The Southern Baptist Convention: What’s In a Name?

I remember during the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting being somewhat perplexed.  A motion came forward to change the name of the SBC.  As my memory serves me, the thought process behind the motion was to help Southern Baptists who plant churches in the northern states and in other parts of the country not located in the South to avoid geographical baggage that might accompany the current name of the SBC.

Rather than change the name of the Convention, the motion proposed that the Convention allow these church planters and any Southern Baptist congregation to use the name Great Commission Baptist as an option.  The SBC retained the name it’s had since 1845, and church planters obtained the freedom to call their congregations Great Commission Baptist churches.  As I left the convention hall after the vote, it seemed to me that we had missed an opportunity to make a significant step forward to tear down potential barriers to the gospel that might rise from our name.

It might surprise you that the 2012 Annual Meeting was not the first time the SBC decided on a motion to change its name.  Messengers at the 1903 SBC Annual meeting in Savannah, Georgia entertained the following motion:

WHEREAS, By the express words of the Constitution under which this Convention was organized in 1845, the scope of its work embraces the whole United States, and all persons of our denomination making the necessary contribution; and all constituent bodies of the same who cooperate with us are invited to representation in this body, without reference to locality, or territory, or latitude; and,

WHEREAS, In naming this body the phrase “Southern Baptist Convention” was used at the date above named to suit conditions then existing, but which have long since passed away; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, 1. That the name of this body be changed from “Southern Baptist Convention” to that of “The Baptist Convention of the United States,” so that the same may better harmonize with the true nature and opportunities of this body.  2. That appropriate steps be taken for carrying this action into effect by appropriate change in the charter under direction of a committee to be appointed by the president; and that such change of name be operative so soon as said charter amendment shall have been procured.

It seems that the authors of the resolution believed that the name of the SBC had outlived its time and the scope of the SBC membership.  They allude to the name pointing back to the Civil War and the divisive conditions between the North and the South, conditions “which have long passed away.”  They proposed a name that would present a more accurate picture of the scope and mission of the SBC.  Apparently the motion failed, as a name change never occurred.

I believe that we are long overdue in changing the name of our Convention and that we should consider a name change for the following reasons:

  1. The underlying conditions and reasons for the name of our Convention no longer exist. We called ourselves the Southern Baptist Convention because we separated ourselves from Baptists in the North over the issue of slavery.  As we now have numerous SBC churches in northern states and in regions outside the South, such a geographical identification does not best represent who we are.  In addition, there is no hostility between these northern churches and churches in southern states.  We unite for the advancement of the gospel and the Kingdom of Christ.
  2. Our name is the result of our original support of the unbiblical, sinful, deplorable, and inhumane practice of slavery. Our denomination chose to separate from the Triennial Baptist Convention because of that body’s refusal to commission missionaries from slave-holding states.  To perpetuate the current name of the Convention continues to remind each generation of the dark beginnings of our denomination.  It is time to finally put that past behind us.
  3. The current name of the denomination does not represent the national and international scope of our denomination. We currently have churches throughout the United States and in countries around the world.  They are not only Southern churches, but Midwestern, Western, Northern, Alaskan, and Hawaiian.  We need a name that better reflects the national and international scope of our denomination.
  4. Our current name also does not represent the diversity within our denomination. We have churches whose members are predominately African American, Hispanic, Korean, Vietnamese, and numerous other backgrounds.  We need a name that celebrates and promotes the diversity within our denomination.  Such a name would also promote further diversity as well.

I regret our missed opportunity in 2012 to create a name that better represents the membership within our denomination.  I agree with our forerunners in 1903 who called for a name that “may better harmonize with the true nature and opportunities of this body.”  While I’m not proposing we change the name to the one they proposed, I am proposing that we change our name.  Let’s start that conversation!

 

 

Tim is the Director of the Global Center for Youth Ministry and Associate Professor for Youth Ministry & Missions at Anderson University.  He is lead pastor/planter of Mosaic Church of Anderson.  Tim is also the author of No Better Gospel and the author of the upcoming Raising the Bar 2nd edition.