INDIANOLA, Iowa (BP) -- Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter has been awarded the Carver Medal of Simpson College. The Iowa school hailed Luter as exemplifying the commitment and service of the late agricultural scientist, inventor and Christian, George Washington Carver.
John Byrd, president of the private United Methodist Church-related college in Indianola, recognized Luter as courageous and committed to faith in Christ in the face of challenging obstacles.
"I believe George Washington Carver would have recognized some of his own experiences in the life of Rev. Fred Luter," Byrd said. "... George Washington Carver knew about facing challenges and never giving up. He was also a man of unwavering faith."
"Courage and commitment have remained the twin themes in the remarkable life of the Rev. Fred Luter Jr., our 2013 Carver Medal recipient," Byrd said.
Byrd recognized Luter's achievements not only as the first African American elected as president of the SBC but also as pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, having grown the congregation from 50 members to more than 8,500 over 25 years and sparking the church's restoration after Hurricane Katrina flooded the facility and scattered the membership over several states.
"The storm destroyed Luter's home, damaged the church and scattered the members of his congregation," Byrd said. "But the Rev. Luter did not lose faith. He held worship services in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Houston, and eventually his church was rebuilt."
Luter humbly accepted the medal.
"When I see the list of incredible individuals who have received the George Washington Carver Medal in the past, I cannot help but ask the question, 'Why me, Lord?''" Luter said before delivering the Carver Lecture.
Simpson College created the Carver Medal in 2008 to annually honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through service, leadership, conviction and a dedication to humanitarian issues, while advancing the fields of science, education, the arts or religion. The medal pays tribute to Carver's legacy at Simpson, which he attended for one year in 1890, and to the college's commitment to diversity throughout its history.
In delivering the Carver Lecture, Luter encouraged the college to remain faithful to God.
"Simpson College, I promise you, if you continue to be faithful to God, God will continue to be faithful to you," he said during Thursday night's ceremony. "Ladies and gentlemen," Luter said, waving his arms in the air, "you will be amazed what can happen in your life if you're faithful to God. You will be amazed what can happen in your life, in your home, in your marriage if you're faithful to God.
"Notice I said faithful to God and God alone. Not God and someone else, but God alone. Not God and something else, but God alone. Not God and the lottery, not God and the casino, not God and the horoscopes, not God and the racetracks, not God and Dr. Phil, not God and Dr. Oz, not God and Oprah, not God and the 'Housewives of Atlanta,' but be faithful to God and God alone."
"Ladies and gentlemen, God knows I am testifying to the goodness and grace of God. I'm not boasting, I'm not bragging, I'm testifying that if you're faithful to God, God will, God will, God will be faithful to you. I have seen that happen in my life."
Byrd described Luter's address as "spectacular. It's not often you hear a talk with that much passion and power."
Former medal recipients include Johnnetta B. Cole, the first African American woman president of Spelman College, the first African American national chairman of United Way's board of directors and the current director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art; Simon Estes, an internationally renowned bass-baritone who in 1978 was the first African American to sing at the Bayreuth Festival in Bayreuth, Germany; and Iowa members of the prestigious Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American combat pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Carver, born into slavery, is noted for developing 300 derivative products from peanuts and 118 from sweet potatoes, including ink, dyes, plastics, a synthetic rubber and postage stamp glue.
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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