The Southern Baptist Convention has elected its first African-American leader.
The Rev. Fred Luter Jr. was elected president of the nation's largest Protestant denomination on Tuesday at its annual meeting. He is the pastor at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.
The historic move comes as the denomination tries to expand its appeal beyond its traditional white Southern base. Membership and baptisms have been generally declining in recent years.
The Nashville, Tenn.-based denomination was formed before the Civil War in a split with northern Baptists over slavery and had reputation over much of the last century for supporting segregation.
The nation's largest Protestant denomination is set to take its biggest step yet toward resolving its troubled racial past.
On Tuesday, the Southern Baptist Convention plans to vote on whether to elect an African-American president for the first time in the denomination's 167-year history. The Rev. Fred Luter Jr. is so-far unopposed for the position.
Seventeen years ago, Luter was one of the authors of an SBC resolution that apologized to African-Americans for perpetuating racism and resolved to strive for racial reconciliation.
Since that gesture, the denomination has grown its non-white congregations from only 5 percent in 1990 to 20 percent in 2010.
But SBC leadership has not diversified as rapidly as membership, and some leaders say the denomination needs to be more deliberate about that goal.
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