Rev. Fred Luter Jr. was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention on Tuesday. He is the first black leader of the organization. (WRDW-TV / June 19, 2012)
News 12 First at Five / Tuesday, June 19, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- History was made Tuesday. The Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination historically formed in defense of slavery,
elected its first African-American president.
Rev. Fred Luter Jr., a pastor from New Orleans, was the only one on the ballot, and even though he's being praised by some as revolutionary, not everyone is on board.
Bishop Willie Jackson, pastor at Christ Centered Outreach Ministry in Augusta, says, "To most of us, we see it simply as it being politically motivated."
But others see it as a step forward.
"Making this historic decision today is very good for the Southern Baptist Convention, it's good for the South, good for Baptists in general," said Andy Jones, minister of Missions and Faith Development at First Baptist Augusta.
Jones is a minister at First Baptist Augusta, a church with deep Southern Baptist roots. Their original building on Greene Street was actually the birthplace of the Southern Baptist movement. Back in 1845, the decision to separate from the Baptist church was made at their Greene Street location.
The reason for the split was mostly centered around slavery, making Tuesday's decision to appoint Luter as the first black leader of the convention a historic move.
"I applaud him in a sense, but on the other hand, I see him as on the plantation, playing the house n*gger role," Jackson said.
Jackson says Luter is not fully qualified for the position.
"Here's a man that is not even seminary trained, and they've chosen him over all the other Southern Baptist individuals?" he questioned.
Something that just doesn't add up for Jackson, who says, " I see it in the same way as I saw Michael Steele being president of the Republican Party. He was there he did an amiable job, but then, when it was all over, it was totally discounted."
But Southern Baptists say it's the beginning of a new era.
"I think this is certainly a way to go in the right direction. You know, Dr. Martin Luther King said that the most segregated place in America is churches at 11 o'clock on Sunday mornings," Jones said.
Jackson says, "It's almost like what someone said in the 60s, you can legislate laws, but you can't change the heart."
Southern Baptist leaders say they are trying to expand their appeal and increase diversity amongst their members. They say membership and baptisms have seen a downturn and this decision will hopefully help boost those numbers.