Rev. Fred Luter to Take Over Southern Baptist Convention
On Tuesday, June 19, the Rev. Fred Luter, pastor of New Orleans' Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, was elected as the first Black president of the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) during their annual meeting in New Orleans. The two-day annual meeting's theme was "Jesus: To the neighborhood and the nations."
The previous SBC president is Bryant Wright.
When asked what message he hopes his nomination and SBC presidency will send, Luter, 55, explained that the lesson people should learn is about the importance of faith.
"Why me out of all the thousands and thousands of preachers in this city and state and nation?," he asked. "I believe it's not because I've accomplished so much; I just believe it's because of the faithfulness of God and that He has honored me because of my faithfulness."
According to the Annual Church Profile, the Southern Baptist Convention has approximately 15 million U.S. members and of those, an estimated one million members are Black. The selection of a Black minister for the highest post in the SBC has particular relevance because of how the convention was founded nearly 167 years ago. The Southern Baptist Convention was created in 1845, when participants decided to leave the Northern Baptists because they believed slavery was biblically just.
Many, including Luter, have difficulty believing the racial injustices perpetrated by SBC churches and their members.
"I've been in this thing four years now," he said. "I don't feel a need to leave. All of us got a past. All we can do is apologize about those things and move on."
The SBC is well aware of its racist history and in recent years has made moves — big and small — to address its past and shape its future. In 2011, the convention passed an historic measure calling for more ethnic diversity in their leadership ranks; in 1995, they even formally apologized "to all African-Americans' for their past stance on slavery.
Black Clergy Take New Approach to Fight HIV
African-American clergy are reportedly ready to join the fight against HIV by focusing on HIV testing, treatment and social justice.
"We in public health have done a poor job of engaging African-American community leaders, and particularly Black clergy members, in HIV prevention," said Amy Nunn, lead author of the study and assistant professor of medicine in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
"There is a common misperception that African-American churches are unwilling to address the AIDS epidemic. This paper highlights some of the historical barriers to effectively engaging African-American clergy in HIV prevention and provides recommendations from clergy for how to move forward."
Dozens of interviews and focus group data have been analyzed among 38 African-American pastors and imams in Philadelphia, where racial disparities in HIV infection are especially stark. Seven in 10 new infections in the city are among Black residents. Nearly all of the 27 male and 11 female clergy members said they would preach and promote HIV testing and treatment.
That message would provide a needed complement to decades of public health efforts that have emphasized risky behaviors, Nunn said. Research published and widely reported last year, for example, suggests that testing and then maintaining people on treatment could dramatically reduce new infections because treatment can give people a 96-percent lower chance of transmitting HIV.
According to the paper's analysis, many religious leaders acknowledged that they struggled with how to cope with the epidemic, particularly with challenges related to discussing human sexuality in the church or mosque setting.
"It's my duty as a preacher to tell people to abstain," one pastor told the research team, "but if they're still having sex and they're getting HIV, there has to be another way to handle this."
Natalie Mitchem, pastor of Calvary AME Church and director of the First Episcopal District Health Commission, has been supportive of efforts to engage faith leaders in the fight against HIV. She says HIV awareness and education is a comprehensive part of the AME church's health ministry.
"I feel like it's a very significant, vitally important ministry for churches of all denominations. It's important for us to share the messages about prevention and education in our congregations and in our communities — so that people know we care," Mitchem says.