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June 20th, 2012
11:51 AM ET

New Southern Baptist leader: Former street preacher, Katrina survivor

By Ashley Hayes, CNN

(CNN) – Hospitalized at age 21 with compound fractures and serious head injuries after a motorcycle accident, Fred Luter Jr. decided to give his life to God and enter the ministry.

A native of New Orleans' impoverished lower Ninth Ward neighborhood, Luter was the third of five children raised by a divorced mother who worked as a seamstress and a surgical scrub assistant, according to Thom Rainier, president and CEO of the Nashville, Tennessee-based LifeWay Christian Resources and a friend of Luter's.

Although he had been active in the church as a child, Luter "began to do some serious reflecting on his life" after the 1977 crash, according to a Web posting on Rainier's website. "God used that incident to bring him back to serving him," Rainier wrote.

And what a long way he's come since. On Tuesday, Luter, now the pastor of the 8,000-plus-member Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, was elected the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, an organization that began as a pro-slavery church more than 160 years ago. His term officially begins Wednesday night.

"This is a brand-new convention," Luter told CNN on Wednesday, calling his election "Exhibit A, to the world, that this convention is now ready to open its doors."

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However, he said, he and the convention are opposed to same-sex marriage, acknowledging that he and President Barack Obama differ "on this particular subject."

"I'm a man of the book," he said. "I believe in the word of God. I believe in the Bible, and God has spoken about marriage. Marriage is between a man and a woman ... no one can change that," he said.

"All of us, as believers, all of us love everybody, including those in the gay community," he said. "We're going to embrace them as far as who they are, but we're also going to stand on biblical principles that the word of God has already established."

Rainier said of Luter's election: "The timing is late, but the choice is right." He wrote on his website that he has rarely known a greater preacher or family man. "One of my greatest fears is following Fred Luter speaking," he said.

Luter said he was surprised to have been unopposed, given the size of the 16 million-member organization and the fact that it's an election year, but the support he received from the floor "just brought tears to my eyes."

His election comes 17 years after the convention apologized for the denomination's onetime support of white supremacist and segregationist policies.

He told CNN on Wednesday that the organization's history cannot be denied, but he noted that "every one of us has a history ... there's nothing we can do about our past, but there's a lot we can do about our future."

Following what Luter called his 1977 "Road to Damascus" moment, referring to the apostle Paul's conversion experience in the Bible, he began preaching on a street corner.

"With no church to preach in, Luter set up shop every Saturday at noon on the corner of Galvez and Caffin Avenue, where he would preach to anyone who would listen," according to a biography posted on the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church website. In 1983, he preached his first church sermon at the Law Street Baptist Church in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans. By 1986, he was preaching regularly at Greater Liberty Baptist Church when he heard about the opening at Franklin Avenue.

Once an all-white church, the Franklin Avenue congregation changed to mostly African-American members as urban renewal resulted in whites leaving the neighborhood, the church's website says. When Luter was approved as its new pastor, the church had 65 members and was "struggling."

But Luter implemented an outreach strategy known as "Frangelism," according to the church. The "Fran" stood for friends, relatives, associates and neighbors.

He also focused on bringing men into the church, reasoning, "The man is the family. If he comes to church he's going to bring his family with him," according to the church biography. To foster male church involvement, Luter would have men over to watch a sporting event and "then make his pitch for God," the church said.

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"When Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns fought, I had about 25 guys at the house that night," Luter said in the church biography. "Many of them are still with us."

Franklin Avenue had more than 7,000 members by August 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast and triggered massive flooding in New Orleans. The Ninth Ward neighborhood was among the hardest hit.

The Franklin Avenue Baptist Church building "took on more than eight feet of water," according to its website. "The church was destroyed, and members were scattered all over the U.S., struggling to comprehend what had happened while considering the possibility of having to build new lives elsewhere."

