Race, Politics & the SBC in Phoenix

Only five days before the Southern Baptist Convention will meet in Phoenix, temperature are rising.  Although I previously wrote that the weather inside the Convention Hall would probably be mild, I am beginning to think I may have to revise my forecast for inside where the 5,000 to 7,000 (estimated) messengers will gather.

Why?  Because of recent comments about a candidate for 1st Vice President.  Bryant Wright will most likely run unopposed for a customary second term as President of the SBC.  However, in Tuesday’s post, Countdown to SBC Phoenix:  What to Expect, I wrote:

“While I do no expect anyone else to run against Wright, the offices of 1st and 2nd Vice President, both largely ceremonial, could provide some drama in an otherwise scripted affair.”

No sooner had I written those words than both Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, both took to Twitter (in an appropriate use of this social networking medium) to trumpet the candidacy of Dr. Fred Luter for 1st Vice President in Phoenix.

Apparently Dr. Luter’s candidacy for this largely ceremonial office will be a precursor to a potential run for President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012.  Dr. Luter is the popular Senior Pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, a SBC megachurch in New Orleans.  Oh, and coincidentally or providentially (depending on your theology), next year’s Annual Meeting of the SBC will be held in New Orleans.  Sounds like favorable conditions for Dr. Luter to be elected to the SBC’s highest office.

I do not know Fred Luter, but I have heard him preach.  From everything that I have heard or read about Dr. Luter, he seems to be a fine man of God who is being used by the Lord to reach his community with the Gospel of Christ.  In that regard, he is really no different than Bryant Wright or Johnny Hunt or Frank Page or Bobby Welch, the current and preceding three Presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention.

However, there seems to be one thing that distinguishes Dr. Luter from the others — he is African-American.  While the SBC has made great strides in recent years in reaching out to ethnic minorities, the nation’s largest Protestant body continues to be comprised of mostly Anglo congregations.  Some leaders within the SBC seem to think that the election of Dr. Luter to be President of the Convention next year in New Orleans would be a positive step for Southern Baptists to take. 

In several Tweets over the last few days, both Dr. Danny Akin and Dr. Russell Moore, have shared their enthusiasm for a Luter candidacy, both this year in Phoenix and next year in New Orleans:  

@drmooreRussell Moore

And we should elect him pres next yr in New Orleans! RT@DannyAkin: honored to nominate Fred Luter 4 SBC 1st V.P. of SBC nxt wk in Phoenix.
 

The Associated Baptist Press, reporting on this development, went so far as to title their story, “Professor says Southern Baptists should elect black president.”  While Dr. Moore did not actually use those words in his earlier Tweet, a subsequent Tweet by Dr. Moore seems to accept ABP’s characterization:

@drmoore Russell Moore
ABP: Moore says Southern Baptists should elect black president http://t.co/H6oCPZJ
 

Because of the Tweets and the ABP article, I am somewhat confused by Dr. Akin’s and Dr. Moore’s comments surrounding a potential Fred Luter candidacy for President of the SBC next year in New Orleans.  Are they supporting Fred Luter, who is African-American, for President of the SBC or are they supporting a Luter candidacy because they believe that “the time has come” for an African-American to be elected President of the SBC?  There is a difference between the two.

The first reason is understandable.  The second is problematic.  Call me idealistic (and conservative), but I thought that we should be electing the best people for positions of leadership — both in the SBC and in the nation — irrespective of their race or ethnicity.  If Dr. Luter is the best person to serve Southern Baptists as their President, then his race should not be used — either positively or negatively — in his candidacy.  This year or next.  Why?  Because, as we have seen in our nation’s election of Barack Obama as President, once race is injected into a campaign, then any questioning of a candidate’s policies and beliefs will be viewed through the lens of race and racial politics.

It is bad enough that many view opposition to President Obama as racist.  It would be tragic for the Southern Baptist Convention to begin to use race — however well intended — in our advocacy of certain candidates for elected office.  Once we start down that road, there maybe no turning back.

