NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The Southern Baptist Convention holds its annual meeting this week in New Orleans to elect a new leader, vote on an alternative name and discuss ways to attract a more diverse membership.
The biggest development could be the likely election of the denomination's first African-American leader, the Rev. Fred Luter Jr.
It's an important step for a denomination that was formed out of a pre-Civil War split with northern Baptists over slavery and for much of the 20th century had a reputation for supporting segregation.
The other important vote will be on whether to allow the use of an alternative name, Great Commission Baptists.
Supporters say it could be used by churches in areas that might be hostile to the "Southern Baptist" name.
Statistics released last week by the denomination's Lifeway Christian Resources show membership in 2011 decreased by about one percent to just less than 16 million. That marks the fifth straight year of decline, although baptisms increased slightly last year.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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