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.