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Posted by on Jun 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

SBC to Elect African-American 1st VP & Embrace Ethnic Diversity Program

Baptist Press – the public relations arm of the Southern Baptist Convention – reported today that Fred Luter will be nominated for the 1st Vice-President position at the upcoming annual meeting of the SBC in Phoenix.  Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, will nominate Luter.

Fred Luter is the senior pastor of the 4,800-member and predominantly-African American Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of Theology at Southern Seminary, suggested via Twitter that Southern Baptists should elect Luter as president of the SBC in 2012.  The annual meeting of the SBC is being held next year in Luter’s New Orleans.

The announcement of Luter’s 1st VP candidacy comes on the heels of reporting from Baptist Press late last week that messengers to the upcoming annual meeting of the SBC will vote on a set of recommendations aimed at “making the convention’s leadership positions more reflective of the growing ethnic diversity in its church.”

Robert Anderson, the only African-American serving on the SBC’s Executive Committee, explained the reason for the pro-diversity recommendations:

There was a full buy-in from the Executive Committee. I think there will be full buy-in and support from messengers. Come on, we’ve got a black president,” Anderson said, referring to President Obama. “We’ve moved on now, and it’s time for the SBC to step up its game. They may not think of it in that regard, but that’s my take on it. I do believe it will have good support.

Anderson stressed that ethnic diversity in leadership positions “will not happen by osmosis.”  Intentionally is needed, according to Anderson:

You’ve got to start somewhere. I hate to call it a starting place, but in some respects this is a starting place….If you don’t start here, where are you going to start? If this is not the right thing to do, then what is the right thing to do?

The recommendations call for newly elected SBC presidents to
“give special attention to appointing individuals representing the diversity within the convention” and “select annual meeting program personalities representing the ethnic diversity within the SBC.”

The recommendations also call on SBC entities to “give due consideration to the recruitment and employment of qualified individuals to serve in various professional staff positions, on seminary faculty and as appointed missionaries in order to reflect ethnic diversity within SBC life.”

These Executive Committee-approved recommendations are extremely interesting as they essentially amount to a Baptist-style Affirmative Action program.

Many SBCers will undoubtedly cringe at those two words – Affirmative Action.  Yet, I don’t think there is any disputing these recommendations that aim to involve minorities in leadership/employment positions “in order to reflect ethnic diversity within SBC life” meet the definition of “affirmative action.”  Look it up.

Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote back in 2009 that affirmative action “is now counterproductive” in American society.  Land argued that “affirmative action exacerbates racism and prejudice.”

I’m interested in hearing a Southern Baptist attempt to distinguish between an affirmative action emphasis within the SBC and an affirmative action emphasis beyond the denominational walls in American society.

If affirmative action qualifies as discrimination as Land and other Southern Baptists have argued, then how is it appropriate to urge SBC agency heads and seminary administrators to consider the race/ethnicity of a potential employee?

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  1. Aaron,

    I think you have a worthy challenge here:

    “I’m interested in hearing a Southern Baptist attempt to distinguish between an affirmative action emphasis within the SBC and an affirmative action emphasis beyond the denominational walls in American society.”

    With you, I anxiously await Bart Barber’s answer so I can tweak it and have one of my own.

    One of the difficulties I’m personally going to face with this (and I have no idea about Dr. Luter’s church for I haven’t tried to find out yet) stems from the stark reality that so many of our African American brothers’ churches have extremely low CP giving. Not reflective of their lack of passion for either missions or cooperation; rather it reflects their dual-alignment status with other denominational loyalities (e.g. NBC). There’s only so much money to go around and as Dwight McKissic has publicly said more than once, his church gives to the organizations which caters to their values, vision, and where they feel a part.

    With this in mind, I am hard pressed to distinguish between a McKissic and a Floyd, or a Platt, or a Patrick, or a Warren, etc. The added factor which throws even more difficulty my way is, if I buck a minority’s nomination–even making over-kill clarity that I am disputing the nomination because of B and not A–in an atmosphere of racial “affirmative action,” I’ll inevitably be tagged as an obstructionist, having the mindset of the Old South, and cursed with racial prejudice.

    And, I do not look forward to that.

    Grace, Aaron. Looking forward to reading your book.

