US & Canada

US Southern Baptists elect first black president

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Media captionThe Reverend Fred Luter sat down with the BBC days before his confirmation as president of the Southern Baptist Convention

The US Southern Baptist Convention has elected its first black president at its annual meeting in New Orleans.

The Reverend Fred Luter Jr's selection to lead the largest US Protestant branch is seen as a move to reflect the diversity of the denomination.

Mr Luter built a small congregation into a megachurch that has thrived even though the church was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

He ran unopposed to lead the group of 16 million worshippers.

Mr Luter was elected by thousands of delegates at the convention held in his home town.

Pastor David Crosby, who nominated Mr Luter, described him as a "fire-breathing, miracle-working pastor", adding that he "would likely be a candidate for sainthood if he were Catholic".

Mr Luter's Franklin Avenue Baptist Church boasted almost 8,000 worshippers before the church was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

It has been rebuilt and now has about 5,000 attendees at its Sunday service, making it the largest congregation in the state of Louisiana.

Correspondents say the election of Mr Luter is historic for the organisation that split with northern Baptists over its support of slavery, and supported segregation in the 20th Century.

In 1995 Mr Luter was one of the authors of a Southern Baptist Convention resolution apologising to African-Americans for its past support of racism and pledged to work towards reconciliation.

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