Durham, N.C. — The election of Rev. Fred Luter as the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention has energized members of the nation's largest Protestant denomination.
The choice of Luter, a pastor in New Orleans, signifies a new direction for the convention, area ministers said Wednesday.
Rev. Jim Baggett, pastor of Angier Avenue Baptist Church in east Durham, said the election sends a message of inclusion.
"We need to be able to reach across the aisle to our brother and sister, and we need to reach across the street to our neighbors as well," Baggett said.
Southern Baptists have long been linked to racial divisiveness, and Baggett said he hopes that Luter's leadership "is a step in the right direction of removing that connotation."
"We've seen over the years a dismissal or a moving away of the traditional Baptist congregation. However, I think, maybe perhaps now with some new energy, a totally different perspective from previous years, that he could really perk the interest," said Rev. Michael Page, the pastor and Antioch Baptist Church in Durham.
Page said he was ecstatic to learn Luter, known for leading his congregation and others in New Orleans through challenges after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city, would lead the national convention.
"I can't ignore the fact that he's an African-American male and he's well known throughout the country, but if I had to pick him because of his character and because of the kind of commitment he has to ministry, I would have easily selected him," Page said.