    With that, I am…

  2. Peter and BDW:

    Couple thoughts.
    First,both of you need to check the public policy forum at and get up to speed on the Mark Noll Review of Dochuk; and the Burkee intro and first chapter that show scathing similarities to Pressler’s modus operandi and Birch/Tex Reg passion in the SBC Takeover.
    A diversion from the topic at hand which I now address. As I have commented at any election of a person of color in the SBC is a Whitewash until SBC investigates the race history of Pressler and Jesse Helms. When it really mattered in the 50’s, pressler as I have come to understand fought Marney at FBC Austin, Foy Valentine, Civil Rights, integration. He was captive to the thinking of Tex Regs and the Citizenscouncils; how else was he so tight with Helms and McAteer and BirchSociety andAlbert Lee Smith.
    Dochuk does fine work with this history, as does Williams in God’s Own Party.
    SBC needs thorough history of Criswell, Vines, the churches they pastored in 60’s. Talk to Chandler Davidson of Rice; great place to start.
    Not a pretty history and can’t be swept under the rug now for PR purposes.
    If this is genuine for a new generation of SouthernBaptists, then I commend them for it.
    A good sign that it is would be transparent investigation at the look of key players in the Takeover/Resurgence and go from there. Some figure,some exercise like Bishop TuTu’s Reconciliation committee including outside monitors may be in order given the prominence of Helms and Pressler’s role in how the SBC got where it is in the last 30 years

  3. Aaron,

    Your remarks about Fred Luter being considered for the Presidency of the SBC and this broader initiative to engage wider ethnic/racial diversity in the SBC cause me concern at several levels. Let me respectfully voice several of these concerns, starting with some that are less important and moving toward the more important.

    First, it appears that your raising the Affirmative Action issue is something of a smokescreen or red herring for another opportunity to bash SBC leadership. Having looked through your hundreds of posts on your website, I have not found a single prior post for which your defending or addressing Affirmative Action was the primary focus of the article, but I have found dozens of articles bashing SBC leadership. So let’s just be honest and acknowledge that the issue is not Affirmative Action in the first place.

    Second, there are several misunderstandings expressed in your article. For starters, you cited the Merriam-Webster definition (, the primary definition being “an active effort to improve the employment or educational opportunities of members of minority groups and women.” This, plus your later statement about considering “the race/ethnicity of a potential employee.” You seem to be under the impression that the President of the SBC is an employee of the SBC, but this is not the case. Fred Luter would continue being Pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church. He would be neither an employee or in an educational institution. It is an elective position.

    Third, if you think that Southern Baptists seeking racial reconciliation and greater ethnic/racial representation is a new thing, that would not be correct. We have been working on this for years. As I’ll note in the next item, Richard Land has been working toward this for a couple of decades. We are not doing so for Affirmative Action, but to be representative of who Southern Baptists are.

    I know that all the seminaries have been trying to nurture students who are African American, Korean, Hispanic, and other minority groups to complete PhDs so they can be elected to our faculties, and to design programs to provide theological education for every ethnicity (at NOBTS we have focused programs for the African-American church, Hispanics, French Haitians, Koreans, and several others in international settings). We need many more minority faculty members who have achieved the credentialing to serve in this way. If you think we would consider faculty members who do not have adequate credentials, you are sadly mistaken. We aren’t doing this for Affirmative Action reasons. We are doing it so our seminary faculties reflect the racial diversity of our churches, and to secure their help in training the next generation of leaders. They teach us much about being sensitive to different traditions, and the way we say things, and our presuppositions. We need them more than they need us.

    Fourth, I believe you (perhaps unintentionally) are misrepresenting Dr. Richard Land’s position (and those of other SBC leaders) in an important way. The quote you lifted from the Land interview with the Nashville newspaper omitted some important material about the WHY of his concern about Affirmative Action, that answer quoted in full here:

