WHEN Fred Luter, the pastor of a large congregation in a flood-damaged section of New Orleans, assumes the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) at its annual meeting in June, it will not be the usual passing of the baton for America’s largest Protestant denomination. Mr Luter, who is black, will become the standard-bearer of a group with a long history of racism.
Prejudice coloured the SBC from its very founding in 1845, as a breakaway sect from the anti-slavery Baptists of the north. (After the civil war, most black Baptists in the South split off from the SBC.) During the civil-rights struggle, although the convention’s leaders endorsed integration, most Southern Baptist pastors and most of their flocks were reliable defenders of white supremacy.
作为抵制农奴制度美北浸信会的独立分支，美南浸信会(SBC)从1845年成立之初就披上了歧视的色彩。 内战过后，南方的浸信会黑人大部分都离开了美南浸信会(SBC)。 在民权斗争期间，尽管教会领导支持黑人加入，但南方的很多浸信会牧师和教会组织都坚持维护白人的优势地位。
In 1995 the convention formally apologised and promised to make amends. In recent years it has passed a series of resolutions requiring its churches to include more black members and to appoint black leaders. (It has also considered breaking with its past by dropping the “Southern”, becoming instead the awkward “Great Commission Baptists”.)
1995年，该教会做出正式道歉并承诺做出改善。 近年来，教会已经通过了一系列要求教会招募更多黑人会员以及任命黑人领导的决议。 （它还考虑过和过去划清界线，把名字中的“南部”一词去掉，改名为不太顺口的“浸信会大委员会”）
Mr Luter’s accession will be the most visible sign yet that Southern Baptists are making progress on this front. And progress is necessary. They may be America’s second-largest group of Christians after Catholics—16m strong—but their numbers have levelled off, and have probably even waned a bit. If the denomination wants to flourish, it will have to find new members among minorities. It is slowly doing so: whereas in 1990 95% of Southern Baptist congregations were white, only 80% are nowadays.
然而路特的当选显然说明南方浸信会已经在这方面取得进步。 进步也是必不可少的。 该教会有望成为美国仅次于天主教（一千六百万教友）的第二大基督教会，但是他们（美南浸信会）的教友数目最近有持平的趋势，甚至可能有所下降。 美南浸信会要想发展壮大，必须在少数人群中寻找新会员， 这种行动已经缓步开展： 1990年时南方浸信会成员白人占95%，而今的白人只占80%。
Their next leader is a living embodiment of that shift. Mr Luter took over Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in 1986, when the congregation had dwindled to a few dozen because its mostly white membership had fled to the suburbs. Mr Luter built it into a mostly black gathering that had 7,000 members when Hurricane Katrina struck, in 2005. The church, which stood in nine feet (three metres) of water after the storm, has been rebuilt; its flock now numbers about 5,000.
Yet Mr Luter’s rise to the presidency of the organisation is more than a matter of symbolism. He is a true-blue Southern Baptist who inveighs against gay marriage and abortion from the pulpit, but also displays a gift for passionate, humorous preaching that has its roots in his past as a street minister. This has made him an inspiring speaker at previous SBC conventions. The man who first suggested his candidacy, Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, told a reporter then that he believed Mr Luter would be elected “on merit, regardless of race or colour”. But, he added, “he gives us an opportunity…to say something about who we want to be.”
然而路特升职为会长不单是形式上的象征。 他是一位坚定的南方浸信会信徒，在讲坛上常常怒斥同性婚姻和堕胎；他还展现了幽默热情的布道天赋，作为街道牧师他的天赋展露无遗。 这也让他成为以往美南浸信会(SBC)集会上振奋人心的演说家。 首位推举他为候选人的是Danny Akin，北卡罗拉威客森林()南方浸信会神学院的院长，他告诉记者:路特的当选是因为德才,与种族肤色无关。 但他补充道，“他给我们一个机会...告诉世人我们究竟想成为什么样的人。”