SBC name to remain but messengers to vote on common descriptive phrasecomment (0)
March 1, 2012
By Jennifer Davis Rash
Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Bryant Wright didn’t achieve what he set out to do, but he believes the end result is better. It seems to be achieving what he prayed for all along — unity.
In a surprise move in September 2011, Wright appointed a task force to study changing the convention’s name. His announcement sparked nationwide debate and attempts by some SBC Executive Committee (EC) members to block his move.
Within just a few months, the task force completed its work and delivered another surprise in the form of its recommendation to the EC on Feb. 20.
It did not recommend changing the convention’s official name but adopting an informal, nonlegal phrase — Great Commission Baptists — to be used by those preferring an alternative to the SBC. With only six dissenting votes, the EC approved the recommendation Feb. 21 and sent it to convention messengers for a vote in June.
While interested in pursuing an official name change in the beginning, Wright said he is “not disappointed in the way [things] turned out.”
He and task force chairman Jimmy Draper explained the recommendation demonstrates a compromise of sorts.
Though the large majority of people who attend the SBC annual meeting are from the South and would likely not favor a name change, there is a growing number of people in other regions, of varying ethnic groups and of a younger generation who do desire a name change, Draper noted.
The groups who desire an alternative name — whether it be because of regional confusion, potential reminders of past racial concerns or other reasons — “just need an OK to change the name,” he said.
Any one of them can already do it without any action by the convention because Baptists are autonomous, Draper added. “There is no connectionalism in Southern Baptist life, no hierarchy to dictate to the many facets. ... Our commitment together is always voluntary.”
But the preference is to have a common descriptive phrase that still ties Southern Baptists together, whether the church, association, state convention, entity or other group uses the words “Southern Baptist,” he noted.
“We deeply believe that if the phrase Great Commission Baptists is regularly used ... that it would provide an identification that not only tells who we are but what our mission as Southern Baptists is — the fulfillment of the Great Commission,” Draper said.
It’s the same idea as All State customers being “in good hands,” he said. “We all think of All State when we hear that phrase.”
Adopting an unofficial phrase is really the only option, Draper added, noting the potential risks and tremendous costs involved in an official, legal name change. “The equity we have in the Southern Baptist name is enormous today,” he said. “Changing the name of the convention would require a great cost in dollars and in energy and would present huge challenges legally that create a multitude of issues. The value of a name change does not justify the risks involved.”
The SBC brand also has worldwide recognition and speaks to our theology, morality and ethics, compassion, ministry and mission, Draper said, adding that Southern Baptists gained positive national notoriety following Sept. 11, 2001.
For Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, the new phrase will be old hat if it passes. Having led Alabama Baptists to use a Great Commission motto for years, Lance said
the recommendation “is the best possible outcome.”
“We as Southern Baptists are identified by the Great Commission. I would envision an effort to offer our legal name and the identifier in one statement — Southern Baptists, A Great Commission People. That represents us well,” he said. “To identify us, in this technological age, with an identifying description may be a very positive step. It will remind us who we are as a people of faith and, therefore, help us stay on mission with the Great Commission.”
Alabama Baptist director of missions and EC member Steve Loggins is also pleased with the recommendation.
“I’m always looking for a win-win situation, and this is the best we could have come up with,” he said, noting he considered all concerns before determining how he would vote. “Compromising isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s a biblical [precedent] for it (Acts 15).
“The big issue here is that it is voluntary. No one has to do anything unless they want to,” Loggins explained. “It will help in the pioneer areas, and it won’t hurt the churches in the South.”
But another EC member from Alabama, Pastor Ron Madison, was a little less eager to embrace the recommendation and registered his concern with a no vote.
While not necessarily opposed to the recommendation, Madison is concerned the issue has not been thoroughly fleshed out.
“This is light years better than what it could have been, but I’m not ready to say it is the best either,” he said, noting he would have preferred the opportunity for all sides to be heard during the discussion.
“I have deep respect for Dr. Draper and the others ... but I do not think there was a complete airing out of perspectives on both sides of the issue,” Madison said. “Any position that is worthy should be able to stand up to close scrutiny in the context of open discussion.”
And while every EC member had the opportunity to share concerns and ask questions if he or she desired, Madison said the environment made it difficult to express concerns. The presentation of the information could “inadvertently suggest that people who hold positions different than yours haven’t heard from God.”
Madison and Loggins both serve on the EC administrative subcommittee, which first considered the recommendation and approved recommending it to the full EC for a vote.
Several EC members and President and CEO Frank Page said they anticipate dealing with questions from Southern Baptists between now and June. But Draper and Wright want the questions to come. They are encouraging the dialogue and want Southern Baptists to be thoroughly informed before coming to New Orleans for the annual meeting.
“I believe we can put this name change issue to bed once and for all,” Draper said, noting the numerous attempts to change the name in the past 50 years as well as the three extensive studies done in the same time frame.
He and Wright also acknowledged their hopes that the process in which this recommendation played out will rebuild trust among Southern Baptists who might distrust a presidential task force.
“I hope that God has so clearly led the task force to unity that there will be an ongoing, growing trust when a president is led to set up a task force,” Wright said.
“In the course of seeking God’s will and in working together as a task force, it was such a clear leading to go this way,” he said. “To officially change the name was so complex and divisive. It was not the best way to go.
“I am so excited,” Wright said. “This is so positive for our convention. ... During the devotion I led for the first meeting of the task force, I shared I was praying that what will come out of this is more unity for our convention.”