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Wednesday, June 13, 2012 - 11:32am

Baptists Making Big Changes

An organization, rooted in slavery is set to have its first black president. The Southern Baptist Convention is expected to elect Reverend Fred Luter next week at its annual meeting in New Orleans.

Founded in Augusta in 1845, the southern convention split off when northern Baptist leaders refused to appoint slave-owning missionaries. Just last month an SBC leader had to apologize after making racially charged comments about black teenager Trayvon Martin killed in Florida.

Retired Pastor Emmanuel McCall was hired by the SBC in 1968 as a liaison to black churches. He says changes are necessary as white southern Baptists numbers decline.

“The birth rates are down. The attraction rates are down, and the real growth when they think about baptisms, increase in church membership, new church start, is happening among the ethnics.”

McCall says he left the convention in 1996 after 23 years as the organization shifted to reflect more conservative views.

Loyd Allen is a professor of church history at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology. He says the election is very significant.

“I hope it says that the racist past of white Baptists in the south is receding into the past and is fading away.”

Luter's election is not guaranteed, but so far he has no challengers for the position.