Taxonomy is the science or technique of classification. When a body of material becomes large enough, it is helpful to organize it and classify it, not only for listing purposes, but also to provide an easy and fairly thorough source of reference. When I began this project of defining twenty specific reasons to oppose GCB, my purpose was to provide concise, one paragraph explanations in order to clarify, without the use of inflammatory language, the principles undergirding my opposition to GCB. Unless the arguments of GCB opponents could be stated clearly and rationally, I had grown concerned that our principles and convictions would be laughed off as some combination of Nostalgic Traditionalism, Redneck Southern Pride, Irrational Resistance to Change or, my personal favorite false accusation, Pure Evil Racism. In addition to the taxonomy of the list itself, Argument Twelve provides its own taxonomy of nomenclature that deserves careful consideration in clarifying the issue. People currently possess widely different notions of what GCB actually is.
My original list of twenty items has been revised to accommodate arguments mentioned by others in blogs and comment streams. Rather than add to a growing list some have already criticized for undue length, I have replaced three of my original reasons with ideas far better than my own. I am committed to a list size no greater than twenty, though I admit the arbitrary nature of that editorial choice. This installment (1) rejects the evangelistic superiority of GCB as a denominational name in any geographical setting, (2) examines six methods for identifying the identifier, (3) disputes the notion that the optional nature of the proposal should appease concerns, (4) critiques the very “Mammon over Morals” philosophy behind the compromise, and (5) raises the issue of a questionable “Spiritual Bullying” leadership tactic reportedly employed in the Executive Committee meeting.
11. Names Don’t Evangelize
Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Reminiscent of this maxim, let me introduce, “Names don’t evangelize people; people evangelize people.” The name of one’s denomination simply does not come up in a normal evangelistic encounter. If your denomination’s name is getting in the way of your witnessing, may I suggest you give less thought to your denomination’s name, and more thought to the way you are presenting the gospel of Jesus. I am the first to admit that the name of one’s congregation might come up in the conversation, although even this subject is one from which the witness is taught to transition as soon as possible in order to keep the focus squarely upon Jesus. Frankly, if the name of your church is “The Journey” or “Scranton Community Church” then you really have no need to further distance yourself from a denomination you are not exactly advertising anyway. A worthy question might be: “When, if ever, do we approach our new converts with any kind of teaching related to denominational concerns?” May I suggest that this is, in fact, a matter for discipleship rather than evangelism. After the new convert has a basic understanding of the Christian faith, they will develop to the point where they might naturally ask, “Are we doing this alone?” or “What is our strategy for telling the world about our faith?” At this juncture, I fully expect that Southern Baptist church planters in North America and missionaries around the world, out of gratitude and appreciation for the denomination providing their support, could offer a simple, five-minute explanation of the Southern Baptist Convention, highlighting our geographic roots in the southern region of the United States, the missionary philosophy that is our heritage, the genius of the Cooperative Program, our commitment to biblical inerrancy, and a few of our most noteworthy achievements among evangelical Protestants, such as the largest seminary system in world history, the largest missionary sending body in world history and the largest denominational publishing house in world history, just to name a few. To be clear, I am not merely reactively opposing the denominational name change. I am proactively calling upon my brothers and sisters to foster a genuine appreciation among new converts all over the world for the “people, pennies and prayers” Southern Baptists have generously given in order that their souls might be saved by the grace of Jesus. Instead of hiding our denominational identity, move swiftly in the opposite direction and celebrate what God has done in and through our cherished Southern Baptist Convention.
12. Identifying the Identifier
At least part of the ambiguity concerning this proposal stems from the reality that, while the name “Great Commission Baptists” is clear enough, so many different terms are being used to “describe the descriptor” that it is like nailing jello to the wall. We need a clear understanding of what this name is supposed to be and how it would function in Southern Baptist life if approved. It would be an enormous mistake for Southern Baptists to vote in favor of GCB with one of these identifier options in mind, only to learn later that what they really voted for was something else entirely. We need an identifier for our identifier. The longer we swim in the sea of confusion over what GCB really is and how it would be used, the greater the likelihood that the tide rolls in and sweeps some of us off in the undertow. Some are going so far as to claim that there is no real name change proposal at all since there is no LEGAL name change! When one reads the actual proposal, two things are clear: (1) this DOES represent an officially approved actual name change for the convention among those who embrace it, and (2) it can be used as a TOTAL REPLACEMENT for “Southern Baptist Convention” and not merely as a supplemental slogan, in every way that really matters except for the legal paperwork in the file cabinet. Below are six labels, their descriptions, common usages and permission levels required:
A casual and informal name chosen by the user.
“I like to refer to the SBC as Great Commission Baptists.”
Every person can use this term right now with no official vote.
Words chosen by the user to describe our identity.
“I would describe our convention as Great Commission Baptists.”
Every person can use this term right now with no official vote.
Subheading phrase following the official group name.
“Southern Baptist Convention: Great Commission Baptists”
Really a name extension that would indeed require a vote.
Marketing phrase used in promotional material.
“Join Today’s SBC–We’re Great Commission Baptists!”
We have never voted on marketing slogans before.
Official phrase becoming part of our true name.
“The Southern Baptist Convention, A Great Commission People”
Really a name extension that would indeed require a vote.
Officially approved SBC replacement option.
“We are affiliated with the Great Commission Baptists.”
Definitely a new name that requires a vote of the SBC.
To be clear, I believe the language of the proposal would allow for all six options, the most significant of which is the actual name change represented by the “Replacement” label. My concern is that the widespread use of the other five labels by those favoring the name change misrepresents and minimizes the true impact of the decision.