It was a low point for Luter, Rainier recalled in his website posting. He remembered seeing Luter in the halls of LifeWay not long after Katrina and speaking with him about it. As he began talking about it, Rainier wrote, Luter broke into tears.

" 'Thom,' he began, 'I just hurt for our people,' " Rainier wrote. " 'They have no homes. They have no church. They have lost family. They have lost so much.'

"The moment was powerful for me," Rainier said. "You see, Fred and (his wife) Elizabeth Luter had lost so much too. Their home was destroyed and their lives were displaced. But there was not a moment of self-pity. There was no questioning of the will of God. Yes, there were tears. But those were the tears of a shepherd who loved his flock so much that he could hardly bear their pain."

Luter began attempting to reunite his church, according to the Franklin Avenue website. He found displaced members, tried to get them home and traveled all over the country to preach in cities where they were.

"New FABCs (Franklin Avenue Baptist Churches) sprang up in cities like Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Houston, Texas, but Luter wasn't satisfied," wanting a New Orleans church for members to return to, the biography said.

He was able to strike a deal with Pastor David Crosby of a Baptist church in the city's Lakeview neighborhood that had been spared major destruction from Katrina and was able to reopen within a few months. For the next three years, Luter held 7 a.m. services at the church while rebuilding Franklin Avenue.

In the process, the two pastors forged a friendship they say will last a lifetime, the church said. Crosby was to nominate Luter for his Southern Baptist Convention presidency.

The new Franklin Avenue sanctuary opened on April 6, 2008, the church said, and its membership has continued to grow.

The church notes that Luter is not naive about the Southern Baptist Convention's past. In 1986, when he began at Franklin Avenue, the church was considering leaving the convention, it said.

"In a move that could be described as fortuitous, he told his organization that he believed 'this convention had a heart for evangelism, for discipleship and reaching people in difficult times,' " according to Franklin Avenue's website. "Not knowing what would happen years later, he convinced them to stay."

Luter has been married to his wife, Elizabeth, for 32 years, according to the church. The two have a son and a daughter.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity

soundoff (225 Responses)
  1. ComfortMontage

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    October 1, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  2. frying food

    Hello, i feel that i saw you visited my website thus i got here to return the desire?.I am attempting to in finding things to enhance my site!I suppose its adequate to use a few of your ideas!!

    November 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  3. Pee

    I believe that racial discrimination will continue till the end of the world, because some people seem to believe their skin color is their most valuable assert- more valuable than their brains.

    June 28, 2012 at 1:21 am |
    • jnuey

      just like 99.9% of blacks will vote for Obama. If Obama was a Republican 99.9% of blacks would still vote for him. More racist than whites. Could you imagine if 99.(% of whites voted for McCain or Romeny?

      June 28, 2012 at 2:17 am |
  4. Jack

    All are welcome to visit ... thestarofkaduri.com

    June 27, 2012 at 12:44 am |
  5. Socal Reggae

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=td8-LEoQZuw&w=640&h=390]

    June 26, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  6. Code

    What a jpke. It is as bad as Romney claiming to be a Christian.

    June 26, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  7. kindness

    I Follow Christ . I never wanted proof. I just had faith.

    HE WHO follows Me, walks not in darkness,” says the Lord (John 8:12). By these words
    of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and
    free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus
    Christ.
    The teaching of Christ is more excellent than all the advice of the saints, and he who
    has His spirit will find in it a hidden manna. Now, there are many who hear the Gospel often
    but care little for it because they have not the spirit of Christ. Yet whoever wishes to understand
    fully the words of Christ must try to pattern his whole life on that of Christ.

    What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you
    displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous
    life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it.
    For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the
    philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity,
    except to love God and serve Him alone.

    This is the greatest wisdom—to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the
    world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust in riches that perish. It is vanity also to court
    honor and to be puffed up with pride. It is vanity to follow the lusts of the body and to desire
    things for which severe punishment later must come. It is vanity to wish for long life and
    to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and
    not to make provision for things to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not
    to look ahead where eternal joy abides.
    Often recall the proverb: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear filled with
    hearing.”1 Try, moreover, to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring
    yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences
    and lose the grace of God.

