The Southern Baptist Convention Tuesday night voted against a study on the possibility of a new name, an idea backed by leaders.
Claude Thomas, a Texas pastor and former leader of the SBC Executive Committee, made a motion to establish a committee to evaluate the convention’s present name and consider whether a new name might “improve our effectiveness in mission.”
“Southern Baptists have gone beyond our Southern regional identity,” Thomas said, adding that some view the regional appellation as an “impediment” to evangelism in certain parts of the country.
Convention president Jack Graham said publicly prior to the convention that he supported the name-change study.
Following spirited debate, however, messengers voted 1,731-1,391, or 55 percent to 44 percent, against a study.
“There’s no need to change the name, so there’s no need for a study,” said George Pennington of Lewisburg, Ohio, who said he opposed a similar motion about 30 years ago. He said the term “Southern Baptist” in his community “means you are a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching church.”
“We are identified in the most positive manner we can be,” he said. “For goodness sake, God’s sake and our sake let’s keep it that way.”
Earlier Tuesday, the convention approved a recommendation to begin offering its retirement and financial services to non-Southern Baptist churches and organizations, a move with potential to greatly expand its 140,000-client base in churches and convention-related entities.
Along with the expanded market, a new name was approved for the SBC Annuity Board. While the change must be voted on next year before it becomes official, the convention authorized the agency to immediately start calling itself GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
O.S. Hawkins, head of the Dallas-based agency, said reaching new customers would help Southern Baptists in the program by increasing the base for negotiating investment returns and insurance rates.
He also said the expansion will be of “great benefit” to thousands of churches that are not affiliated with a denomination and don’t have access to competitive retirement and group insurance plans, according to Church Executive Magazine. “It also will be attractive to countless Christian organizations who want to do business with someone who shares their values in an investment policy without sacrificing financial performance,” Hawkins added.
The change makes eligible church and ministry organizations that are “not in conflict with the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Eligibility requirements include belief in biblical inerrancy, the primacy of the local church and “salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.”
A majority of plan participants will continue to be Southern Baptists, and all trustees will continue to be Southern Baptists and elected by the convention, according to the proposal.
Hawkins said the name Annuity Board hasn’t for some time accurately described the agency’s assignment. Started in 1918 as a relief organization, the agency now is a full-service financial provider and insurer.
Hawkins said the name GuideStone is taken from markers used on ancient roads during the Roman Empire to mark distance, point direction and warn of dangers ahead.
The Annuity Board/GuideStone currently manages about $7.3 billion in assets, more than $1 billion more than last year.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.