Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Good Baptist

I wasn't raised a Baptist....Not sure just what I was.....No...I met and married a "Good Baptist Woman" as I have jokingly called my wife for years and converted to the Baptist Faith around 1987...when I was 29.  I was Baptized in 1992, the Sunday after Easter.....I remember because aside from graduations and my wedding of course, it was amongst the few times I remember my mother being totally ecstatic...
See, I was out there for a minute...and I suppose when she saw that Reverend dip me into that cold water in the Basement pool of Pinn Memorial Baptist Church that was a signal that the prodigal son had come back to the shore..... I'm kidding of course...I was never too far out of pocket..I had too many guardian angels.... (That's an inside joke of course...You'd have to be a member of my family to get that!)

So being a Baptist and all, I have probably willfully attended church more than I did prior to my conversion, but I must admit that I haven't kept up on Baptist politics. 

Yesterday I saw a curious article in the paper about the "Southern Baptist Convention" and how they have named their first African American President in History. Another Negro First! 

Rev. Fred Luter Jr.,(Pictured above ) the man poised to become the first African American president of the nation's largest Protestant denomination when messengers, as the convention calls representatives sent to the convention meeting, vote next week in New Orleans

It's a big step for a denomination that was formed out of a pre-Civil War split with northern Baptists over slavery and for much of the last century had a dubious reputation for supporting racial segregation and Jim Crow in the Southern States. This is a very big step indeed!

In recent years, faced with growing diversity in America and declining membership in its churches, the denomination has made a sincere effort to distance itself from that past. Many Southern Baptists believe the charming and charismatic Reverend Fred Luter is the man who can lead them forward. Not to be cynical, but you can't help , if you're someone like me...wondering how long before the honeymoon will be over.

Reverend  Luter's rise through the Southern Baptist ranks has been a slow and steady process, the result of the hard work, leadership and creativity that allowed him to turn a struggling inner-city church of just 50 members into the largest Southern Baptist church in Louisiana by weekly attendance. No mean feat!

The 55-year-old Fred Luter grew up in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward, the middle of five children raised by a divorced mother who worked as a seamstress "not to make ends meet, but just to make them kind of wave at each other," he said. The family walked to a local Baptist church every Sunday and Luter's mother made sure all the children attended.

Luter drifted away from religion after leaving home for college, just as I and many others did, but at age 21 he found himself making a promise to God that he has kept to this day.

 After a near-fatal motorcycle accident landed him in the hospital, "I said, 'God, if you save my life, I'll serve you for the rest of my life,'" Luter said.

He survived and soon began preaching on street corners every Saturday with a group of friends from church.
"We had no training," he said. "We were just really excited about what God was doing in our lives and we wanted to share it with others. We got ridiculed a lot."

Fred Luter kept it up for nine years before someone suggested he apply to become the pastor at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church. Formerly a white church, the membership had changed to African-American with changing demographics of the neighborhood.

"When I came to Franklin Avenue it was a bunch of women and kids," Luter said. "You could count the number of men on one hand."

So Luter bought a pay-per-view TV boxing match between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns and told the women in his church to invite every man they knew.

About 25 men showed up, some of whom didn't realize they were coming to the pastor's house, Luter said. Nonetheless, they happily dumped their beer to go in and see the match. Afterward, Luter invited them to come to church.

"The boxing match was on a Friday night and the following Sunday five of those guys were at church," Luter said. He recognized them during the service and all the women started applauding. After church, they lavished attention on the men.

"The next Sunday there were more men," Luter said. "Once we started the men's program we found that men draw not only other men, but men draw women. Word started spreading."

The rest is as they say, history! Today he Pastors a Mega Church!

Fred Luther has not been elected President of the Southern Baptists yet...but the way it looks...He doesn't have any opposition or challengers....This is all good....In 1962 , this would have been unheard of...It probably would have been unheard of in 1992!  I just wonder if these Southern Baptists have truly turned a corner here? or is this all just smoke and mirror?  Only time will tell.  This still aint post racial America.

1 comment:

Arlene said...

Cousin, I'm a good Baptist and I'm amazed too! My pastor, past president of the Nat'l Baptist Convention (conservative blacks) tried to reunite with the Progressive Baptists (much more liberal), but to no avail. We've had white preachers from the Southern convention preach and I was pleasantly surprised at the level of homilectic skill and preaching ability they have. Those white men preached right up there with Pastor Shaw, Rev. Walker, Rev. Hall, and even your pastor!! Those men were speaking a word for the Lord and Christ drew those listening hearts to Himself!!
We, black people, know from our own history that the Lord changes minds and hearts of evildoers. What a mighty God we serve!!


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