Southern Baptist Convention president Jack Graham announced Monday that he is appointing a committee to study changing the name of the nation’s largest Protestant body.
Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, told the SBC Executive Committee Monday night that the denomination is no longer a regional body, and its name should reflect that reality, according to a report Tuesday in the Nashville Tennessean.
According to the paper, Graham said Southern Baptists starting new churches around the country need a name with which people who aren’t from the South can identify. “Why would we do this?” he asked. “Only one reason. That is to strengthen and lengthen our witness here and across the world.”
Graham said he would appoint a committee in the next few weeks to report at the SBC annual meeting in 2005.
Graham isn’t the first to suggest a name change, but he told Executive Committee members perhaps the time had come. “We need to either put it to bed forever or get on with it,” he said. “If a name change helps us do our job, then so be it.”
The convention didn’t alter its name when it went through a massive restructuring in the mid-1990s. The Executive Committee also soundly voted down a similar proposal surfaced in 1998 by a pastor and committee member from Michigan.
Blaine Barber, pastor of Agape Baptist Church in Petoskey, Mich., made a motion at the SBC annual meeting in 1998 for a feasibility study on changing the convention’s name to more accurately reflect today’s demographics. The motion was referred to the Executive Committee, which affirmed a staff study finding “no compelling rationale” for changing the name or underwriting a study.
Citing a 1974 survey finding little support for a name change, the Executive Committee report also observed that a name change might weaken the convention’s reputation for conservative theology, hard-won through a decade of political infighting against moderates.
Barber came back to the convention in 1999 to request a non-binding straw poll on adopting a new name for purposes of study, but messengers overwhelmingly voted down his request.
The Executive Committee considered another motion on a new name referred by the convention in 1983.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.