(Alan Cross blogs at Downshore Drift)
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
[Aside] Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
Shakespeare here mentions both baptism and name changes, so I thought it was appropriate. From a positive perspective, Juliet is telling Romeo that it doesn’t matter what his name is, he is still the same person. A rose by any other name is still a rose, it still has the same identity. When we hear the word “rose,” we think of bright colors, a sweet smell, and beauty. But, when we hear “slug,” we think of something slimy, gray, and slow – something decidedly not beautiful. The name means something because of what it represents, not because of the name itself.
The same is true for Southern Baptists. I am all for the name change. I think that it marks a graduation of sorts from the original vision of the founders of the SBC. Even though the Convention started in the South, missions was a top priority (ignore the slavery issue for just a moment). If missions and church planting were to be effective, then eventually, the SBC would not just be in the South anymore. That makes sense. So, changing the name can actually be seen as an affirmation of what we are supposed to be about. From that angle, I think it is a good thing.
But, on the other hand, if we are changing the name because we think that it has negative connotations, then maybe we need to look a bit deeper. Whatever negativity might be associated with the Southern Baptist Convention will just carry over to whatever name we choose for the future because we are still who we are. A rose by any other name . . . is still fundamentally a rose. If we appear to be a regional denomination, it is not because we have “Southern” in our name. It is because we still are a regional denomination. 80% of SBC churches are in the South. I am glad for the 20% that are elsewhere, but we are still mostly Southern. Changing our name won’t change that.
I pastor a church in the Deep South, but we are not the typical Southern Baptist Church. I say that because there is a “typical” SBC church still. When people visit and see “Baptist” in our name, they think that they are getting a certain thing stylistically. That still holds true in much of the country. We are different, so it is a surprise to people. But, that is not because of the word, “Southern,” which is nowhere to be found in our name. It is because of the word “Baptist,” which likely isn’t going anywhere. People think that they know what “Baptist” churches are all about based on past experiences, whether they are Southern or Independent or any other variety.
I’m all for the name change. I will pray for the committee as they consider this issue from all angles. But, we all need to go ahead and recognize that it won’t change much of anything by itself. Most know this, I am sure – I’m just stating the obvious. There aren’t many churches that have “Southern” in their name anyway. And, that is really what this is all about – the churches, right? If it is about making a better appearance for the Convention, that’s fine, but let’s make sure that we are all people that will give whatever name we hold a good reputation, instead of expecting the name to wash away a negative impression that has built up over time. If we act provincial and Southern and are focused on ourselves, then whatever name we choose will just represent those characteristics eventually.
Change the name. But, more importantly, change the heart.