he task force responsible for assessing the feasibility of a name change for America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, presented a proposal Monday, Feb. 20 at an Executive Council meeting in Tennessee.
The task force recommended keeping the 167-year-old denomination name, but gave an option to churches that no longer wanted to be considered “Southern Baptist.” Instead, these churches could, with the convention’s blessing, take on the name or tag line, “Great Commission Baptists.”
Former SBC President Paige Patterson said, “I think that, if anything, it’s a case of our having our cake and getting to eat it, too,” reported a Religion News Service article.
The new name assessment began in September when now-President Bryant Wright commissioned the 20-member task force to look into the possibility.
Wright received criticism from peers for not putting the task force creation before the Executive Committee for a vote.
Wright also commissioned LifeWay Research, an agency of the SBC, to study the impression the denomination’s name leaves on Americans. More than a third responded that an SBC church is not for them and 40 percent said they do not have a favorable impression of the SBC.
Part of the reason SBC members desired a name change was because it carries some stigmas. For instance, Anthony Chute, professor of church history, said in a previous article on the same topic, “Some people immediately associate Southern Baptist with right-wing politics, racism and rural backwardness.”
Another reason is that members say the name is too regional and limits the ability to spread the gospel, a core concern of Great Commission-minded Southern Baptists.
Reasons against changing the name include the loss of a nearly 200-year identity and discord among members, but the task force’s decision ultimately came down to legal complications. Simply, the cost would be too high to legally change the name.
The recommendation was accepted Tuesday Feb. 21 and will be voted on in June at the SBC’s annual meeting.