PHOENIX—The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which has mainly been a white denomination since its Deep South inception before the Civil War, is beginning to look more like an ethnic mosaic.
Biblical diversity that is anchored in Rev. 14:6 was on display June 12-15 at the Phoenix Convention Center. On June 14 messengers voted to approve a set of recommendations aimed at making the SBC’s leadership positions more reflective of the growing ethnic diversity in its churches.
The standard that Southern Baptists are raising is that their identity would more closely resemble that of every nation, tribe, tongue, and people. The presence of various ethnicities on the platform was noticeable.
“This is not a societal issue, this is not a cultural issue, this is a theological issue,” said Micah Fries, second vice president, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and pastor, Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church, St. Joseph. “Southern Baptists should look like the Kingdom. I do think there’s this sense that people are awakening to the fact that this matters to God.”
Fries speaks from experience, with Frederick Boulevard on any given Sunday counting nearly 100 ethnic attendees within its total number of 700 or so.
“I think we teach it and we model it,” he said. “We invest our people around the world in other cultures.”
SBC Executive Committee Member Randy Johnson, pastor, Calvary Baptist Church, Republic, said this development can only make the SBC stronger.
“Whites, Asian, blacks, Hispanics, Indians—it doesn’t matter who they are,” Johnson said,
“There’s one Messiah, there’s one Savior, there’s one Lord, and He’s the common denominator, but everything else is flexible.”
A high-profile symbol of this growing ethnic diversity is Fred Luter, who was elected SBC first vice president June 14. Luter, the 25-year pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, is thought to be an appropriate and even the preferred presidential candidate next year when the annual meeting comes to New Orleans. If elected, he would become the first African-American president in the history of the 167-year-old convention.
“I think first and foremost it’s substantial,” Fries said. “When we affirm a deserving man in that manner, the fact is that he is an African-American in a very Anglo denomination—it is enormous for us to be able to acknowledge that and embrace that. And the other thing I like about it is that for a lot of people, it’s not going to be a big deal. They’re color-blind, to a degree. He’s just Southern Baptist, like us. He is just part of the family.”
Bob Loggins, MBC prayer and spiritual awakening specialist and the only black staffer with an office in Jefferson City, said the hope that Luter will become SBC president next year in New Orleans is in tune with the vibe of every nation, tribe, tongue, and people that is flowing through the denomination right now.
“In our diversity there is unity in Christ,” Loggins said. “In our differences there is a love of God. There’s agape love. We are the people of God.”
ALLEN PALMERI/associate editor