America’s largest Protestant denomination considers choosing a new name

Photo Courtesy of Baptist Press -- The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee debates changing their name.

At September’s Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee meeting, the convention leader, President Bryant Wright, made an announcement that both pleased and displeased the “messengers,” representatives sent from cooperating SBC churches.

Wright announced the creation of a task force that would look into the possibility of changing the name of the SBC, which with over 16 million members is America’s largest Protestant denomination.

Many failed attempts to change the denomination’s name occurred in past years.

“First, the convention’s name is so regional,” Wright said. “With our focus on church planting, it is challenging in many parts of the country to lead churches to want to be part of a convention with such a regional name. Second, a name change could position us to maximize our effectiveness in reaching North America for Jesus Christ in the 21st century.”

The proposed limitation from having the word “Southern” in the denomination’s name is one main reason for changing it. The term “Baptist” will not likely be removed, reported a “Baptist Press” article.

When the denomination was first assembled in 1845, it was to separate itself from Northern Baptists who opposed slavery. Southern Baptists “publicly repented” of their original views in 1995 and called slavery and racism sins, Anthony Chute, associate professor of church history explained.Now, some Southern Baptists want to lose ties with the word “Southern” in order to further their outreach opportunities.

“The main reason to change the name … is because the ‘Southern’ portion of our name is too regional,” Chute said. “What does it mean to be ‘Southern’ Baptist in Canada? Or Russia? So, the name itself is problematic when we are trying to reach the world for Christ. “Additionally, people seek a name change because they are concerned about the stigma that is often associated with being Southern Baptist. Some people immediately associate Southern Baptist with right-wing politics, racism and rural backwardness.”

Chute also suggested the cost of re-branding and potential legal ramifications are reasons some Southern Baptists believe the name should not be changed.

“Think, for example, if a company like [Apple Inc.] decided to change its name to Orange. It would have to convince people that it is still the same company and that would not be an easy feat, even with an iPad in hand,” he said.

The first meeting of Wright’s appointed task force, which has 20 diverse members, took place on Oct. 26. The members spent a lot of time in prayer.

Jimmy Draper, the task force chairman, is quoted in a “Baptist Press” article as saying, “We are driven by only one great question — how can Southern Baptists be most faithful in reaching people for Jesus.”

The members gathered again on Dec. 7, and claimed to have reached a decision. This decision will be announced and explained at the Executive Committee meeting on Feb. 20. From there, the issue will be put to a vote at the Southern Baptist Convention in June.

“Even then, it may not make it to the floor,” Chute said. “It may be voted on, or it may be postponed to another convention. The latter seems most likely, if a change is recommended. Baptists like to have time to think about such issues.”

The decision seems to stem largely from the results of a LifeWay research study.

Wright commissioned LifeWay Research in September to study American’s impression of Southern Baptists. The results came back negative.

More than a third of Americans said an SBC church is not for them, and nearly 40 percent of participants said they have an unfavorable impression of Southern Baptists. Churchgoers have a better opinion of Southern Baptists than do non-churchgoers.

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