(RNS) Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson said hehopes the predominantly white denomination will elect a member of aracial or ethnic minority to its presidency within five years.

"I believe, deep down in my heart, with all my soul that the futureof the Southern Baptist Convention has to be a multiracial, multiethnicfuture, or quite frankly, in my way of thinking, it has no future,"Patterson said at the second annual Ethnic Presidents Roundtablesponsored by the SBC's North American Mission Board.

The meeting, on Feb. 1-2, was held on the campus of SoutheasternBaptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Patterson, theseminary's president, met with representatives of about a dozen racialand ethnic fellowships within the SBC, reported Baptist Press, thedenomination's news service.

There are a total of 26 "ethnic fellowships" within thedenomination, with the largest being Korean, African-American andHispanic, said Michael Cooley, special assistant in leadershipdevelopment with the North American Mission Board.

Patterson said he has tried to appoint racial and ethnic minoritiesto nearly every committee for which he was responsible. He hopes tocontinue that goal at the SBC's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., inJune.

"I intend to use someone if I possibly can from every ethnicfellowship and hopefully numerous ones from many of the ethnicfellowships," he said.

Bob Reccord, president of the mission board, also participated inthe meeting with fellowship representatives. He called on churchesaffiliated with the SBC to strive to become more racially and culturallydiverse.

"I think we've got to continue to push toward multicultural churcheswhere in a church it's not just converted Jews, it's not just African-Americans, it's not just Eastern Europeans," Reccord said. "The church Iread about in the New Testament is a church that is spread across allkinds of cultural barriers and in a given church it wasn't justhomogeneous."

SBC leaders say the meeting demonstrates a continuing commitment tofoster racial and cultural diversity within the nation's largestProtestant denomination. In 1995, delegates to the SBC's annual meetingpassed a racial reconciliation resolution repudiating the denomination'sdefense of slavery when the SBC began in 1845.