The Rev. Fred Luter Jr. looked like a preacher. He wore a black suit, white shirt and black shoes with tassels. He swung his arms back and forth during his stories, jumped in excitement and stomped his foot when he delivered a punchline to the sermon or joke.
Nearly six months ago, Luter became the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Now, here he sat at a small table, a tan trench coat engulfing his attire.
After he was encouraged to run, Luter prayed and fasted about the decision. Once he received peace about it, he knew it was God’s plan.
“Amazingly, I was the only person that ran for the position,” Luter said. “That’s unheard of in the year where there’s a presidential election. I looked at it as God’s divine plan that this happened. It’s been unbelievable ever since.”
As president of the SBC, Luter is the spokesman of the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.
“Everybody wants to know what the president thinks,” Luter said. “I’m always asked about commenting on something in the news. It’s because the president represents 45,000 churches and 16 million members. It’s a major responsibility and one I don’t take lightly.”
Luter is pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Luter’s church of 8,000 was scattered, and the building was submerged. The church now has a congregation of about 5,000 people.
Luter recalled how it was the most difficult time in his life. His faith was shaken, and he turned his anger at the situation toward God and the people who were not responding to those dying and in distress in his hometown.
“(Mark 4) really spoke to my heart that God can get us through the difficult times and the storms in life,” Luter said. “Through that scripture, and through my testimony sharing that scripture with others, God renewed my faith and gave me the courage to go on from that point on.”
When he spoke in California Baptist University’s chapel Nov. 26, he encouraged the students through personal experience that if God brought them into something he will bring them out of it. He preached that Christians can overcome anything by trusting in the three P’s: the promise, presence and power of Jesus.
“I thought it was very encouraging hearing about how to deal with unavoidable suffering in the best way possible using those three P’s,” said Marielle Sedin, sophomore communication studies major. “It’s easiest to see someone’s true character during suffering or their lowest points, so I thought this was very applicable for everyone, no matter what stage of their life they’re in.”
Luter stressed that as president he has no power over churches. But it is a position of influence; he hopes to open up the convention to more ethnic groups during his two- year term.
“This convention was started as a result of slavery,” Luter said. “The pastors and the leaders in this convention did not want to give up their slaves, so there was a split between northern Baptist and southern Baptist. … And now hundreds of years later, a great-great-great-greatgrandson of slaves is now the president of this convention.”
Luter has interviewed with journalists such as Diane Sawyer, been contacted by several former U.S. presidents, had articles written about him in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times. He even got a call from the president of the United States, Barack Obama, to congratulate him for being elected.
He recalled that, when he first got saved, friends mocked him, saying that his faith would be a phase and something he would eventually get over.
“It’s been over 30 years, and I ain’t over it yet,” Luter said with a laugh.