Tears welled up in my eyes when I stood applauding the election of Fred Luter as the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention. I was not alone in the demonstrative display of emotion. You could feel it in the atmosphere of the room. Few times have I experienced such a moment as that in a gathering of fellow SBC messengers at a convention meeting.
Having grown up in Birmingham during the height of the civil rights era, I was so glad that we as Southern Baptists could come to the place where we could celebrate such a moment. There were times in the past when I saw progress in racial reconciliation, but there were never moments such as this one when we could come together and rejoice in the Lord over them. Thankfully, that high and holy moment came during this SBC meeting.
At the National African-American Fellowship meeting, I joined hundreds of others, Anglo and African-American, in a worship service where our new president spoke so eloquently and poignantly about what brought him to this place of leadership at this strategic time in our history. Fred Luter has never preached a bad sermon; at least I have never heard him to do so. On this occasion, he was at his best.
His message was vintage Fred Luter. He was humble but courageous. Fred told of being asked by a reporter why he wanted to be president. He answered “Why not?”. Then he laid out three reasons for his willingness to serve. First, because of “the right person.” He was speaking of course of Jesus, our Lord, as being the right Person. Fred described how he sought the Lord in determining whether he should allow himself to be nominated. He and his wife prayed and fasted for a lengthy period before accepting the challenge.
The second point of his message focused on “the right process.” This was the process of waiting for the right time to serve. Years ago, Fred was approached about being nominated for the position, and he said, “The time is not right.” Concerning this point, Fred Luter spoke so clearly about how change takes time and very few of us want to wait on it. “Waiting on the Lord” is a part of preparation for service, and Fred Luter knew that so well. Now, his time had come.
As Fred transitioned to his third point which focused on “the right promises,” the crowd was reaching a crescendo of emotion. Many were standing and clapping. Everyone in that room, Anglo or African-American, stood on the same promises: the promises of God! We all were applauding and praising the Lord for His precious promises.
In electing Fred Luter as our new president, Southern Baptists were electing one of our own and one of our best. I remember well when Fred preached last year at our state convention. He was not feeling well, and yet he told me that he had to travel back to New Orleans during the night to be present for an associational meeting the next morning. This is a strong indication of what kind of leader we have in our new president.
Fred Luter understands Baptist life on all levels. He has served his church, Franklin Avenue Baptist so well during the past 25 years, especially in the aftermath of Katrina. He is involved in his local association and state convention in vital ways. He is an example of commitment to missions at every point of Baptist life. He knows “Joseph.” He knows Southern Baptists well.
I left this convention meeting feeling like we have made some positive history. We now can turn not just a page in our history but begin a whole new chapter. We need to pray for our new president as he leads us. As is always the case, pressures will mount upon him, and the secular world will put him to test in ways no other president has been tested in the recent past. However, I believe in Fred Luter, and I know that with the Lord’s help he is up to the task.
As young boy growing up, I often heard the tired old saying, “Big boys don’t cry.” I am glad that trite expression is so wrong because when my friend and brother, Fred Luter, was elected as our president, I shed a few tears. I couldn’t help it. It was indeed a high and holy moment for us all and I am glad I lived to see it.