SBC Elects First Black President

The Moral Arc of the Universe is Bending; The Election of the First African American as President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

By Van Welton

During the 1965 march on Selma, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  He was paraphrasing Pastor Theodore Parker, an 1850’s abolitionist minister.

The phrase could most appropriately be applied to the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention in its election of Pastor Fred Luter as the convention’s next president.  Luter will be the first African-American pastor elected as SBC president in the convention’s 167 year history.

I cannot deny that my denomination was founded in large part as a response to the anti-slavery initiatives of northern Baptists.  In 1845, when the convention was established, Baptists throughout the south were supportive of slavery and insisted on a denomination that recognized their right to continue the practice.  Tragically, the institution of slavery was often biblically defended from the pulpits and as a result, generations of Southern Baptist were raised as racists, disregarding the clear scriptural mandates against it.  Our convention has been weakened by its position and the kingdom of God negatively impacted.

Much has changed since 1845.  The moral arc of the universe does indeed bend toward justice.  With the election of Fred Luter as president, the convention has taken a giant step to better reflect the Kingdom of God on earth.

Normally, messengers have a choice of men to elect as their president.  There have always been nominations made from the floor by messengers, creating a run-off scenario.    This year, however, Fred Luter, Pastor of Franklin Road Baptist Church in New Orleans, was the only nominee for the office of president.

Furthermore, unlike with prior conventions when a single nominee would be unceremoniously appointed to the office, the messengers were asked by the moderator to stand to voice their affirmation for Luter.  In unison, over 10,000 messengers stood to cheer and applaud.  The SBC recording secretary approached the podium and cast the one vote necessary for Luter.

Luter’s election was by far the emotional highpoint of the convention for me.  Those that heard me preach, know that I often am overcome with emotions from the gravity of situations.  As Luter approached the podium to respond to the outpouring of love showered upon him, I could not help but reflect on the thousands of African American Christians who longed to witness Christian civility at this level in the south.  My heart was broken.

Luter’s election was emotional also for me for the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic families that we have in our church.  I have attempted throughout my career to minister unconditionally and extend the love of Jesus without preference to the color of their skin or their economic station in life.  Luter’s election was a living display that, like me, the majority of Southern Baptists value the content of character and the conviction of doctrine.  If you love your fellow believer, strive to obey God’s Word and Glorify the Lord, then there is a place for you in the Southern Baptist Convention.

I look forward to the next two years.  Southern Baptists will have the opportunity to proclaim the gospel through a new voice to people that have been silent to us.


  1. Right Winger says:

    Perhaps the moral arc is bending towards justice. However, when will the SBC quit treating women as second class citizens?

    • Right Winger, good to hear from you. I will be glad to respond to your comment if you will be a little more specific. What treatment are you referring to. I am married and have three daughters. I would not serve in a denomination that I thought in any way discriminated against them.

      I suspect that your consternation revolves around a theological position. If you will be more specific, I will be able to answer you accordingly. Thanks for your understanding.

      • EagleFan says:

        The SBC has said that woman cannot be ministers and they cannot serve on the Board of Deacons. This was one of the main reasons that my church decided to no longer support or be associated with the SBC many years ago.

        • Thank you EagleFan for your comments. Because of my travel schedule, I was unable until now to respond. Forgive me for my delay.

          Southern Baptists believe that Scripture is clear on the role of women within the church and their status before God. The Bible teaches that every woman, like every man, is made in the imago Dei, in the image of God. Every woman has the right and responsibility to come to God exclusively for her salvation. Every woman, like every man, has the right to study God’s Word and apply it to her life in order that she might be most beneficial to the Kingdom of God. No doubt, you would agree with me on these initial statements.

          Our concurrence may be mitigated when discussing the role that women may play within the church. It may surprise you to know that I believe there are a lot of women who are outstanding preachers. Many are certainly, a lot better than me. There are a lot of women who, because of their gifted social skills, do a better job serving and ministering as deacons then some men do. But ability to serve in those positions is not the determinative issue on whether a woman may serve as a pastor or deacon.

          Southern Baptists believe that the Bible teaches that God has set up a structural order to govern his church. Women, according to the teachings of I Timothy 2:9-15, are to assume a submission role within the church and allow the men to fill leadership positions.

          Many people are offended by this passage because they assume submissiveness indicates a lower order of being. Again, a review of the totality of Scripture would disprove such thinking. I would specifically reference Galatians 3:28 to argue the equal worth of men and women.

          There are of course other examples in society that help to make my point. For example, when I am pulled over by a police officer (pastors do speed sometimes), I am obligated to submit to him, not because he is a superior human being, but because his assignment from God is such that my submission is mandatory for my good and that of society. Orderly submission also exists within the parent / child relationship and the employment relationship between a boss and employee.