    “I believe affirmative action has run its course in American society and that it is now counterproductive to that which it seeks to achieve. Affirmative action exacerbates racism and prejudice when people (whites) are discriminated against in promotion and admission practices because of the past racial sins of their fathers and grandfathers — sins for which they are not responsible. When people are discriminated against because they are white, it exacerbates racial tensions. The controversy over the recent New Hampshire firefighters case (Ricci v. DeStefano) illustrates this point vividly.
    Second, affirmative action largely neutralizes the most effective weapons against prejudice, which is performance and excellence. When African-Americans and other minorities are promoted or admitted to prestigious schools in the wake of affirmative action, it is all too often assumed they are admitted or promoted under different and lower standards than the majority-white community. They may, and often do, have the best test scores or the best performance reviews, but in the wake of affirmative action, it is too often assumed that race was a contributing factor to their promotion or admission. This vitiates performance and excellence as weapons against prejudice. As Chief Justice John Roberts so succinctly and eloquently stated last year in a Supreme Court case, ‘The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.’ If the goal is a truly, post-racial, multi-racial society, then we have to at some point, as a society, declare that discrimination is always wrong.”
    (Readers can see the full Q&A at

    You may disagree with Dr. Land on many issues, but I believe you would agree with him on the race issue. He mentions in the above link about his fight for racial equality and justice as a college student, and it was among the first issues he confronted when he came to the ERLC. His parents confronted a racist Sunday School teacher in his church in Houston as a boy. As he tells in the link, as a college student he was stopped by policemen by bringing some of his African American friends home to Houston from Princeton.

    When he came to the ERLC, one of the first things he did was to sponsor a listening session in which Anglos listened to key African American pastors to hear their hearts. The 1995 resolution apologizing for the SBC’s racism arose out of this meeting, penned and pushed by Dr. Land ( Land also led a pilgrimage to key civil rights sites in Atlanta and Birmingham after this convention. Dr. Land has been criticized and received threats at times because of his stance, but he has not wavered. I have had Dr. Land in my classes a couple of dozen times through the years at SWBTS and NOBTS, and without exception he has made a strong case for Baptists addressing racism. Indeed, his concern about Affirmative Action is simply that it would further racism. So I don’t think the way you presented his views accurately reflect where he is.

    Fifth, and most importantly, Fred Luter being elected President of the SBC is no case of Affirmative Action. First of all, he would be elected, not hired (the same would be true of other ethnic minority representatives elected to boards of various agencies). Affirmative Action carries the connotation of receiving a job or scholarship despite not meeting the normal standards and credentials for the job, or even over more qualified Anglos. This is not the case with Fred Luter, and it is not the case with any other minority I know of in Southern Baptist life. Fred Luter is Pastor of the largest Southern Baptist Church in New Orleans, with nearly 4,000 people in attendance each week (only three or four churches in New Orleans have more than 400 in church on Sunday). He started that church with a handful of people, and with God’s help has built a great church. Katrina destroyed their church building and scattered their congregation, but now the church has rebuilt and has almost reached their pre-Katrina numbers. He has preached at virtually every Pastor’s Conference and Evangelism Conference in the country. He’s a regular favorite here at New Orleans Seminary. He has accomplished what few ministers have in the SBC. Electing him would not be Affirmative Action. It would be recognizing a great Baptist pastor and leader.

    I would say the same thing is true about every minority member of an SBC board that I know. We have two African Americans on our NOBTS Trustee Board. One is a very successful man with experience in business and government who serves in a position of significance (and is a member of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church); the other was a Vice President for Business Affairs at Howard University. To be very frank, I find the suggestion that it would take unqualified ethnic persons to take positions of leadership in the SBC to be a racist notion. I hope you were not suggesting that.

    Finally, as an addendum, if you think that Southern Baptists seeking racial reconciliation and greater ethnic representation is a new thing, you are sadly mistaken. I know that all the seminaries have been trying to nurture students who are African American, Korean, Hispanic, and other minority groups to complete PhDs so they can be elected to our faculties. We need many more who have achieved the credentialing to serve in this way. We aren’t doing this for Affirmative Action. We are doing it so our seminary faculties reflect the racial diversity of our churches, and to secure their help in training the next generation of leaders. There is some ethnic/racial diversity on all of our boards and most of our seminary faculties.

    The SBC is dramatically more diverse than it was in 1990. Just as one example, there are 1,000 Korean SBC churches, and the largest SBC church in the Maryland/Delaware convention is Korean. They contribute to the Cooperative Program, so not having representatives on boards would be “taxation without representation.”

    These diverse groups teach us much about being sensitive to different traditions, and the way we say things, and our presuppositions. And they teach us more about how we should minister in today’s world. We need them more than they need us.

