Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), is a wise and gifted leader. I have great respect for him. Admittedly, I was disappointed when he announced last September that he had named a task force to study the possibility of changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention. From my perspective the study was unnecessary and a distraction from our primary mission.
I have said little about the idea of a name change, realizing that any discussion would be unfruitful and counter productive until the task force completed its work. Shadow boxing is a sport with no winners.
Wright named persons who were broadly representative of Baptist life. And to their credit, they paid their own expenses. That’s correct. The task force was not authorized by the messengers at the annual meeting. Nor was the group given an assignment from the Executive Committee of the SBC. So, no SBC dollars were authorized to fund the work of this task force.
We should thank the group for their sacrificial service. In fact, their service may provide an immeasurable legacy far beyond their original intentions.
Before the task force gave their report Feb. 20, Wright shared with the Executive Committee, “When the Lord called me to this role, there were two main things on my heart. [That] we as a people, as individuals, as churches, as a convention – that we would return to that first love of Jesus Christ.”
His second goal was, “That we would have a radical reprioritization on the Great Commission.” Wright believed a study of our name would help.
One of SBC’s most respected senior statesmen, Jimmy Draper, chaired the task force. As expected, Draper, former president of LifeWay, provided wise biblical leadership to the group.
In his report to the Executive Committee he said, “We wanted to bring something to you that could keep us from having to do this every four or five years. We’ve looked at this [name change] 12 times in the last 50 years including three extensive studies.”
The task force had the benefits of the three previous studies, which hastened their progress. Draper reported that 585 potential names were submitted, plus 300 more that were too foolish to count.
We have reported in other stories that the task force will bring their recommendation to the floor of this year’s convention. This is the full recommendation (I bolded two areas for emphasis):
“That the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention report to the Convention meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 19-20, 2012, that it declines to study or develop a plan and implementation strategy for the adoption of a new name for the Southern Baptist Convention for all the reasons mentioned in the report issued on February 20, 2012, by the SBC president’s name change task force, as well as those in the 1999 report of the Executive Committee on the same subject.
“And, further, that the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention recommend to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans, June 19-20, 2012, that those churches, entities and organizations in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention which may desire to utilize a descriptor other than the term ‘Southern Baptists’ to indicate their relationship with each other and their involvement in the Southern Baptist Convention and its ministries, use the descriptor ‘Great Commission Baptists,’ a phrase commended as one fully in keeping with our Southern Baptist Convention identity, and that the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention report to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 19-20, 2012, that it will study ways in which the use of the phrase ‘Great Commission Baptists’ might be protected and preserved for use by those churches and institutions which find its use beneficial and will assess how using the phrase in various ways in its communications and publications might be helpful to those groups.”
In a sense, the proposal is a brilliant and wise compromise of options. But in another sense, it is the only reasonable path, considering legal complications and historical advantages. I hope those who strongly desire a name change will understand.
Whether or not the alternate name gets traction depends on Baptists in the pews, not on denominational leadership. It cannot be forced, and the indication from present leadership is that it will not be forced. If it is useful in specific environments, then let it be used.
Let’s pray that messengers to this year’s annual convention in New Orleans will approve the recommendation. From that point, let’s not bring up the subject again and move on to the greater needs at hand. Let the matter be settled.
Whatever we do it should be for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel.