(Reverend Fred Luter (R) at a working dinner with then U.S. President George W. Bush (L) and Vice Admiral of Coast Guard Thad Allen (C) to discuss rebuilding efforts in the Gulf region after being struck by two hurricanes at Bacco in New Orleans October 10, 2005. REUTERS/Larry Downing)

The largest U.S. Protestant denomination is poised to elect the first black president in its 167-year history, just weeks after the predominately white religious group reprimanded one of its officials for making racially insensitive remarks.

Church leaders said choosing New Orleans pastor Fred Luter Jr. to head the Southern Baptist Convention would make an important statement about the denomination’s efforts to distance itself from its racist past and become more diverse.

“I’m really pumped about this,” Luter said in a telephone interview with Reuters. “My church is so excited man. Because they know my common background, they know where I came from. … I’m really excited for them.”

First Baptist New Orleans Pastor David Crosby, who will nominate Luter, said the move is a statement that “we not only love people of color, we want them in our leadership.”