    I know you’re not a fan of the SBC, and that’s fine. But I hope you’ll recognize that the good of this current initiative by the SBC Executive Committee to be more intentionally representative and balanced is much more important than just for getting in a cheap shot against SBC leadership. This is one of those things about which we should rise above the fray, agree, and be of one mind. I hope we will all try to be more inclusive with regard to ethnicity and race so that Sunday morning is no longer the most racially segregated day in America. Let’s work together toward that goal.

  4. Dr. Lemke,

    Welcome. Let me try to respond, point by point.

    I didn’t raise the issue of Affirmative Action as a smokescreen. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t regularly critique certain Southern Baptists. I’ve been blogging about Baptist life including Southern Baptists since 2005. I’m also a student of Baptist history. My father is a Baptist historian and I’ve focused on Baptists in both my M.A. and Ph.D. studies at Baylor University. Aside from hosting a Baptist blog about almost exclusively Baptist themes for 6 years now, I’ve published several articles in Baptist publications such as Baptist History & Heritage, The Whitsitt Journal, American Baptist Quarterly, Christian Ethics Today, Texas Baptist History and most recently a book published by Smyth & Helwys.

    Most people who stop by understand my perspective and know that I am often critical of the SBC. However, I do – from time to time – applaud the work of certain Southern Baptists. Prior to this entry, I penned a post applauding Richard Land’s efforts trying to ban tobacco in MLB. I’ve also applauded the pro-environment viewpoints of Russell Moore on numerous occasions.

    With the bottom portion of this post, I was simply pointing out that a denomination known for its opposition to Affirmative Action has interestingly embraced what I referred to as a Baptist-style affirmative action program with these ethnic diversity recommendations.

    Also, I do indeed understand that the SBC President is not an employee of the Southern Baptist Convention. Perhaps you should revisit the EC’s recommendations. Note that those recommendations extend to the agencies and seminaries. It was those “employees” that I had in mind with my statement.

    I am quite aware of the racial reconciliation efforts, specifically with regard to 1995. I know my Baptist history. I’m quite certain I’ve read every single book and major journal article (and dissertation) on the subject of the SBC and race (even that atrocious book by Jerry Sutton that thankfully received a strong critique from now Dr. Roach [whose dissertation I’ve also read]). My most recent article – which is being mailed to subscribers this month – is on T.B. Maston and featured in the Journal of Texas Baptist History.

    See, I’m not an anti-Affirmative Action. And affirmative action is not about hiring unqualified candidates. Quotas often lead to the hiring of unqualified candidates. But we’re not talking about quotas here. Certainly these recommendations are calling for “intentionality” to quote the EC’s Anderson. This means a consideration of race/ethnicity in the hiring process. How else am I to interpret the recommendation and the motivation behind the recommendation as articulated by Anderson?

    I don’t believe I am misrepresenting Richard Land. I provided a link to Land’s words. Readers can choose to read him in the appropriate fuller context if they wish. I don’t think it is incorrect to assert, however, that Richard Land believes that race should be a non-factor when determining who gets what position. He certainly has characterized affirmative action as discrimination.

    Generally, I do agree with Land on the issue of race. I disagree with him on the affirmative action question as did a number of prominent African-American Southern Baptists back in the late 1990s. See the handful of pages on AA in Hankins’ Uneasy in Babylon. It is worth noting that Richard Land has been publicly chastised on multiple occasions over the last three years for his racially offensive language re:Jews. The person doing the chastising was Land’s own friend Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League. I’ve blogged about that here and I’m sure Google will turn up numerous articles on the incidents.

    Actions speak louder than words in my opinion. That’s some wisdom shared with me during my time working for civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis. There are better models in Southern Baptist history and even modern Southern Baptist life for racial reconciliation and racial equality than Richard Land. No guy who led the charge against any Civil Rights Act is ever going to be lifted up as a race relations hero.

    I agree that Luter being elected president or 1st VP is no case of Affirmative Action. I understand that. Although, it would seem that his nomination is in part related to the ethnic diversity emphasis. I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I applaud the pro-diversity push. I applaud nominating Luter. Can the SBC really wait any longer to elect a person of color as President? Ask Luter about how National Baptists still view the SBC. The SBC could go a long way to clearing up misperceptions and stereotypes by electing an African-American. Luter is obviously qualified.

