In New Orleans Tuesday, the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination which once so fiercely backed slavery and segregation that it split from its northern brethren, will elect an African-American as its president.
The Reverend Fred Luter, pastor of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, is 55. He grew up poor in the city and after a motorcycle accident that almost killed him, he says he gave his life to God.
Luter began preaching on street corners and the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church became one of the most well-attended and beloved churches in the South. The Southern Baptist Convention has been losing members over the years, making gains only among non-white ethnic and racial groups. Last year the church began to actively court non-whites for leadership positions and Luter, who impressed church leaders with his preaching and his embrace of conservative values, was tapped to ascend to the top spot.
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