    See for yourself.

    June 25, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  8. Kindness

    Kindness
    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    Accept Jesus christ as your lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from som other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

    June 25, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  9. Seyedibar

    um... does this guy realize that only ten years ago the Southern Baptist convention was caught funding Alabama KKK chapters?

    June 24, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • b4bigbang

      That's odd that the SBC would've funded the KKK 10 yrs ago (2002) seeing as how i found a resolution from the SBC website to the contrary:

      RESOLUTION ON KU KLUX KLAN
      June 1982

      WHEREAS, The Ku Klux Klan is an organization that promotes human hatred, and

      WHEREAS, The Bible teaches that within the Christian family there is no racial distinction, and

      WHEREAS, The gospel of Jesus Christ is to be proclaimed to all people everywhere, no matter the color of their skin.

      Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That the Southern Baptist Convention in its 125th session, meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, go on record as strongly opposing the activities of the Ku Klux Klan and specifically their most recent attempts at membership recruitment and racial terrorism.

      New Orleans, Louisiana

      http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/amResolution.asp?ID=894

      Sure you got your facts right?

      June 25, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  10. Toma Joel

    Thus says The Lord, to the United States and to this wicked generation of modern peoples...

    Hear the word of The Lord your God, The God of Israel, The God of All, for there is no other: You are walking into death... Dead man’s bones lost in a sea of sin, a dark ocean of transgression! You have forgotten Me, days without end, thus must I also forget you in the Day of Harvest. Yet of your evil deeds, even all this wickedness of which you are guilty, I shall remember! Behold, I shall bring it to the forefront, that all who walk in it may receive of My punishment!... Then you shall know, there is a God in Heaven who reigns and judges the earth.

    http://www.TrumpetCallofGodOnline.com

    June 24, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  11. yes saaair

    we are all animals dough dough bird

    June 24, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  12. Victory

    May God forgive you all! May God have mercy on you! May God save this nation from your hateful hearts and bless this country with His love.

    June 24, 2012 at 5:58 am |
  13. Randall

    I would not, and could not quote some of the disgusting comments on this story. Hopefully CNN will remove them ASAP. Other than that, it's nice to see a sect come full circle an recognize our universal humanity.

    June 24, 2012 at 2:40 am |
  14. Truth

    I never understood why people started placing blacks, inappropriately, into positions of power.
    Back in my day, you at least had to be a human being to be given such a position.
    Has this what it has come to? They really expect us to worship under animals now?
    No thanks.

    June 24, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • yuneygirl

      We are all God's Children and he has no respect of person. Someday You will have to repent your words. Even though you are wrong in your thinking, I still have love in my heart for you. That gives me great peace, and I hope that some day you also will live in peace, love, and harmony. This is all the work of one greater than us, and I give him all the Glory.

      June 24, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • p41

      YO' MOMMA!

      June 25, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  15. hemo

    blacks are animals and cannot lead. america is going down hill because of that monkey in the white house! a house that needs to stay white!

    June 23, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • phoodphite

      wow – such hatred. is it because your sister is constantly wincing when she feels that one tooth you have left when you are trying to kiss her? You really should get that looked at. Dental neglect does lead to insanity.

      June 24, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Sean

      I'll bet you're handsome. And well-groomed. I just know it.

      June 24, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • MIMI

      NO, WE'RE GOING DOWN THE HILL BECAUSE OF WHAT THE WHITE MONKEY DID THE EIGHT YEARS HE HELD THE OFFICE. IS IT THAT HARD FOR YOU TO ACCEPT THAT A BLACK PERSON CAN BE JUST AS OR EVEN MORE EDUCATED THAN YOU OR OTHERS LIKE YOU?

      July 12, 2012 at 10:26 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.