    I think the problem is that you view affirmation action (“intentionality” “intentional diversity” whatever you want to call it) as something bad. I don’t. Many don’t especially minorities. I just think that an intentional diversity emphasis should be recognized for what it is, a Baptist-style affirmative action program.

    Regarding your “to be frank” comment, I think you should perhaps re-read what I wrote. Who used the word “unqualified”? I did not. You did. It is you that clearly associated “unqualified” with “affirmative action.” Not me.

  5. Well said,BDW,Well said. Your response to Dr. Lemke would reflect the majority viewpoint of most African Americans.

  6. Aaron,
    Interestingly absent from your remarks was what I ultimately asked — your commitment to work constructively and in a unified way toward working for greater racial/ethnic representation in the boards and entities of the SBC. I’m sorry that your agenda seems to prohibit you from joining hands and working toward this impotant goal.

    Dwight, old friend from SWBTS days, did you really read my article all the way through? I find your comments interesting in the light of the fact that the main point of my article was a strong defense of the worthiness and desirability of my friend Fred Luter serving as President of the SBC.

  7. Dr. Lemke,

    I think there continued to be misunderstanding of my mission on your part.

    I’m not a Southern Baptist. I have been a member of churches affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship since 1992. So, as someone who is not a Southern Baptist, I’m not going to be participating in this endeavor.

    Like I said earlier, I’ve been blogging here at since 2005 – a number of years before your recent entry to the Baptist blogosphere.

    I don’t have an “agenda.” This is what I do and have done in those years: I observe, report on and offer informed opinion-analysis about all things Baptist related. I generally try to incorporate an historical perspective into my posts as I am an interdisciplinary historian.

    The Baptist groups that I am a part of have already tackled the important subject of racial/ethnic diversity. We at the CBF elected our first African-American moderator a number of years ago. We’ve also had female moderators and an Asian-American moderator.

    I agree that diversity is important. Glad Southern Baptists have finally gotten around to making good on promises made 16 years ago. My observation has been, in my years blogging, that Dwight McKissic has been preaching to an empty room.

    He’s made great points about the glaring lack of racial diversity at the most visible levels of Southern Baptist leadership. But clearly there was a failure to act. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it has something to do with the still conservative racial views of white Southern Baptists with regard to achieving equality and diversity. Glad to see that Southern Baptists are making convention-wide recommendations on how to intentionally achieve that diversity.

    As the lone African-American on the Exec Committee pointed out in the article I linked to, diversity doesn’t happen on its own. There has to be intentionality behind it.

    Also, I think what Dwight was applauding was my response to your mischaracterization of affirmative action. You clearly conveyed your belief that affirmative action efforts are about putting unqualified racial minorities into positions of power (thus effectively discriminating against qualified whites).

    Like I noted earlier, your view of the aims and goals behind affirmative action programs and what affirmative action actually entails is quite distorted. In Uneasy in Babylon, Barry Hankins interviewed a number of leading African-American Southern Baptists who made a similar point. These black Southern Baptists recognized that affirmative action isn’t a bad thing, those aren’t two bad words, and diversity doesn’t happen by itself. Wrongs have to be righted and in order to be racially inclusive, there must be intentionality.

    Looks like the Executive Committee has come around to embracing that idea. Great!

  8. Dr. Lemke,
    Yes, I did read your article all the way through. We are all in agreement that Fred Luter would be great as President of the SBC in 2012.
    My “Well said” comment had to do with BDW’s analysis of affirmative action contrasted with Richard Land’s perspective.
    I do not believe affirmative action needs defending nor do I believe the upcoming Phoenix SBC Racial inclusive initiative needs to be defended. Both are steps designed to move America and the SBC toward a Kingdom culture (Rev. 5:8,9).
    It appeared to me that the main purpose of your article was to chastise BDW for comparing affirmative action with the new Baptist race initiative.
    Furthermore, you appeared to have been shielding Richard Land from the appearance of duplicity- being anti affirmative action and pro SBC race inclusive. Forgive me for misunderstanding your intent.

  9. Rev. Luter’s election in the SBC is a great step toward diversifying the church’s leadership and eventually the lay membership, but I think it will be quite some time before race relations are where they should be to reflect the rest of America’s views. I wanted to share this video on Reverend Luter’s election with you. I think you’ll appreciate how it analyzes news coverage from different sources to show various perspectives on the changes in the church. I hope you’ll considering embedding the video in your post.



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