It's a significant step considering southern baptists are often thought of as racist bumpkins - though am obviously opposed to their position on gay rights. That said, those who I've met have been pretty tolerant towards gays but that could be just the ones I've met.

The Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination born in 1845 in defense of slavery and a spiritual home to white supremacists for much of the 20th century, is poised to elect its first African-American president.

The Rev. Fred Luter Jr., 55, a New Orleans pastor who got his start preaching on the streets of the Lower Ninth Ward, is expected to be the only candidate for office on Tuesday when Southern Baptists gather here for their annual meeting.

“That I can be president of the largest Protestant denomination in the country is unbelievable,” Mr. Luter said in an interview last week after one of his trademark cadenced sermons that drew “amens” from the predominantly black congregation.

His anticipated victory is being hailed as a milestone by white and black pastors alike in the convention, a grouping of 51,000 congregations with 16 million members, about a million of them black. Acutely aware of the nation’s changing demographics, the fiercely evangelical Southern Baptists have been working to draw in more black, Hispanic and Asian members, often by starting new churches in ethnically diverse urban areas in the country.

If, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said of the nation’s churches, Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America, the Southern Baptists have carried a special burden, giving added resonance to this week’s election.

“Given the history of the convention, this is absolutely stunning,” said Michael O. Emerson, an expert on race and religion at Rice University.