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

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

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

There are a total of 26 "ethnic fellowships" within the denomination, with the largest being Korean, African-American and Hispanic, said Michael Cooley, special assistant in leadership development with the North American Mission Board.

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

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

Bob Reccord, president of the mission board, also participated in

the meeting with fellowship representatives. He called on churches affiliated with the SBC to strive to become more racially and culturally diverse.

"I think we've got to continue to push toward multicultural churches where 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 I read about in the New Testament is a church that is spread across all kinds of cultural barriers and in a given church it wasn't just homogeneous."

SBC leaders say the meeting demonstrates a continuing commitment to foster racial and cultural diversity within the nation's largest Protestant denomination. In 1995, delegates to the SBC's annual meeting passed a racial reconciliation resolution repudiating the denomination's defense of slavery when the SBC began in 1845.

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