CNN's Hoover to First Black President of Southern Baptist Convention: Will You Push 'Civil Rights' Issue of Gay Marriage?

Yesterday the Southern Baptist Convention elected their first black president, an historic moment for an organization that got its start defending slavery in pre-Civil War America.

CNN Starting Point host Soledad O'Brien interviewed Fred Luter Jr., who will be installed as president Wednesday evening. The interview on the main was fine, but towards the end, contributor Margaret Hoover pressed Luter as to whether he would champion as a "civil rights" cause, "inclusiveness of gay Americans," referring it seems to same-sex marriage. Luter answered in the negative, citing the Bible's teachings on the definition of marriage. It's then that O'Brien retorted that his stance put him in opposition to President Obama, as if to suggest that were a scandalous position for him to be in:


LUTER: ...We're going to embrace them [gays] as far as who they are, but we are also going to stand on biblical principles that the Word of God has already established, that marriage is between one man and one woman.

O’BRIEN: Which puts you directly, sir, in opposition to President Obama.

LUTER: On this particular subject, yes. I support my president. He is my president. I pray for him and Michelle and his daughters on a daily basis. But on this issue, the president and I have two different opinions for sure.

After thanking Luter for coming on the program, liberal contributor Richard Socarides snarked that Luter was "inclusive up to a point."

"Clearly, he is making it very clear that he is inclusive up to a point," O'Brien replied, adding to Hoover, "That was an excellent question there."

Here's the segment transcript, courtesy of MRC intern Kelly McGarey:

Starting Point
June 20, 2012
8:35 a.m. EDT

SOLEDAD O’BRIEN, anchor: It's an historic day for the Southern Baptist Convention. The country’s largest Protestant body has elected its first African-American president, the Reverend Fred Luter Hr. His election comes 160 years after the SBC was founded as a pro-slavery church and just 17 years after its leaders apologized for the denomination’s support of white supremacists and segregationist policies. Reverend Fred Luter Jr. officially becomes president this evening. Nice to see you sir, congratulations to you. Thanks for being with us this morning. I can't say you're surprised, right? You ran unopposed, but it still is a tremendous honor. What's going to be your agenda as the new president?

FRED LUTER, Jr.: Well, thank you, Soledad, for being on the program. I'm very honored to be here with you and with CNN. It was a surprise that I was unopposed, particularly because this is such a large convention and it's the year of the president’s election. I was really, really, really surprised that no one stepped up and wanted to run against me, and then just to see the support I got from the floor, it just brought tears to my eyes. I'm really grateful for that. My agenda will first be, first of all will be learning what I have to do. This is my first time doing this, so I'll be meeting with the staff there at the headquarters in Nashville and talking to other former presidents and find out, you know, specifically my duties and responsibilities. I know I'll be representing our convention across the country and across the world, but there are other things that I need to do as far as working with our Southern Baptist entities and working with other churches and denominations across the country.

O’BRIEN: You have said that you want to help solve the church's divisive civil rights history. What specifically would you do on that front?

LUTER: Well, we cannot deny the fact that of our history. It's there. Everybody knows about it. I'm sure by now they do. But one of the things I'm so proud about is that understanding the fact that every one of us have a history. I've got a history. You've got a history. Everybody watching this program has a history. There's nothing we can do about our past. But there's a lot we can do about our future, and so one of the things I’d like to do is, first of all, say to those outside of the SBC that this is a brand-new convention. Yes, we started out as a result of slavery. But that's behind us now, and we have proven the fact through the years that we want to move on from there, and I think by electing me as president of this convention is exhibit A to the world that this convention is now ready to open its doors to different groups, no matter your background, no matter your race, no matter your color. So that's some of the things that we hope to put out there, that people will understand, that we need to learn to get together here. Because if we don't get together here, we're not going to get together in heaven.

O’BRIEN: Some people might say, though, exhibit B would be what Dr. Richard Land said, who is the head of the ethics committee for the SBC, not too long ago about the Trayvon Martin case, obviously.

LUTER: Yes.

O’BRIEN: And I think he said that the president poured gasoline on racist fires. Then he did an apology, and then a second apology after that. So it's not really, really history for some people in some ways.

LUTER: Yes. You know, that's something that Richard Land - if he can go back and do that over again, I'm sure he would. All of us. I know I've said some things in the pulpit and I’ve said some things in interviews, hopefully not this interview, about you in interviews that I have regretted that I have said.

O’BRIEN: So far, so good.

LUTER: But you cannot deny the fact that there will be some, and there are some, who still has a problem with the skin. And I told folks yesterday that I was talking to, we don't have a skin problem in America, we have a sin problem, and until we deal with our sin problem, we will always have a skin problem.

O’BRIEN: Reverend Fred Luter joining us this morning, the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Did you want to jump in and ask some -

MARGARET HOOVER: , Reverend Luter, your election is a huge triumph for civil rights, and I wonder, you know, Pastor Worley, Baptist preacher in North Carolina, has made headlines recently. I wonder if your agenda will include a new civil rights issue, inclusiveness of gay Americans.

LUTER: Can you are repeat that? I didn't hear the last part.

O’BRIEN: Will your agenda include inclusiveness of gay Americans, a new civil rights issue?

LUTER: Well, no, no. I'm a man of the book. I believe in the word of God. I believe in the Bible. And God has specifically spoken about marriage. Marriage is between a man and a woman. You know, that's biblical. No president, whether it's a president in the White House, no governor, no mayor, no one can change that. God has already established a marriage between one man and one woman. So I will stand for that because that's what the word of God says, and that's what I believe in. We want to love -- I love all of us as believers. All of us love everybody. Including those in the gay community. We're going to embrace them as far as who they are, but we are also going to stand on biblical principles that the word of God has already established, that marriage is between one man and one woman.

O’BRIEN: Which puts you directly, sir, in opposition to President Obama.

LUTER: On this particular subject, yes. I support my president. He is my president. I pray for him and Michelle and his daughters on a daily basis. But on this issue, the president and I have two different opinions for sure.

O’BRIEN: Reverend Fred Luter, nice to see you, sir. Congratulations again on your election.

LUTER: Thank you, Soledad. Listen, thanks for all you've done for New Orleans. We appreciate you.

O’BRIEN: My pleasure. I'm going to be there this weekend. Maybe I'll get a chance to run into you, sir. Swing by church.

LUTER: That would be great.

O’BRIEN: Take care, sir.

LUTER: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, writer, NewYorker.com: He's inclusive up to a point.

O’BRIEN: Clearly, he is making it very clear that he is inclusive up to a point.That was an excellent question there.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters