If you follow Southern Baptist news (and why wouldn’t you) then you are aware that recently the discussion about changing the name of the SBC to “Great Commission Baptists” has been brought back to the forefront. One of the main reasons for this is the announcement of the theme for 2021 Annual Meeting in Nashville. In what is either a brilliant move of marketing, an epic troll, or more likely a desire to promote the gospel the theme will be “We Are Great Commission Baptists.”
Baptist Press reports that the theme connects to the effort by many to use the name approved by SBC Messengers in 2012. Greear’s own church, Summit Church, has said they will begin using the name “Great Commission Baptists.” The name was chosen by a committee in 2012 after years of work. Some corners of the Baptist life seem to think that the desire to drop “Southern” from our name is nothing more than caving in to cultural pressures or being “woke.” But a quick look at the facts will soon show that the effort to change the name of the SBC goes back much farther than the pressures of our current culture.
I sat down to gather all the facts and articles but then I found this incredible summary by Jon D Wilke, a media relations member for SBC Executive Committee. I urge everyone to go and read this excellent tweet thread about the history of the name change. Much of what follows comes from Wilke’s thread and I thank him for his excellent research.
Far from being a new thing, motions to study a name change have been presented to the convention multiple times. Some motions died on the floor but every few years the issue would come back up, like in 1965, 1974, 1983, 1989, 1990 and 1998. At other times the idea was brought up in different ways to the convention. In 1961 it was brought to the SBC Exec Comm who recommended the present name be retained. Legendary pastor WA Criswell was in favor a name change in the 1970’s although nothing came of it at the 1975 meeting. Other SBC leaders have spoke in favor of it like Jack Graham, Bryant Wright, Jimmy Draper, and many many others. Members of the task force that came up with the name “Great Commission Baptists” included Tom Elliff, David Dockery, Kevin Ezell, Al Mohler, Paige Patterson, and Roger Spradlin. Wilkes thread reports that “Dr. Patterson told SBC EC members he has favored a name change of the convention for a while, saying the convention is no longer regional and that “Southern” is offensive to some.” At the 2012 meeting the unofficial name of Great Commission Baptists was approved with 53 percent in favor and 46 percent against which means that it was far from a settled issue. Task member Micah Fries wrote about it right here on SBC Voices. In the years after that the meeting the name was more or less forgotten. But recent events have brought it to the forefront again.
It’s clear that Southern Baptists have been talking about this for a long time. This Baptist Press article from 1966 reported that many state papers were calling for a change even then. Even a publication of an SBC agency endorsed changing the name. An editorial in Home Missions magazine of the Home Mission Board (NAMB) endorsed a call for the name to change to “United States Baptist Convention.” The article argued that the current name is “misleading and detrimental, and that it is inadequate and inaccurate.” Editorials in at least 9 states endorsed the change, although the largest state paper of Texas was strongly against it.
Very tellingly, the 1966 article concludes with the prophetic line “It appears that the subject will be discussed for a long time.” Now almost 60 years later we are still having the same discussions. There are many reasons to change the name, and many reasons not too. Many of the same reasons were brought up when the names of the IMB, NAMB, Guidestone, and LifeWay were changed at various points over the years. At all those times the disadvantages were not seen as too great and the entities names were changed. I have no idea what will become of the proposed name but my hope is that the arguments center on the facts. It’s beyond ridiculous to say that name change is a concession to current cultural forces. This has been a discussion in the SBC for generations, and it appears likely to continue. As long as there are baptists there will be arguments, but I hope we do so with a full knowledge of the historical facts.
I’m not a prophet nor the son of one but I do predict that the rhetoric, arguments, and discussions will only increase as we approach Nashville in 2021. Whatever happens, let’s make sure that God is given the glory in all that we do. Beyond that, let’s make sure that we are baptists who work to fulfill the great commission, no matter what we call ourselves. That’s something we can all get behind.