          Perhaps the greatest example of divine submission exists in the ministry of Jesus. According to the John’s prologue, Jesus was and is God, equal with the Heavenly Father. Yet, in his role as the provider of our salvation, Jesus submitted his will to the Father. He is positionally subordinate to the Father.

          Southern Baptists believe that we are fulfilling the God ordained structure of the church when men serve in the pastoral leadership roles.

          My space is drawing short. As further scriptural support for my position, I always refer to the pronouns used in 1 Timothy 3, where Paul provides the qualifications for pastors and deacons. In each category, the designee must be the “husband of one wife.” While the words “pastor” and “deacon” may be gender neutral, the word “wife” is not. We cannot apply a masculine connotation to the word. By applying the only understanding to the word “wife” that is permissible, we have to assume that Paul intended pastors and deacons to be men.

          I believe that God only calls men to be pastors and deacons. For me to believe otherwise, would violate God’s orderly structure for the church and deny sound exegetical interpretation of Scripture. Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you.

          • Right Winger says:

            The Muslims think the same way. Only men can rule.

          • Another View says:

            Neither the pastor nor the Bible stated that “[o]nly men can rule”. Rather, the view is that men should lead the Church. “[R]ule implies a broader societal statement, which was not made at all.

          • EagleFan says:

            I appreciate your response. I think we will have to agree to disagree on this one. I have been in the baptist faith my entire life and even though we dissagree on this one, we still have similar beliefs and ultimately the same purpose in sharing our Faith!

  2. Well, let’s hope they have better luck with their first black president than the USA did

    • Sarge. I have high hopes for Fred Luter. He is solid theologically and has the highest integrity. Thanks for your interest.

    • Mr Mister says:

      Sarge, did you dislike Colin Powell too?

      • Another View says:

        Colin Powell is a liberal. On that basis alone, he would not do well as a Southern Baptist.

        • Mr Mister says:

          Just reading the Bible, I would say Jesus was a bit liberal too. Or maybe just a bit human while he walked the earth. he fed the poor, washed the feet of a prostitute, healed the dying, Oh and the whole red and yellow , black and white thing!

          • Another View says:

            I would submit that Jesus was a consevative. He never advocated for government programs or welfare.

          • I would submit that Jesus was a wonderful hippy kind of guy, who spread the wealth around by dividing all those loaves and fishes so all could eat. I think if he met you you guys wouldn’t get along much

          • Another View says:

            Jesus and I get along fine, thank you!

  3. George Archibald says:

    Right Winger’s question that assumed women are treated as “second-class citizens” by the Baptist church is the same posture taken by anti-Catholics and critics of the Protestant Church of England and Episcopal Church USA years ago. As most except the Catholic and conservative Protestant churches and the Jewish faith have conferred priesthood upon women, this comment in terms of raw numbers is principally an anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish stance from non-believers of either faith. So what busines is it of non-believers tro moralize and impose their views on faith believers?

  4. Roscoe Evans says:

    “Religions” that incorporate bigotry, prejudice and fraud into their doctrines don’t deserve our respect, whether they’re 2000 years old or 200. Those of their proponents that hide behind claims of faith or belief or mysticism to justify antisocial or harmful or illegal practices are frauds.

    Mr. Van Welton, I have no doubt, is sincere. Good for him.

    • Another View says:

      I am not a Southern Baptist, but I am astounded that you would imply that that sect is bigoted. Is that the only note you can play?

    • Oh, you mean religions that have morals? Which the left has equated to “bigotry, prejudice and fraud”.

      • Lonnie Bishop says:

        So…it’s “moral” to exclude women from leadership roles in the SBC (pastorships, on the board of Deacons, etc.)?

        • Another View says:

          Yes. It is in the Bible.

          • Lonnie Bishop says:

            So is slavery.

          • Another View says:

            Actually, people in Biblical times held slaves. The word of God never endorsed slavery.

          • The word of God doesn’t even bring slavery up in the 10 commandments; was that not the word of God? Endorsed by omission I would say. Even though these were given to an escaped bunch of Jewish slaves, funny he doesn’t condemn that in the commandments.

            If one happens to believe these stories based on history. So glad you think Jesus gets along with you “just fine”, but don’t you believe that’s a rather pompous outlook? How in fact do you know this? Did he give you some loaves and fishes?

          • Another View says:

            Perhaps you should examine your own relationship with Jesus, and not worry so much about mine.

            You should start by reading the Bible. It is very enlightening.

          • Thank you, I’ve read the bible. And am not worried about my relationship with anyone in that book. Perhaps you should enlighten yourself, it seems you have much work to do as you seem ignorant of both the book, the story, and how it affects modern life.

          • Right Winger says:

            I think all religions can be summed up in two statements.

            Do good unto all.

            Nobody is above anyone.

        • Hey, look what’s happened since we gave women the vote. A Great Depression, World War II, a number of bush wars and untold other carnage 😉

          • Sam Card says:

            Giving women citizens the right vote was good for our country. There was a “Temperance Movement” led by concerned mothers and wives that led to Prohibition. Now alcohol is legal again. Many girls today excel in academics and sports and later graduate from college. Many places of religious worship benefit from the nurturing spirit and wisdom of faithful women.

