Baptist leader wants more diversity in convention

Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter

JACKSON – (AP) Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter said he wants more diversity in the 16-million-member organization.

Luter, the first black president of the convention, was in Jackson for the 177th gathering of the Mississippi Baptist Convention. After delivering a sermon at First Baptist Church of Jackson, Luter told reporters his selection as president shows a commitment to increasing diversity, but he said there's more to be done.

Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter

“For years this convention has been talking about how they want other ethnic groups in the convention. This year, June 19 in New Orleans, La., we stopped talking about it and we put our money where our mouth's at and they voted me as president, the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention,'' Luter said. “However, it cannot stop with me. We've got to recruit other African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, we've got to have more diversity in the convention.''

The message of Luter's sermon during the last day of the gathering on Oct. 31 was that only God can solve the problems facing the United States. He received standing ovations when he was introduced and at the closing of the sermon.

Luter preached that God can change anyone's life for the better, “no matter their race, no matter their culture, no matter their heritage, the gospel is personal and practical for everyone.''

“The only color God is concerned about is red, because that's the color of the blood of Jesus of Christ,'' he said, drawing applause from the mostly-white audience.

Scott Thomas II, 26, pastor of New Henleyfield Southern Baptist Church, and his 22-year-old wife, Carley, drove to the gathering from Henleyfield in south Mississippi. They were pleased with Luter's sermon.

“He's a strong man of the church, committed to the gospel and that's reflected in his testimony from the pulpit,'' Scott Thomas said. “If you've got a heart for the lost, your preaching will reflect that.''

Luter is the senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.