I'll react to our SBC 2012 Annual Meeting in New Orleans in several parts. For the first installment, I'll deal with the most significant thing that happened at the meeting: The election of Fred Luter as our President. Below are some random, barely organized thoughts about what we've just seen.
Southern Baptists are JUBILANT about this. Fred Luter received a lengthy standing ovation upon his election. This wasn't—not at all—done begrudgingly. The SBC didn't elect Fred Luter as a part of kowtowing to any hostile pressure from any activist group. Southern Baptists have not had to compromise doctrinally in order to take a bold step forward racially. Nobody made Southern Baptists do this; Southern Baptists did this of their own accord.
And friends, that's the way it ought to happen. If we'd elected a black president a decade ago, but had done so in a half-hearted fashion or under pressure, that would have been progress, but it wouldn't have been as much of an accomplishment as this year was. I'd rather change hearts a decade later than force an insincere change in actions a decade earlier. Southern Baptists have elected a black president, and we have done so in a manner that truly bespeaks our character and that leaves us with a taste for more, I predict.
Once again, SBC life and secular politics are moving on parallel tracks. I've argued before that, for much of our history, the Southern Baptist Convention has been in sync with major movements in broader American society. For example, our Conservative Resurgence occurred roughly simultaneously with the "Reagan Revolution" in American secular politics.
It may strike my readers as strange, considering the (historically bad) nature of President Obama's presidency and the low level of support that President Obama has within the SBC, to encounter a suggestion that Fred Luter's election has anything to do with Barack Obama's election. And yet, I think this is a strange coincidence indeed if it is merely coincidence. Before the 2008 Obama election, I heard people suggesting that they personally were not opposed to having a black president, but that they weren't sure that the country was "ready" to elect one. Was anyone saying the same thing about the SBC presidency? I don't know.
But I do know this: Nobody could make that argument credibly after the Obama election. I think that President Obama's election was an historic turning-point that changed even the people who don't support his radical left-wing statist politics.
The most important audience for this action isn't CNN. I know that a lot of us are secretly hoping somewhere in our inmost being that this action will win us some love and respect from mainstream media and cultural elites. Well, you can forget that. Liberal America hates the Southern Baptist Convention and will do so unless and until we abandon biblical Christianity.
If the folks at CNN aren't the most important audience, then who needs to know that Southern Baptists have elected Fred Luter? The kids in your youth group, pastor—they need to know. They're going to hear the argument that churches are racist, and those kids absolutely are not racists and will need to know how to respond. They need to know that Southern Baptists are not racists. You need to report back to your congregation with a Powerpoint slideshow and you need to make certain that the people in your congregation see a photograph of the new SBC President. The black children and children of other ethnicities in my congregation need to see that they're not attending somebody else's church but are instead a part of a family that includes them.
Along those lines, I want to encourage Fred Luter to continue Bryant Wright's tradition of recording video messages addressed to Southern Baptists. In contrast to what happened with Wright's messages, we SBC pastors need to look for opportunities to put Fred Luter's videos in front of our church members with some regularity (email newsletters, show them on the big screen, perhaps?) Especially if we serve in churches where everyone on the platform is white, we need to seize this opportunity to put someone of another color "on the platform" where we can.
Where do we go from here, as it concerns racial diversity? The long-term future for Southern Baptists, I hope, does not consist of the recruitment of more black churches into our convention. That's not where we need to be going, long-term. Black churches are welcome in the SBC, but we need a higher vision than that. There ought not to be such a thing as a black church or a white church. In the long run, the black church and the white church alike are dead ends, destined to extinction. We need to find racial unity on Sunday morning by worshipping and witnessing and covenanting together within congregations. When we do that (and the transformation is already underway!) then the makeup of our Southern Baptist institutions will necessarily follow all the more.