I thought that Bryant Wright did a great job leading the SBC last year in Phoenix. Now, he is at the top of my buddy list again for appointing a task force to study the issue of changing the name of the SBC. I’ve been through this debate before and I have made my views clear – that our regional name is an unnecessary hindrance to SBC growth outside of the deep south. I would love to see the name change happen, but I doubt that it will anytime soon.
Bart Barber has written a very different look at this, one that I understand but believe misses several points. You can read Bart’s opinion here. His analysis is always worth reading, but I question a few of this assertions. Bart points to the fact that the convention has dealt with this issue several times in the past and has always decided to keep the name – a fact that cannot be denied.
He points out that in 2004, the convention voted against appointing a task force to study the issue, after president Jack Graham said, “We need to either put it to bed forever or get on with it.” Bart implies that this should have been perhaps the last time this issue ever came up. However, I would note two things. First, this was a statement by Jack Graham and not an official part of the motion, as I understand it. Second, no action by any convention ever prevents a future convention from acting on that same issue and even changing its positions. What was voted in the 2004 convention is not binding on the messengers of the 2012 convention.
What seems to have chafed Bart most is the fact that in distinction to the previously used process and that which Dr. Graham used in 2004, Wright simply appointed a task force that will report to the Executive Committee. He sees this as an “action of disrespect” toward the messengers of the convention and he said that there is a growing trend (by implication, evidenced here by Bryant Wright) of “demonstrating what I believe is a dangerous inclination to belittle and disrespect the messenger body in order to accomplish at all costs the will of the empowered few.” Wright is bypassing and disrespecting the convention messengers to accomplish “at all costs” what the “empowered few” want.
I think these are unfair criticisms. Many oppose the idea that the name of the SBC should not be changed. It is fair to say that you think that the appointment of a task force should only be done by the convention. These are legitimate opinions. However, they are not authoritative mandates and Bryant Wright is not doing anything wrong or unseemly. I would make these points:
- No convention president is required to do things the same way that previous convention presidents did them. Dr. Graham did things his way, but it is not incumbent on Bryant Wright to do it the same way. The procedure that is being followed is a constitutional and acceptable method of handling this. Wright is doing nothing wrong.
- Again, as I understand it, Wright is following proper procedure here. In other words, under the polices and procedures of the SBC, he has the right to do what he is doing. Bart is essentially criticizing him for following the rules, just not the same way it was done in the past.
- There is nothing wrong with bringing up an issue that has previously been acted on by a previous convention. The regenerate membership resolution, which Bart supported, was defeated more than once before it finally passed. The fact that it was defeated at one convention just made people try harder the next.
- Wright was clear that this matter would be brought before the convention’s messengers after the study (where any recommendation to change the name will almost certainly be defeated). They are not being bypassed, or disrespected.
- The idea that Wright is doing something disrespectful and elitist is unfair, I believe. Wright is operating in compliance with convention bylaws and procedures (as far as I know). To disagree with him is fair. To level the kind of charges that Bart has leveled against him is unfair. I believe his criticism has gone well beyond what is warranted.
I think that Bart goes way beyond what is appropriate in his last statement. He suggests that if this motion comes before the messengers, we should remove the name Baptist from the convention.
When the will of the messengers has become an obstacle to get around by any means necessary rather than the sacred core of our polity, then we are no longer Baptists, and we no longer deserve to own that name.
That strains credulity. There is nothing anti-Baptist about a president appointing a task force to study an issue and bring a recommendation to the EC. There is nothing anti-Baptist about the Executive Committee bringing a motion to the messengers of the SBC in 2012 with a recommendation. There is nothing anti-Baptist about the 2012 convention dealing with an issue that has been dealt with before. Just because I might not like an action, does not make that action anti-Baptist.
I think it makes sense to consider changing the name of the SBC, though I do not think it is likely to happen. And I do not think there is anything shameful or unseemly about the process.
Just the Facts
The Baptist Press article presents a much less ominous picture of the process. It is very easy to get facts wrong in discussions such as this.
1) Bryant Wright gave the reasons for his concern about the SBC’s name.
“First, the convention’s name is so regional. With our focus on church planting, it is challenging in many parts of the country to lead churches to want to be part of a convention with such a regional name. Second, a name change could position us to maximize our effectiveness in reaching North America for Jesus Christ in the 21st century.”
- Our convention name is regional. That seldom seems to matter to Southerners, but it is an obstacle outside the Deep South.
