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Southern Baptists poised to elect first black president

June 19, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • The Rev. Fred Luter Jr., pastor of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, greets congregation members during Sunday services.
The Rev. Fred Luter Jr., pastor of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in… (Gerald Herbert / Associated…)

The Southern Baptist Convention is expected to elect its first black president at its annual meeting on Tuesday: Fred Luter Jr., a New Orleans street preacher who revived his church in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The meeting began Tuesday morning at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, but the presidential election is not expected to start until 2:50 p.m. Central time.

As of Tuesday morning, Luter, 55, pastor of the roughly 5,000-member Franklin Avenue Baptist Church less than five miles away, was the only candidate.

But that doesn't mean he's a shoo-in.

There can always be last-minute additions to the slate of candidates, including walk-ups, said Sing Oldham, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention who spoke to the Los Angeles Times from the convention center Tuesday.

"Last year we had a person who came up and self-nominated, so that could happen again," Oldham said.

If so, there will be balloting for a vote. If Luter is the only candidate, Oldham said, "the registration secretary would cast the convention ballot and he would be elected by acclamation."

The election and the rest of the annual meeting program are being broadcast through an online video stream.

After the election, a presidential news conference is scheduled at 4:20 p.m. Central, with updates expected from the Baptist Press.

Luter's election would be a milestone for the nation's largest Protestant denomination at a time when minorities make up a growing share of the membership, about 20%, but have faced recent controversies concerning church leaders' racially motivated rhetoric.

Also expected to make a presentation at Tuesday's annual meeting is Richard Land, a prominent Southern Baptist leader who saw his weekly radio show canceled this month after he used it to criticize President Obama and black pastors' response to the Trayvon Martin shooting. Land has apologized for the remarks, meeting with Luter and other African American pastors who said they had forgiven him.

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Join Molly on Google+ and Twitter @mollyhf. Email: molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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