  5. Realistic Joe says:

    In my opinion, I think it’s sad that headline news needs to point out what color a person is before any of the merits that secured them the position. Guess it just goes to show that, there is still a problem and the media does not help the situation.

  6. Newly Saved says:

    I am thankful we have a local SB Conservative Pastor that travels to such events and provides feedback for local Christians. Though we have opinions and theological views I believe that since my husband and I became saved our family as a whole has become new. We are better parents, have a stronger marriage and a new sense of peace and assurance overall.

  7. George Archibald says:

    Roscoe Evans’ comment above was accurate: “Mr. Van Welton, I have no doubt, is sincere. Good for him.” I have been privileged to know Pastor Welton quite well for more than a year, as he brought me to his Apple Valley Baptist Church in Berryville as a visitor more than a year ago. I joined the church and attended their weekly services at D. G. Cooley Elementary School. Brought up as an Anglican, I stopped going after Pastor Welton tried to persuade me that the Mormon faith and its large worldwide membership was “not really Christian” (his quote) and gave me an anti-Mormon video titled “Understanding Mormons: The Mormon Puzzle” produced and officially sponsored by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention.

    This video is very cleverly structured with ex-Mormon narrators from Salt Lake City, Utah, the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to question and undercut the Book of Mormon and is virulently prejudiced. Any thinking person knows that the world is full of racial, religious, and national differences and disagreements. But the prejudice and bigotry represented by this video turns me off. Having lived near Mesa, Arizona for seven years at the beginning of my newspaper career, where there is a Mormon temple, I have known many Mormon people who have included top respected political statesmen and leaders. To write such people off as “not really Christian” is unacceptable, particularly coming from a church leader of any faith, and is anti-intellectual prejudice on its face.

    It is my hope that newly-installed Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter, first African-American pastor elected as SBC head in 167 years, will remove the NAMB official sponsorship of the divisive anti-Mormon video and propaganda. Such action would send a good message to all SBC pastors that such prejudice in all forms is now verboten under his leadership, and perhaps write another positive chapter in the history of religious liberty and civil rights.

    • Lonnie Bishop says:

      It’s not just the SBC that views Mormonism as a “cult” and not a true “Christian” faith. Many of hte very evangelicals, fundamentalists, and others of a more mainstream nature (the very ones the Tea Party and Mitt Romney have tried so hard to court) share this view – which has factored in why Gov. Romney has had such a difficult time gaining any sort of traction with those on the far right wing of the GOP.

      Its views on salvation, the trinity, heaven, etc., are decidedly different than more “mainstream” Christian beliefs. Does all of that make them less Godly than anyone else? I don’t know definitively, as I am not the ultimate and final Arbiter of all things.

      • I don’t see the big deal in how the Baptists view Mormons vs say how Christians view islam. Islam worshps the same God as Christians, or as they called him, Allah. He is the supreme being in their respective religions. We choose not to believe in that religion, they choose not to believe in ours.

        To each their own

  8. Kellcsmith says:

    Why is this article filed under News? It is not a news article it is an editorial.

  9. George Archibald says:

    Adding to earlier comments I posted here, let me acknowledge the marriage ceremony performed by Pastor Van Welton of Apple Valley Baptist Church this past Sunday of Rachel Amanda Lohmann of New York City, daughter of Maria and Matthew Lohmann of Clarke County, to Brett Thomas Hiroto of Riverside, Calif., son of Charles and Rebecca Hiroto of Riverside. The marriage occurred at Kentmere resort, the magnificent equine and Guernsey cattle estate of the late Kenneth Newcomer Gilpin in Boyce.

    I spoke critically in my prior posting of Pastor Welton’s antipathy for the Mormon faith, which he says he views as “not really Christian.” Let the record also show my admiration for Pastor Welton’s religious tolerance in performing the Hiroto-Lohmann marriage, owing to his similar antipathy also for the Unification Church founded by Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon, of which the Lohmann family is a celebrated result of an arranged marriage by the Reverend Moon in 1980.

    The 1982 mass wedding by Reverend Moon, which included Matthew and Maria Lohmann, was spotlighted March 27 on CNN’s Anderson Cooper Show. Our weekend bride Rachel’s parents were married by the Reverend Moon along with about 100 other matched couples at Madison Square Gardenand now have seven children. Rachel (spelling also Raquel) also was interviewed by Anderson Cooper. She has three other sisters attending university, one brother serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, a younger sister living and working in New York, and youngest son Matthew is a junior at Clarke County High School.

    The Washington Times newspaper, which was founded by the Reverend Moon in 1982, published a story on March 25 headlined “2,500 Couples Exchange Vows in Korean Ceremony,” which can be viewed at

  10. George Archibald says: