Pastor Fred Luter, of New Orleans, acknowledges the crowd at the Southern Baptist Convention prior to to being elected as the first African-American vice president of the organization, Tuesday, June 14, 2011, in Phoenix.
Several Baptist leaders said Luter becomes the prohibitive favorite for the post, to be filled in a potentially historic election here in June.
SBC Today, a denominational news web site, carried the announcement earlier today. Youth pastor Fred "Chip" Luter III separately confirmed Luter's announcement this morning.
Luter appears to be the first candidate to declare for the post, which by custom comes vacant this summer when the Rev. Bryant Wright of Marietta, Ga. finishes his second one-year term.
For months, other officials in the nation's largest Protestant denomination have been urging Luter to run.
Many began openly promoting Luter for the top job last summer, moments after he was elected the convention's first African-American first vice president at the convention's last annual meeting.
"If he runs, he'll get elected overwhelmingly. He may be unopposed," said Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
No other candidates have announced so far.
Akin said other potential candidates are judging their chances on whether Luter decides to run.
"I'd be very surprised if there were any other substantial candidates," said Russell Moore of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
The Southern Baptist president has no authority over the denomination's 51,000 autonomous churches and missions, nor even much daily operational influence over its educational and missionary machinery.
But the president exerts influence by appointing the most important committees in Baptist organizational life. The denomination's wrenching turn toward theological conservatism in the 80s was triggered by the election of a succession of conservative presidents.
Akin, Moore and others say they are eager to elect Luter, both for his leadership gifts and to demonstrate Southern Baptist acceptance of the changing face of their work.
Luter is widely known around the convention, having preached in hundreds of pulpits and built relationships with thousands of pastors and church members.
Moreover, supporters said he is widely admired as a pastor in his own right. Luter built Franklin Avenue into a major success, then led his congregation in rebuilding after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Akin said several Baptists congregations around the country tried to recruit Luter as a pastor or co-pastor, believing he might be available after Katrina.
"He was like Peyton Manning as a free agent."
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SOURCE: The Times-Picayune