Wright, Luter, Thomas elected SBC officers

Thursday, Jun 16, 2011
By Barbara Denman

PHOENIX (BP)--Bryant Wright, pastor of the Atlanta-area Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, was re-elected June 14 to a second term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, leading a slate of officers that included an African American as first vice president.

Messengers elected Louisiana pastor Fred Luter as first vice president and Virginia pastor Eric Thomas as second vice president.

By acclamation, messengers elected John Yeats, director of communications for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, as SBC recording secretary -- a position he has held since 1997 -- and Jim Wells, director of missions for the Tri-County Baptist Association in Nixa, Mo., as registration secretary for the ninth consecutive year. Wells was elected in absentia, as he recovers at home from complications stemming from cancer treatment.

Wright defeated Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., who nominated himself, by a vote of 2,274 to 102. Of the 2,384 votes cast, Wright received 95.39 percent; Drake received 4.26 percent.

Wright was nominated to a second term by David Platt, senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.

In nominating the SBC president for a second term, Platt said Wright "possesses a deep passion for Christ and a deep love for the local church and a deep respect for this convention of churches that he's a part of."

During the past year as SBC president, Platt said Wright "has graciously and faithfully served Southern Baptist churches, encouraging us to work alongside one another in the advancement of Kingdom of Christ and the accomplishment of the Great Commission."

Platt recounted how he had traveled with Wright to the Middle East two weeks earlier and seen him "come beside pastors and IMB missionaries, caring for them, praying for them, weeping with them, standing beside them."

"Amidst all of our talk about the Great Commission, this is a brother who is doing it," Platt said. "He pastors a church full of people who are passionate about spreading the Gospel, both locally and globally. This is not an 'either-or' for them; this is a 'both-and.' The people of Johnson Ferry are active in sharing Christ all across Atlanta, baptizing hundreds of new believers this last year, ministering to urgent spiritual and physical need all across their community. And then they are directly involved in ministries to more than 30 different countries around the world."

Wright has served as pastor of the metro Atlanta church since December 1981 when it was a mission with 20 families. Now the congregation encompasses 8,000 members and seven Sunday morning worship services with a weekly attendance of more than 4,100. Wright has led Johnson Ferry to plant and co-sponsor 13 new churches -- seven in the Atlanta area and six in various areas throughout the United States. The congregation sent 1,600 members on short-term mission trips in 2010.

In nominating himself, Drake offered no speech, succinctly placing his own name into the contest. He was elected as second vice president of the SBC in 2006 in Greensboro, N.C., serving a one-year term.

Drake's self-nomination was not unique in SBC history. Alabama evangelist Anis Shorrosh once placed his own name in nomination for SBC president.

VICE PRESIDENTS

Messengers elected Fred Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, over Rick Ong, a member of First Chinese Baptist Church in Phoenix, for first vice president.

Luter's election came as messengers considered a set of recommendations to increase the ethnic diversity of the convention's leadership. They faced the choice between the African American pastor from Louisiana and Ong, a Chinese-American layperson.

Of the 2,012 ballots cast June 14 in Phoenix, Luter received 1,558 (77 percent) of the votes while Ong received 441 (22 percent) of the votes; 13 votes were disallowed.

Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., nominated Luter, calling him "one of Southern Baptists' most popular and beloved preachers. He's in constant demand in schools, colleges, seminaries and conferences all across our nation."

Akin, in his nomination, reminded messengers that Luter, in 2001, was the first African-American to preach the SBC convention sermon. He also has served as an SBC second vice president.

In August 2005, Luter lost his home and church building to the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina. "Because of the love for his church members," Akin said, the pastor traveled across the nation to minister to his displaced members, while living temporarily in Birmingham, Ala.

The congregation "seized the moment," Akin said, and started churches in Baton Rouge, La., and Houston, Texas.

In spite of losing half the New Orleans congregation -- and receiving numerous invitations to move to a new pastorate -- Luter stayed with his people, Akin said, and was asked to serve on the mayor's Bring Back New Orleans Commission.

Since Katrina, the revived Franklin Avenue congregation has grown to 7,000 members.

Akin said Luter also "set the example" in Cooperative Program giving after Katrina. The congregation "stepped out on faith," giving $44,000 through the Cooperative Program in 2007, increasing their CP giving to $205,000 in 2008, $250,000 in 2009 and $260,000 in 2010.

Virginia pastor Eric Thomas was elected unopposed as second vice president of the convention.

Thomas, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va., since July 2003, was nominated by Clint Pressley, senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C.

In bringing the nomination, Pressley said the Virginia pastor is a family man, scholar and churchman, serving "a historic church" and "leading that great church to reach its community and the nations for Lord Jesus."

"At every level, Eric believes in the cause of Christ lived out as a Southern Baptist," Pressley said.

Thomas has served on the SBC resolutions and nominating committees and is active in his state convention.

In other action, messengers elected David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., to preach the convention sermon at the 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans. Kenny Qualls, pastor of First Baptist Church in Arnold, Mo., was elected as the alternate. Mark Cottingham, worship pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., was chosen as the 2012 music director.
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Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention (www.flbaptist.org).

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