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 MooreAnd 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 MooreABP: 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?