The Illinois Baptist — February 13, 2012
Change Language:
Should the Southern Baptist Convention change its name?
Cody Lorance

“We are not called to the South, we are called to the world.”

Shakespeare famously declared, “A rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” However, if we called them “poisonous death blossoms” I doubt many of us would venture a sniff. The point is that it is fundamentally wrong to claim that names and naming are insignificant. We read of God naming things at creation and of Adam quickly following suit; we see the Lord changing names of key figures in salvation history to mark life-changing moments or signal divine promises; we hear of God’s command that we should revere His Name and not take it in vain; and we cherish the promise that our own names are written in the book of life. Clearly, from a Biblical perspective, names matter.

And so we must ask: Should our Southern Baptist Convention change its name?

Numerous voices have expressed concern and, at times, outright opposition over the idea of changing what has been our denomination’s name since its founding in 1845. The most passionate criticism is founded upon the conviction that the term “Southern Baptist” stands for things like Biblical integrity, commitment to missions, and strong family values. Some believe that taking “Southern” out of our name would be to water down our theology. But this is untrue. “Southern” has no inherent theological significance. In reality, it stands for the region of the United States in which our denomination was born and points unmistakably to the unfortunate historic circumstances that conceived it.

Thus, a name change is imperative. Holding on to a name that is inextricably tied to geography betrays a smallness of vision unworthy of the calling we’ve received and perpetuates Missiologically shallow thinking which limits our ability to faithfully participate in the “Great Commission.” We are not called to the South, we are called to the world. Today’s SBCers are from every part of the globe and it’s time to recognize that the planting of Baptist churches in New York, Chicago, Tokyo and Kathmandu that are “Southern” is not only difficult to achieve, it is actually antithetical to our cause. We are called to incarnate Christ, make disciples, raise up indigenous leaders, and bring the Kingdom to bear on communities. The extent to which we instead plant “Southern” identity with its assorted baggage, is the extent to which we fail in our global missions mandate.

There is more to this issue, however, than geography. According to Michael Allen, Pastor of Uptown Baptist in Chicago and member of the task force appointed to study the name change, there are many for whom the “S” in SBC stands for our denomination’s “sordid past.” The SBC, “was founded in part due to the split between Baptists in the North who wanted to free the slaves and Baptists in the South who wanted to keep them.” For Allen, the term “Southern” is a powerful symbol of past sins which should be removed.

Fellow task force member and Southern Seminary President Al Mohler agrees with Allen and adds, “No Gospel-driven movement of churches would want to retain any preventable barrier to faithful and effective evangelistic and church planting efforts.” And with this, we cannot help but agree.

Even in the face of great costs or unforeseen consequences, prayerfully moving forward with a name change is the right thing to do as the cost of retaining such an undeniable and unnecessary barrier to our faithful participation in God’s global mission of redemption would surely be far greater. Names matter, and ours must change.

Lorance is a pastor and church planter in Chicagoland.

Pray through the news

• Give thanks for how the Lord has used the Southern Baptist Convention to share the gospel and serve the needs of hurting and hopeless people across the globe.

• Ask the Lord for clear discernment and direction to those who are making recommendations and for the convention membership to respond by speaking truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

• Pray for unity whatever the ultimate decision that results in millions more seeing in action and hearing in person the Good News of Jesus Christ.

By Joe Lawson

Misconceptions won’t be erased by changing our name.

I Was a bit puzzled by the announcement that a committee had been appointed to study the possibility of changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention. I realize that perhaps the name of the SBC does have a regional ring, and that the name “Southern Baptist” does not always evoke warm fuzzies with the people we seek to reach and serve. I am aware also that our name, Southern Baptist Convention, does not reflect our mission and purpose. Still, I personally would rather see the name of our convention remain the Southern Baptist Convention. My reasons extend beyond emotion and have a practical approach.

First, I find our name serves to identify who we are to the masses of hurting and needy around the world. During the days following Hurricane Katrina and Sept. 11, unique opportunities to serve and witness were presented to our yellow-shirted Disaster Relief workers. They served meals, removed debris, and gave spiritual care to the hurting, and they continue to serve worldwide in the wake of disasters like the Japanese tsunami.

These volunteers are identified as Southern Baptists. Imagine now we change the name of our convention, and send the yellow-shirt servants back to New York or Louisiana or around the world. Will this be confusing for officials in the cities and countries to which we currently have access? “Weren’t you Southern Baptists? Why did you change your name?”

Second, I wonder if we are truly counting the financial cost of a name change. I am director of missions of two associations representing a total of nearly 50 churches that would need to change their church signs to reflect a new name. Multiply that across the Southern Baptist Convention and we will be sponsoring a catalyst of economic revival for the re-lettering of signs. And on a denominational level, every piece of printed material will be affected.

Third, will our denomination lose the respect and confidence of national and state political leaders? Richard Land, the president of our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, serves us on a national level attempting to influence legislation and government. If he is no longer serving the “SBC,”

Who is he serving? Will political leaders wonder what internal problems we have that caused a name change? And let’s not forget that many of our churches have placed in their constitution and by-laws the name of the SBC. These documents would have to be formally changed by church vote and re-filed with the new name at the county and state levels of government.

Lastly, I wonder if this is removing our focus from the tasks we are commanded to do. I find that thinking about this has taken my mind away from the lost in my area and the pastor’s family that could use my help NOW. I wonder if the debate of the name change creates a distraction from our mission. Even if we change our name, our doctrine will remain the same. Our mission remains the same. Our ability to share Christ will also remain the same.

We have recognition as Southern Baptists. Many believers and non-believers have an idea of who we are and what we believe. Yes, there are some misconceptions. These will not be erased by changing our name. Our doctrine, history, and heritage will be with us no matter what our name.

Lawson is director of missions of Rehoboth and Louisville Associations.

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Question: How might a new name impact Southern Baptists’ ability to reach people, either positively or negatively?

“Why is this our hill to die on? If only we were as passionate about things that matter.” - John Howard, O’Fallon

“We must remember that a name is just a name… If it reflects Christ, then I see no problem with it either way.” - Matthew Bebout, Eldorado

“…I don’t know why a name change would make it any easier or harder to reach people.” - David Daugherty, Jr., Carlinville

“Have we become ashamed of who we are? I sure hope not! Many will be sad to see our leaders change the name of who we are.” - Kelly Jackson, Dongola

“When people see ‘Southern Baptist,’ they know they will get God’s Word just as it is in the Bible, no sugar-coated version. Southern Baptists are steeped in a very godly tradition!” - Tim Carr, Mt. Zion

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