend will give.
When my grandchildren speak of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans in 2012, I hope that they will speak of the time we recognized diversity within our convention at the highest level. My great hope, also, is that they will remember 2012 as the year that Southern Baptists selected a man who led a turn-around of a fellowship of churches in decline.
On another note, it is my joy to share with you that for the first time in generations, a sitting Southern Baptist Convention president will be the keynote speaker at the Tennessee Baptist Convention when we meet in Chattanooga in 2013. It will be a privilege to welcome back to Tennessee my friend and fellow New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary graduate, Dr. Fred Luter.