It is fashionable these days to suggest that anyone who disagrees with you is sowing seeds of discord, displaying a nasty attitude that is bitter or snarky. In this article I intend to strike a clear, articulate and principled tone discussing only the subject of the name change study process and result while not insulting the personalities behind it. Please note that if my dearest Christian friends in the whole world had been responsible for this recommendation and the way it came about, I would still oppose the idea while preserving the same love, respect and appreciation for them as brothers and sisters in Christ that I feel in my heart for them today.
1. Inappropriate Task Force Creation
I believe that the creation of Southern Baptist Convention leadership structures should be formally approved by a vote of the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention BEFORE THEY BEGIN THEIR WORK. In 2004 a proposal in Indianapolis to form a Name Change Study Committee was disapproved by messengers. Although some may claim this was only a disapproval of the FUNDING of the group, I was there and remember enough of the conversation to state without qualification that the opposition by SBC messengers also extended to the very EXISTENCE of the group itself. Although SBC messengers voted not to form a Name Change Study Group on that day, our current President formed one apart from convention approval completely on his own authority. Although this apparently was not a violation of any existing procedural rule, it is nonetheless analogous to the pastor whose church denies the formation of a committee who waits a few years and then, instead of asking once more for permission, simply forms the committee on his own authority and informs them about his decision. To me, this represents an “end run” around the kind of congregational or democratic polity I expect when committee structures are created. To accept the end result would only condone what I consider to be the invalid process behind it. One must also consider the possibility that a properly formed, convention approved Task Force might have come to a very different conclusion. Please consider the logic that a questionable PROCESS results in a questionable PRODUCT. It has been brought to my attention that the constitution does not currently require the convention’s study groups to be formed in this way. Thus, to be clear, I’m not calling for a “point of order” here. If indeed the process I am outlining is the demand for a brand new right, then I believe our convention’s messengers should demand one.
2. Inappropriate Task Force Membership Selection
Though related to Reason One, this is a slightly different issue. Not only do I believe there should be a First Vote to create the leadership structure itself, but I also believe there should be a Second Vote to approve its membership BEFORE it begins its work. No one, not even the elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention, should be authorized to appoint ALL of the members of an ad hoc denominational study group charged with making such a significant decision. We have a Committee on Committees for this purpose. I am not indicting either the office holder of the SBC Presidency or the Task Force members chosen, but rather the process by which such selections were made. Both Reasons One and Two remind me of the classic idiom, “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” My father taught me that the easy way is seldom the right way. If we are going to consider something as significant as changing the name of our denomination, messengers deserve to be involved at every level of the decision making process and not merely brought in at the end to consider the final proposal.
3. Insufficient Evaluation Period
By all accounts, this Task Force met only a few times over a period of only a few months. It is rather difficult to imagine that in such a short period of time, every aspect of this decision could be fully considered. In my opinion, a longer period of study and prayer for such an important issue is clearly warranted. Perhaps taking more time to review the process, to conduct focus groups with rank and file Southern Baptists and prayerfully to consider the issue over a more extended season of deliberations would result in a different and possibly better recommendation. Such a short period of study almost suggests that the decision to recommend some kind of name change was practically a foregone conclusion. When one combines the relatively short period of study with the unconventional task force formation process, it creates the impression that this course of action was almost predetermined. Again allow me to disclaim any personal animus here. I would feel this way were my dearest friends on the Task Force. One has to admit that the study period was fairly brief considering the issue at hand involves a change our denomination only makes, at best, once every 167 years.
4. Confusion of Dual Identities
The entire notion of two convention approved names for our denomination existing simultaneously is so peculiar we must take the time to imagine some of the practical ramifications it will engender if approved. People new in town find out Brother Todd is part of the Great Commission Baptists while Brother Jim is part of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Aren’t you in the same denomination?” they ask. “Well, yes,” says Brother Jim, “but we can’t agree on what to call ourselves.” “I see,” they reply, “well maybe I should just become a Methodist. At least they know who they are!” (Laughter and mocking among those within earshot.) In addition, the confusion of denominational titles, subtitles and optional replacement names will very likely require some awkward descriptions when reading news articles about our denomination. Imagine this: “CNN reports that the Great Commission Baptists (formerly known as the Southern Baptist Convention, and among some congregations still referred to as such) will be in town this week for their annual meeting.” Is this really what we want? Two approved names?
5. Churchy and Trendy Language
The very name itself invites a thorough examination. While certainly every true Christian embraces the TASK of the Great Commission, it does not necessarily follow that the NAME of the Great Commission either (a) resonates with our culture, or (b) represents any real improvement over the traditional name we currently use. Since we have a research arm at Lifeway, one wonders why there is no study to determine if Americans would view us “more favorably, less favorably, or no differently at all” if we were to embrace the optional use of the term “Great Commission Baptists.” One may observe that, through the years, certain words become more prominent in both evangelical and Baptist circles, such as “missional” and “intentional” and “gospel” and “purpose-driven” among many others. Is the term appropriated by our current emphasis on the “Great Commission Resurgence” truly sufficient to replace the historically recognized brand of the “Southern Baptist Convention,” even among only those churches who opt to use it as an officially approved replacement?
That’s all for now, except to remind you that my face is not red and my attitude not bitter. I don’t particularly like the process, the result or even the whole idea behind changing our name, but that doesn’t mean I’m a rude conspiracy theorist. In future installments, I will attempt to disprove the logic that a name change will actually make any practical difference in our evangelism efforts, even among my friends who serve the Lord in all those blue states up north. Let me leave you with one final thought for now, and it has to do with the so called “burden of proof” idea. Because the name change is proposed by the Presidential Task Force mentioned earlier, many people view it with an attitude of acceptance and are asking, “Why not?” The assumption, then, is that we should do it unless we can come up with enough compelling reasons not to do so. I would argue to the contrary. The name “Southern Baptist Convention” has been not merely our legal name, but the only officially approved name by which we have been called, for 167 years. I think the burden of proof should rest upon those who are seeking to change it. Instead of me seeking to prove “why not” they should be forced to prove “why.” It should NOT be an easy thing to change the name of the largest Protestant denomination in America, even by adding a second officially approved replacement name.