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By J. Smith

 Fred Luter Jr., pastor of a largely black church in New Orleans, was elected first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention on Tuesday, the highest position held yet by a black person, The New York Times reports. Luter’s election is one of the first tangible steps in a new action plan to increase diversity in the organization’s leadership and overcome a history of racial exclusion.

“With 16 million members, the Convention is the country’s largest Protestant denomination, but the numbers are dwindling,” the Times reports. “Its traditional constituency is aging, and recruitment has not kept pace with the country’s demography. Church leaders say that as the population becomes more diverse, they must act more aggressively to draw in minority churches and followers.”

While its great that the organization is taking serious strides toward having their leadership reflect the diversity of the country, the seeming tokenism is reminiscent of the way the rest of the country was integrated – not because of a high moral authority, but because money may force their hand. The population of the congregation is shrinking, so their money is too. Therefore, expanding the congregation is about more than increasing access to the church, and more about ensuring their sustainability and their revenue. Pessimistic, maybe, but a factor that cannot be ignored, nonetheless.

“The Southern Baptist Convention was established in 1845 after a break with Northern churches over their opposition to slavery. Until the late 20th century it was a defiantly white institution, often promoting segregation,” the Times reports. “In a landmark resolution in 1995, the Convention issued a public apology for its past racism and opposition to civil rights laws. Since then, the number of black, Hispanic and Asian affiliates has grown and now account for 19 percent of the denomination’s churches.”

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