Last Monday, Southern Baptist Convention President, Bryant Wright, announced a headline worthy decision: the creation of a presidential task force to study the prospect of changing the name of our Convention. Wright, who is serving his second one-year term as president, held a late-night press conference at the SBC’s Executive Committee meeting in Nashville, TN.
President Wright highlighted a key reason that he believes a study of this issue will be helpful. “The convention’s name is so regional,” Wright commented. “With our focus on church planting it is challenging in many parts of the country to lead churches to want to be part of a convention with such a regional name.” He further pointed out that “a name change could position us to maximize our effectiveness in reaching North America for Jesus Christ in the 21st century.”
The 18 person task force, under the leadership of former SBC president Jimmy Draper, includes such notable SBC heads as Al Mohler (Southern Seminary), Paige Patterson (Southwestern Seminary), Tom Ellif (IMB), and Kevin Ezell (NAMB). The task force has been asked to study four pivotal questions. These include:
- Is there value in considering a name change?
- If so, what would be a good name to suggest?
- What would be the potential legal ramifications of a name change? and
- What would be the potential financial implications?
The task force is slated to provide the Executive Committee with an interim report in February, 2012 and a final report at the annual meeting of the SBC, June 19-20, 2012 in New Orleans.
What would it take to actually change the name of the SBC? According to our Convention’s constitution, a name-change motion would require a majority vote at two consecutive SBC annual meetings before it can be ratified.
The idea to change the name of the Convention is nothing new. Motions related to this issue have been presented on the floor of the annual meeting in 1965, 1974, 1983, 1989, 1990, 1998, and 2004. The very first discussions about changing the SBC name can be traced back to just a few years after World War II. Even at that earlier time, as Al Mohler has noted,
“Southern Baptist leaders recognized that the Convention was no longer satisfied to contain its witness within the historic southern and southwestern states of the United States.”
However, these discussions and motions of the past failed to garnish much support. In more recent years, though, the issue has been more frequently and urgently raised by some.
SBC church planters, especially those serving in areas of the US outside of the South, have particularly become more vocal about the stigma that comes with the label “Southern.” One advocate of the possible name change stated, “Ethnocentrism is one of the biggest issues that faces missions. A SBC name change is an important step in overcoming that.” More plainly stated, the perception of some is that the designation “Southern Baptist” has become a synonym for “old, white guys.”
SBC professor and author Alvin Reid asked the question, “Do we want a name that reflects who we were previously, who we are currently, or who we could be ideally?” Another supporter added, “It’s time to reflect less about our history & more about our mission.”
Not every response, though, has been optimistic or favorable. Many critics of Wright’s task force, have argued that a name change is ultimately immaterial. Richard Land, the head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is quoted as having said, “The Southern Baptist Convention is Southern like the Roman Catholic Church is Roman.” In other words, the “brand” has risen above the regional title. Critics have made comparisons to such well-known companies as Western Union, Northwest and Southwest Airlines, as well as New York Life. Opponents say that the regional adjectives within these nationally-respected company names make no difference at all. The same is true, they argue, of the SBC.
The idea that the “Southern” label is not an issue, however, has not been everyone’s experience. One North American Mission Board church planter tweeted, “When I tell people in New York City that we are Southern Baptist the typical sentiment is ‘Well, go back.'” Proponents of the task force hope that a name change will eliminate any such obstacles to our future Great Commission efforts.
If the name change movement does gain support, what are some possible new titles for the Convention? Since the obvious choice of “American Baptist” has been taken, most of the suggestions so far have highlighted our global mission emphasis. Tony Merida, pastor and professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary tweeted, “I vote International Baptist Convention or Great Commission Convention.” Another suggested name is the more straightforward designation, “The Baptist Convention.” Other suggestions so far have included: New Baptist Convention, Bible Baptist Convention and Global Baptist Convention.
(The one suggestion, however, that already has my vote came from the very clever @corylamb21 who wrote, “CampusCrusade is now CRU. So, can we change Southern Baptist Convention to BaCon? It’s shorter, removes Southern & it’s a staple food in SBC life.” AMEN!!)
The thought of changing the SBC name makes me sad. I was born and raised in the home of an SBC pastor. I was saved and baptized among an SBC church family. I surrendered to the ministry, preached my first sermon, was licensed, ordained, and began my formal ministry in SBC congregations. My wife and I were married in an SBC church building. I will soon graduate with my second degree from an SBC seminary. On top of all this, I have the joy of pastoring a wonderful SBC flock. So much of my personal life story and identity is wrapped up in being Southern Baptist.
Despite all of this, I believe that nostalgia and emotional setiments must never stand in the way of spreading the gospel. My attachment is not as much to the SBC name as it is to our gospel-spreading commitment. If a name change will truly enable us to be more effective at reaching the lost and planting Baptist churches in America and across the globe, then it has nothing but my full support.
Above all, may we never forget: there is one, and only one name under heaven that is worthy of our highest and most ultimate allegiance: the name of King Jesus! Whatever we do as a Convention must be in service to Him and Him alone.
For an honest, statistically-based opinion of the pro’s and con’s, see Ed Stetzer’s piece.