The long-awaited report of a committee tasked with suggesting a new name for the Southern Baptist Convention is finally in, and once again the old name has won the day. Despite pleas that the name’s regional connotations make outreach work in pioneer areas more difficult, traditionalists and those who fret the expensive ramifications of a legal name change won the day.
It just goes to show, I guess, that you can take Southern Baptists out of the South, but you can’t take Southern out of their name.
Although a large percentage of new Southern Baptist churches have shed both “Southern” and “Baptist” from their name for years.
The committee did offer a compromise “alternate” name — those who don’t want to publically identify as Southern Baptists could call themselves “Great Commission Baptists.”
As if that changes anything. Committee chair Jimmy Draper admitted that the alternate name is really a “descriptor” and he acknowledged that “Already, Southern Baptists can do anything they want to do.”
The committee’s report focused on concerns that the name “Southern Baptist” is too regional and laden with cultural overtones, making it hard for the convention to recruit or begin new African-American or other ethnic churches.
What the report appears to ignore is that for many people, it’s not the regional connotations of “Southern Baptist” that drive people away, it’s the negative reputation the convention has gained for a variety of intolerant, anti-gay, male-supremacist, right-wing political stands the convention has taken in the two decades since fundamentalist leaders used fear-mongering tactics to take control of the convention from the so-called “liberals.”
It’s not the word “Southern” that turns prospective members away in urban mission areas, it’s words like “Boycott Disney” and “wives should submit to their husbands.”
There’s no question that the Southern Baptist Convention has an image problem, but its source is far broader than the word “Southern.” If the SBC is going to remain right of center, anti-progressive, and male-dominant, it should stand up and be proud of who it is. As I’ve suggested before, since so many of us find it necessary to qualify our Baptistness by saying “I’m not that kind of Baptist,” I’d vote for the SBC to become the “That Kind of Baptist Convention.”
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.