It is with some hesitancy that I even publish this article.  When talking about race and politics — even within the SBC — there is plenty of room for misunderstanding.  Do Southern Baptists have an imperfect and sinful past regarding race?  Yes.  Does racism still rear its ugly head throughout the SBC?  Just like in our culture at large.  Do Southern Baptist churches still struggle with issues of race and inclusion?  All the time.

There are some who believe that the SBC still has a huge race problem.  That may or may not be the case, but just because someone believes a race problem exists does not mean that everyone else must unquestionably agree with either the stated proposition or the proposed solutions to said problem. 

Some may believe that Dr. Luter’s election as 1st VP in Phoenix and President in New Orleans will go a long way toward solving the race problems they see within the Convention.  They may, in fact, be right.  Who am I to say?  But, let me state unequivocally that I will not base my vote for any candidate for office — either in the SBC or in our nation — on that candidate’s race or ethnicity.  I will vote for a candidate based upon his stated policies, vision, and, where applicable, voting record.  After all, isn’t that what conservatives are supposed to do?

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About Howell Scott

I have been a Southern Baptist pastor for the last fourteen years. Before entering the ministry, I was a practicing attorney in my homestate of Florida. I have been married to my wife, Brenda, for 18 years and we have three sons, Stephen, Jacob, and Andrew.
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7 Responses to Race, Politics & the SBC in Phoenix

  1. Justin Owens says:

    Great article. Words of wisdom we all need to remember.

  2. joshjcollins says:

    Is there a case where there could be both factors at work? Conceivably, you have a man who is well qualified for the position as well as represents a minority ethnic group that has perhaps been unrepresented previously in positions of influence in the SBC. For me, if I had two equally qualified candidates, and I’m guessing most SBC messengers like me don’t really “know” one candidate from another, besides the baseball card back of church size, giving, previous SBC involvement, and perhaps hearing them preach, then I could conceivably see voting for the one from the minority group as a final determining factor, with both people being equally qualified.

    • Howell Scott says:

      Josh,

      On the road in the middle of nowhere TX. I would agree if you had two identical craandidates (except for race). But, that is never the case.

      • joshjcollins says:

        I certainly couldn’t see it happening in a 2 party system such as the US has (though I can imagine having two equally UNqualified candidates…). The SBC on the other hand has hundreds and thousands of pastors, so I’m assuming there could be 2 very identical and qualified men to choose from (in theory).

      • Howell Scott says:

        Josh,

        You maybe right about the SBC, in theory. In actuality, particularly in the GCR-era, I cannot imagine that there will be two identical (or nearly identical) candidates running, irrespective of race. I could be wrong about New Orleans, but I believe that if another candidate other than Dr. Luter runs, they will most certainly not be identical (race excluded). Just got back from a long day of travel from Dallas, but wanted to follow-up on your comment. Thanks and God bless,

        Howell

  3. Stephen Fox says:

    I have made several comments in a lively thread on this topic in SBC Trends of http://www.baptistlife.com/forums
    Very active and impassioned discussion there. I have reservations about the legitimacy of this move; its integrity given the race history of key folks in the Conservative Resurgence. Key folks at that.
    Lot of transparency about all the aspects of the CR need to be on the table for this to have the virtue, the ingredients of key moment in Baptist history.

    • Howell Scott says:

      Stephen,

      I just got back home after being on the road all day traveling from Dallas. Had a good trip, but am thankful to be home for a few days before driving to Phoenix for the SBC meeting. I have not had the chance to look at the baptistlife forums yet this evening, but will endeavor to do that. I’ll also try to comment over there, but I do agree that this move raises questions of its own. Even though transparency was trumpeted in the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s Final Report and Recommendations, actual transparency within the SBC establishment has been woefully lacking. I don’t look for that to change anytime soon, either. Have a great night. God bless,

      Howell

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