13. Optional Illusion
Proponents of GCB are quick to mention that this new name for our denomination is merely optional–no one would be forced to use it themselves, only to endure its use by others when they refer to the name of our organization. In other words, we would not have to speak it or write it–we would only have to hear it and read it. At first, I want to say, “Of course it’s optional–we’re autonomous.” But let me take just a moment to illustrate this reality by imagining the scenario in which we hypothetically changed the LEGAL name itself to Great Commission Baptists. If indeed the task force had gone this route, the financial constraints would have been enormous. Moreover, in all likelihood, thousands of individual Southern Baptist Churches like mine would still refer to us as the Southern Baptist Convention–even if no legal organization existed by that name. Such a top down decision could not force autonomous congregations to change their legal paperwork or their signs, letterheads and business cards. Under such a scenario, would not checks written using the former legal name “Southern Baptist Convention” continue to be cashed by our various entities? A case can be made that ANY decision regarding our denominational name is, in fact, optional in terms of its acceptance level by local autonomous churches. Whether we give GCB our “official stamp of approval” as a convention or not, local autonomous churches can still refer to us that way. They will simply be doing so on their own authority as they exercise their own autonomy. The term “optional” should not really appease anyone, since the term “mandatory” does not make any sense in this situation. Of course it’s optional. The question before SBC messengers is simply: “Do we or do we not wish to adopt a second officially approved replacement name that would give congregations our blessing to use a term that will compete with the Southern Baptist Convention, our only existing officially approved name?” It must be obvious by now that I prefer to preserve the simple dignity of an organization unashamed of its own name. I believe a “single named” organization is inherently more stable than a “double named” organization, just as a house divided against itself cannot stand, a reference which actually leads to our next argument.
14. Mammon Over Morals Compromise
With deepest gratitude to Dwight McKissic, I find his logic on this particular aspect of the issue quite compelling, even if I question the underlying “morality” argument he and others have made for changing the name. A word about this morality issue is in order first. It is fair to say that Dwight and others believe the term “Southern” in our current name carries with it the connotation of our immoral and racist past. Although I disagree with assigning moral flaws to one of the four major directional categories, I do understand the deeply felt sentiments involved. By contrast, I am philosophically more inclined to separate places from the worst sins ever committed there. Thus, when I think of Germany, I do not think only of Hitler. When I think of Japan, I do not think only of Pearl Harbor. When I think of Dallas, I do not think only of Lee Harvey Oswald. And when I think of Southern, I do not think only of the evil institution of slavery. Having noted my disagreement with McKissic over this first point, I believe he and I share a common perspective over the logical direction for Southern Baptists to move assuming we do accept the premise that the name Southern is indeed immoral and inappropriate. By all accounts, the task force decided that the financial cost of changing our name was so great they could not, in good conscience, recommend such an expenditure to the convention, its entities and its churches. The amount I have heard thrown around is an estimate of $20 million, although I have never seen a breakdown or further details related to this figure. Following McKissic’s flawless logic, if indeed one accepts that the name Southern carries with it such immoral baggage, such racist connotations and such cruel associations with lynchings, cross burnings, church bombings, separate water fountains and riding in the back of the bus, then no financial cost should be too great to pay in order to rid us from the chains of our intolerably racist denominational name. If twenty million dollars is too steep, then what is our price? What lesser amount should we be willing to pay to remove this stain and clear our name? Is ten million dollars too much to pay? Five million? One million? For us to place financial convenience over moral principle is unquestionably a compromise, not only of our name change decision, but also of our convictions–again, only if one assumes, as do most of the name change proponents, that a moral imperative exists to change the name in the first place.
15. Spiritual Bullying Leadership Tactics
In Scripture, the Nicolaitans were leaders who lorded it over those in their charge. While many may disagree with my characterization of the proper persuasion etiquette for those who value the priesthood of all believers doctrine, I must nonetheless take exception with those approaches in which a leader or leadership group stands before an assembly of any size and declares, essentially, “We have met with God and we have heard His voice and He has so clearly shown us this direction that if you oppose our recommendation, you are truly aligning yourself against God Himself and His ministers, thereby becoming an instrument of the enemy. Since we have heard from God, we’re all hoping and praying that you will join us on God’s side in this matter and not resist that which His Holy Spirit has incontrovertibly revealed to us.” Is this not a valid description of what took place in the Executive Committee meeting? Consider the words of Alabama Pastor and Executive Committee member Ron Madison, as quoted in the March 1, 2012 issue of The Alabama Baptist:
“I have deep respect for Dr. Draper and the others…but I do not think there was a complete airing out of perspectives. Any [worthy] position should be able to stand up to close scrutiny in the context of open discussion.” And while every EC member had the opportunity to share concerns and ask questions if desired, Madison said the environment made it difficult to express concerns. The presentation of the information could “inadvertently suggest that people who hold positions different than yours haven’t heard from God.”
Southern Baptist brothers and sisters, when we combine the unconventional formation of this very leadership group, which was never approved by SBC messengers in the first place, with the alleged questionable leadership tactics they utilized, fully capable of manipulating even a room full of spiritually mature Executive Board members, one can identify a strategy, whether intentional or otherwise, for changing the very name of the Southern Baptist Convention, against the will of that convention expressed as recently as 2004. All that is needed now is one final application of pressure, this time convincing messengers in New Orleans that our Executive Committee, which they elected, has “heard from God” and “knows this to be God’s will” so vote with us and God rather than with the devil and the naysayers. By simply combining an unapproved, unilateral leadership group formation process with a series of two spiritual bullying group manipulation sessions, name change proponents may very well prove successful at getting their way. If so, I will grieve not only what I consider to be an unwise decision, but I will also grieve that a political mechanism is now in place to make any number of other changes against the will of the body, for which no real accountability is truly present, due to the dynamics of emotional and spiritual pressure tactics deployed among our decision making groups.