New Orleans is one of the most interesting and historic cities in the world. It was therefore a fitting setting for a truly historic, unprecedented annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The leading item of interest was, of course, the election of Fred Luter as president of the SBC. As the convention’s first-ever African-American president, his election signifies an important milestone for our denomination.
Luter himself, however, has hopes that his time as leader will not be merely symbolic. Leaders within the SBC were quick to agree and have spoken words of affirmation at this election. Al Mohler went so far to say “God has preserved the Southern Baptist Convention for this moment . . . and for what faithfulness will demand of us in time to come.” Richard Land, who has recently been under fire for racially charged comments (for which he has apologized), said this was “as historic a moment as Southern Baptists have had.”
News entities that typically may not find interest in the SBC annual meeting—such as PBS, The New York Times, and even the Huffington Post—took a keen interest in the election of this dynamic and impressive preacher and leader. National Public Radio said of Luter, “Fred Luter is a former street preacher who turned a dying New Orleans church into a powerhouse.” NPR and other secular organizations expressed amazement at his taking Franklin Avenue Church from a handful of members to nearly 8,000, then only to rally back from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
Of course Southern Baptist’s have had a keen interest in Luter for much longer than the media now paying interest. In fact, his story is at the heart of who we are as Southern Baptists. A sinner saved by grace, Luter knows the power of the Gospel and of second chances. His leadership comes at a perfect time for the SBC, when we need unity as much as ever.
The other item of interest for messengers and the mainstream media was the discussion surrounding the addition of the nickname “Great Commission Baptists.” The motion to leave the official Southern Baptist Convention name in place but propose a non-official nickname stemmed from Bryant Wright’s SBC Task Force that was led by Jimmy Draper.
The motion carried, but not without some heated debate. According to Baptist Press, of the 4,824 ballots cast, 2,546 were in favor of the descriptor and 2,232 were not in favor of the descriptor. Only time will tell if this nickname opens doors previously closed or simply creates confusion in the way we present ourselves. In either case, history was made with this vote, as well.
The 2012 annual meeting was much more than votes and media exposure. It also proved to be an excellent evangelical opportunity. Luter and others took an active role in the 2012 Crossover (the annual meeting evangelism outreach) in New Orleans, which saw more than 1,100 decisions for Christ the week of the convention. By God’s grace, those are souls who now will forever enjoy eternal life.
At final count, the convention attendance neared 8,000, which is an improvement from the 2011 annual meeting. At the meeting, other important reports were heard, including from Oklahoma’s own Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board.
Oklahoma was well-represented at the 2012 annual meeting. Of the convention, our own leader Anthony L. Jordan said, “Southern Baptists have gathered for an Annual Meeting in New Orleans that has proven to be historic on a number of levels.
“We have elected a dynamic leader in Fred Luter, as Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president. While he is the first African-American president in the 167-year history of the SBC, Luter was selected not because he is African-American, but because he is a great leader, preacher and pastor.”
“In addition to this historic election, my heart has been encouraged to fellowship with thousands of fellow Baptists who, like me, believe that the best days lie ahead for our denomination both here and abroad. Our unified missions efforts throughout the world continue to grow, and for these, and a whole host of other reasons, I am as grateful as ever to be a Southern Baptist.”
After all that transpired in New Orleans, I think each of us should be grateful to be Southern Baptists.