Once again the question of whether or not to change the Southern Baptist Convention name has come to the forefront of Convention discussion. It’s happened many times. The first was in 1903, and perhaps the most notable was in the 70’s on a recommendation of W.A. Criswell. Always the name has remained, and always there have been lingering debates about changing it. The issue primarily surrounds the word “Southern.” The origin of the title “Southern” has roughly the same origin as the Confederate States of America. Confederate states wanted the right to own slaves and Southern Baptists wanted to be able to send out missionaries who owned slaves. Many argue today that this ceased to be an issue 150 years ago and needs to be forgotten. The problem with that is though the Civil War ended in the 1860’s, the racism that caused it persisted into the 1960’s. I would argue that the last battle of the Civil War was fought in 1968 over the Civil Rights Act. Only then did Blacks begin to get the rights Abraham Lincoln envisioned for them. So the issue of the word “Southern” being a title of racial oppression is not 150 years old, it is much more recent, at least from the perspective of many African Americans.
However, Racial issues are not the only reason to consider a change. “Southern” is a geographically limiting name. Long ago Southern Baptists ceased to be only in the South as the name implies. Not only are we nationwide, we are worldwide. Another consideration to ponder is the global appeal of our name. Many businesses consider name change just for this reason, to be more successful on the global stage. A recommendation will be made at this year’s Convention in New Orleans to keep the legal name Southern Baptist, but to also adopt the informal name “Great Commission Baptists.” I like it because “Great Commission” is not a regionally oriented name, but a name associated with our calling and purpose. It speaks ‘who we are’ far better than the word “Southern.”
Honestly, I thought it was a milk-toast solution at first, but the idea has grown on me. Changing the legal name of the Convention would present a plethora of legal issues for all the varying organizations connected to the SBC including Seminaries, State conventions, associations, and even local churches who would then be compelled to change their bylaws to keep up. I support the adoption of this informal name and am anxious to see all the ways it is slowly applied to our convention. At first we’ll be Southern Baptists who now call themselves Great Commission Baptists. Then it will be SBC also known as GCB. Then will come GCB formerly known as SBC. Eventually, hopefully we will just be Great Commission Baptists.