Southern Baptist Convention president Jack Graham’s proposal to possibly change the convention’s name met approval from denominational leaders contacted by EthicsDaily.com.
Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, told the SBC Executive Committee last week of his plans to name a committee to study a new name to better reflect the convention’s scope as a national and international, rather than regional, body.
Graham described the SBC as “a network of churches that circle the planet,” according to the North Carolina Biblical Recorder’s report of his remarks. He said the convention should consider a new name to “reflect who we are and what we are doing nationally and internationally.”
Graham said in an e-mail that he was not suggesting a change in the way the International Mission Board relates to indigenous churches in other countries. “The influence of this convention is worldwide,” he said. “I am hopeful our new name will reflect our national and global influence. IMB policies regarding indigenous church partnerships will not be affected.”
Asked about what it would cost to change all the legal documents, signs, etc., passed on to some 40,000 churches, Graham said cost and financial impact “will be a consideration” when the appointed study group begins its discussions.
Executive Committee President and CEO Morris Chapman answered the same question by saying it is “much too early to speculate” about costs, but that “projected costs are always a paramount consideration” in such feasibility studies.
Chapman said Graham is aware the Executive Committee reviewed and rejected a similar proposal in 1999, “but he has a strong desire for the issue to be studied more extensively.” Chapman said the Executive Committee staff is “working with him presently to determine the best way to request the SBC to authorize the committee and a feasibility study.”
Blaine Barber, a Michigan pastor and former Executive Committee member who unsuccessfully pushed for a feasibility study on renaming the convention in 1999, described his initial reaction to Graham’s proposal as “surprise.”
“To hear this recommendation from the president of the SBC was quite astonishing,” Barber, pastor of Agape Baptist Church in Petoskey, Mich., said in an e-mail. “Dr. Graham used the very same argument that I presented to the Executive Committee back in 1999 before going to the convention in Atlanta,” he said. “I had little support from the committee. In fact, the staff prepared all the background information against a name change. It sounds like there has been a change of heart.”
Despite the Executive Committee’s findings that a feasibility study in 1999 was neither warranted nor desired, Barber went ahead and offered a motion at the 1999 convention to change the name to the “International Baptist Convention.” “It went nowhere,” he recalled.
Ethics Daily.com e-mailed a number of SBC agency heads seeking reaction to Graham’s suggestion.
“I have always favored a name change,” Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, replied. “We are no more a regional people, and our work outside the old South would be enhanced by a more descriptive name.”
The problem, Patterson said, is finding a new name that is “adequate” before jettisoning the old one. “To date no one has come up with one that lifted anyone’s pulse rate,” he said. “That will, in the end, be determinative, I suspect.”
Bill Crews, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, said he talked with Graham about the proposal on a flight from Nashville back to Dallas. “I personally agree with his suggestion that a new study be made on the possibility of a name for the SBC that correctly reflects the nature of our ministry to the whole of our country and the world,” he said.
“We are in a new century with a new vision for Empowering Kingdom Growth,” Crews said. “I would hope the study would result in a suggested name change that would give us identity with our convictions as well as reflective of the broad scope of our ministry to all ethnicities and cultures in our country.”
Bobby Reed, a spokesman for the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the agency’s head, Richard Land, was out of the office, “but asked me to let you know that he is very supportive of the name change, depending of course on what the new name would be.”
Reed said Land believes changing to a more national and comprehensive name “could positively impact our work in the nation’s capital.”
Chapman said a Program and Structure Study Committee, which proposed a major reorganization of the convention’s agencies in the 1990s, “gave very little attention” to possibly changing the convention’s name at the same time. “The considerations about restructuring the convention were too complex and time consuming to do an in-depth study on a name change,” he said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.