- He believes a name change will help us be more effective in church planting and denominational work in the future.
I agree with him even if we are a minority. Our denomination’s name is not sacred it and changing it will not compromise who we are. I think it would help.
2) He wants to study the issue.
Seems wise to me. So, he appointed the task force, which will study the ramifications of such a change and report back to the EC with its information. Here is what Wright said.
“I am going to ask this task force to consider four questions: 1) Is it a good idea, that is, is there value in considering a name change? 2) If so, what would be a good name to suggest? 3) What would be the potential legal ramifications of a name change? 4) What would be the potential financial implications?”
He is going to ask:
- Is it a good idea? There are pros and cons that need to be discussed. I’m not sure that a convention floor discussion is the best place to study this.
- What would be a good name? That has always been a sticking point to me. I think the name should be changed, but I have never been able to come up with a good one. If we had done this years ago, Cooperative Baptist Convention would have made sense. Not so much now. I’ve had several discussions with people about this and never have been able to figure out a solution. Maybe they can come up with something good. That would change the discussion.
- What legal issues are there? I’ve been told by people who oppose the name change that there are serious ramifications that attach to a name change. I’m not a lawyer, but these issues should be studied.
- What will it cost? Right now, if it is expensive to do it will be a huge problem. So, the potential financial considerations must be studied.
3) Wright addressed the issue of “bypassing the messengers.”
The issues Bart raised were also raised by some members of the EC. Bryant said this in response.
“Obviously, this is not an official committee empowered by a vote of messengers to an SBC annual meeting. It is a task force I am asking to advise me as president on whether this is a matter we should bring forward for convention action.”
It is not the process previously followed, but it is a constitutional and acceptable procedure.
4) An interim report is expected February 20-21.
The task force will bring a report to the EC then (if all goes well.)
5) Two consecutive conventions must approved any recommendation.
If a recommendation is brought forward and passed by the EC, it will have to come to the 2012 and 2013 conventions. A majority at each convention would have to approve the name change.
It is very hard to change the constitution and I doubt it will happen. But it can hardly be said that the messengers will be bypassed. They will get two cracks at this before the name is changed.
6) The members will pay their own expenses.
Since this is not a convention-approved task force, the members will pay their own expenses. Again, this does not seem like the elitist action of someone attempting to have a few rule the many. It is being done openly and with honor and any action will come before the convention – twice.
7) The task force members are:
- Michael Allen, senior pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago.
- Marshall Blaylock, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C.
- David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
- Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board.
- Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board.
- Ken Fentress, senior pastor of Montrose Baptist Church in Rockwell, Md.
- Micah Fries, senior pastor of Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church in St. Joseph, Mo.
- Aaron Harvie, lead pastor of Riverside Community Church in Philadelphia, Pa.
- Susie Hawkins, speaker, Bible study teacher and missions volunteer from Dallas.
- Fred Hewitt, executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention.
- Cathy Horner, Bible teacher and pastor’s wife from Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C.
- Benjamin Jo, pastor of Hana Korean Baptist Church in Las Vegas.
- R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
- Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
- Bob Sena, retired director of Hispanic resource development and equipping in the North American Mission Board’s church planting group.
- Roger Spradlin, co-pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Calif., and chairman of the SBC Executive Committee.
- John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention.
- Jay Wolf, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.
This is hardly a committee of angry young Baptists. I wish there were a few more representatives from outside the Deep South states, but this is a committee that will bring back a well-thought out recommendation. It seems like a great task force. (Go Micah Fries!)
8.) The Task Force is going to listen to US!
At the convention we were told they would be listening to us. Bryant Wright seems to be taking that seriously.
Here’s Wright’s quote.
“I want the task force to have the benefit of the best thoughts and ideas individual Southern Baptists have about a potential new name for the convention. In that regard, I am having my web team create a place where Southern Baptists can give their input about what a possible new name might be.”
Wright’s website is Pray4SBC.com. It is supposed to go live today, Sept. 20.
I wrote this for two reasons.
1) I felt Bart’s criticisms were unfair. His opinions are valid, of course, but I think his criticisms went beyond what was warranted. That is not meant to be derogatory toward Bart, whom I respect. I just wished to express my disagreement.
2) I am excited about the process and think it was handled well. I wanted the SBC Voices readers to hear the facts.
I know that there will be one or two of our contributors who will likely not agree with what I have said. At SBC Voices, you are more than welcome to write and I will publish articles that take the counterpoint to my points.