Pausing in the middle of a passionate sermon “What to do when the storms come,” he tested the carpeted platform, “Can I jump?”—eyeballing a sparkling chandelier dominating the ceiling between him and an estimated 250 community members packed into gracefully arched wooden pews below and a wrap-around balcony above.
Beaming, Pastor Robert Bass nodded, “Amen!”
It’s not every day the SBC president comes to town. In fact, Bass believes it may be the first time the man who represents more than 16 million Southern Baptists and 50,788 Southern Baptist churches, of which 3,000 are in Florida—has come to Lake City.
And right on target, the phone rang with an ominous call in the North Florida church an hour outside of Jacksonville. “The word on the streetis a black man is preaching,” Bass recalled being told.
Bass took a breath and told the caller the truth. The man who was invited to speak for a revival series had just been re-elected for a second term after having already served a one-year term as SBC president. Bass paused, listening for the caller who responded positively—“it’s a God thing!”
After an enthusiastic reception Sept. 26 by members of Bass’s mostly aging congregation and diverse representatives from the community—including a number of local pastors—Luter told Florida Baptist Witness traveling to smaller communities and shaking hands with church members has been a particular pleasure.
“My greatest joy is that I have been able to go into a lot of smaller churches where no SBC president has ever been—like here in Lake City,” Luter said. “It’s a major, major thing for a lot of churches. Black, white, red or brown, you have the president of the convention here and that is a big thing.”
Pastor of Franklin Ave. Baptist Church in New Orleans, Luter is the first African American elected as president in the history of the denomination, formed in 1885 primarily over the issue of slavery.
Elected in June 2012, at again in June 2013 at the Houston SBC annual meeting, Luter has come a long way from feeling like the “poster child of the Southern Baptist Convention” paraded around the country as the first Black SBC president.
Today, he’s just another good preacher, albeit somewhat forceful and unapologetically passionate.
“I think it’s a good thing in the fact that some people have accepted that this is Fred Luter, the president of the SBC. And honestly I’m proud of that,” he said.
Recognizing the importance that some still attach to his overcoming obstacles and breaking barriers in order to promote greater understanding of racial reconciliation, Luter was careful to not credit his election to his race.
“I do understand the African American part and I praise God for that [but] I’ve done the job, I have the qualifications, whatever they may be, to be in this position, to be in this role, so I’m good with it,” he said.
There is a lesson to be learned in Luter’s rise to the top. It wasn’t by circumstance, by skin color, by chance line-up, he believes, that put his name on the ballot to lead.
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