As one can see by surveying the historical context of name-change for the Southern Baptist Convention (Part II), it remains more than the simplistic idea to just vote it in and change it. Nor from the evidence we have can it be reasonably argued...
that Southern Baptists have been so addicted to their “southern” heritage, they stubbornly refused to change their name as a result. Those who make such accusations do themselves nor the cause of Christ honor. And, certainly they defame the history of Southern Baptists.
Southern Baptists undoubtedly have made mistakes in their past and will do so again in the future. However, let us please not accuse them where they did not fail, or if they allegedly did fail, at least offer some type of evidence to the charge. Hence, the baseless accusations that the "southern" in the SBC is either “parochial” or “deceptive” come closer, in my view, to ignorance than learned opinion.
When an historic entity which has existed almost one and three-quarters centuries considers changing the name it has possessed from the beginning, it becomes an excruciating process whether it be a “for profit” entity or a religious organization like the Southern Baptist Convention. No wonder there has been a studied reluctance on the part of worthy, competent Southern Baptists who’ve managed our legal and administrative affairs.
In February, 1999, the EC met under the leadership of Dr. Chapman and adopted a special report regarding changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention1 (pp.44-45). In the report, several findings pertaining to name-change were listed. Among the more significant were:
- The name change--if proposed—must fit the selection criteria resulting from the “Committee of Seven” criteria of 1967. The criteria was still relevant
- No proposed name to date satisfied more criteria than did the present name “Southern Baptist Convention.” (In fact, most of the more popularly proposed names raised new, more serious objections.) For example, "Continental" implies inclusion of two nations now not a part of our Convention. So does "North American." "Cooperative" now implies alliance with groups who seek to distinguish themselves from the SBC. Any name with the word "States" or "American" in it might create difficulty for missionaries in areas of anti-American sentiment, while the word "Southern" is fairly innocuous when used overseas.
- Although in some areas the Convention name is perceived as creating barriers, these difficulties have been ameliorated by not including the word "Southern" in church names. (For example, as a part of NAMB’s “Strategic Focus Cities Plan” in the early twos, the Nehemiah Project was launched with new northern church starts none of which had “Baptist” in their name (//link).
- The name "Southern Baptist Convention" and term "SBC" have become brand names meaning more than just the sum of their parts. The Southern Baptist Convention no longer denotes a region as much as it does a position (emphasis added)
- While hindsight might indicate that a different name would have had certain advantages, the window of opportunity to make such a change may have closed at the same rate at which the Convention has obtained name recognition and stature
- The magnitude of the total cost of changing the name of the Convention, including such things as corporate document amendment and harmonization, attempting to obtain a new Internet URL, rewording church signs, and reeducating the general public, is unjustifiable in the absence of a compelling reason and overwhelming consensus to change the name
As one can see, there are compelling reasons to forfeit any perceived advantages of processing the excruciating task of a name-change for the Southern Baptist Convention. Even if we acknowledge the benefits to which name-change advocates appeal, can those perceived benefits really overcome the weighty criteria above? I think not.
Indeed, I cannot, for the life of me, fathom why anyone would pursue such an ideal despite what is already revealed above (also what we saw in Parts I II). Yet they do. However, the real kicker is yet to come.
In preparation for the 1999 EC report, Dr. Chapman wisely sought legal counsel from our attorney group on retainer for the Southern Baptist Convention. In a legal opinion from Guenther, Jordon, and Price, dated January 13, 1999, our attorneys wrote:
Opinion: If the Southern Baptist Convention changes its name the Convention would come under the present Georgia Nonprofit Corporation Code which would require the Convention to substantially alter its instruments and practices, its governance structure, and perhaps its polity (p. 100).
The body of the letter explains their opinion. According to our present status as “The Southern Baptist Convention,” it is a Georgia corporation by virtue of a legislative act granting the Convention a charter. Indeed, the SBC as an entity is still existing on the hand-written document enacted at Augusta, Georgia in 1845!
And, according to our attorneys, as long as the Convention does not amend this charter,
"the Convention is not regulated by the present Georgia Nonprofit Corporation Code” (emphasis added). Instead the SBC is “grandfathered,” so to speak, into the non-profit act.
Hence, if we want to change the name, we must change the original charter per amendment. And, amending the charter apparently means we must then comply with the Georgia Nonprofit Corporation Code.
Consequently, the former “Southern Baptist Convention” would become, for example, the “Great Commission Baptist Convention, Incorporated.” Oh, we could say, we were the “GCBC,” etc. We could even use GCBC in all our promos.
But the difficulty lies not in what “former” Southern Baptists call themselves in the future; instead the elephant in the room lies in what “former” Southern Baptists have become: Southern Baptists would no longer live on a charter of 1845, a charter which has absolutely no governmental strings attached whatsoever; rather the “former” Southern Baptist Convention would be a newly organized non-profit organization accountable to and in compliance with the Georgia Nonprofit Corporation Code.
Anyone who has ever attempted to form a non-profit organization knows exactly what that means. According to non-profit law, a Board of Directors is required to oversee the new non-profit organization.
Furthermore, we would have to work out the complications concerning “members” of the corporation. Presently, we have no members of the Southern Baptist Convention. We have messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention. And we answer to no one but other Southern Baptists how we set up voting privileges, etc. Not so for a non-profit.
And, we would have to define a “member” consistent with Georgia law, not by our own standards. Furthermore, 10% of whomever constituted the corporation membership could petition the Georgia court to remove the Board of Directors. In addition, Georgia’s Attorney General could petition the removal of the Board of Directors.
Why these horrid legal complications are not made known to Southern Baptists when the name-change issue arises I am ashamed to know. Granted grassroots Southern Baptists may innocently be unaware of Dr. Chapman’s work on this issue.
Nevertheless, when seminary professors, seminary presidents, GCRTF members, and entity heads publicly call for a name-change, rehearsing the same reasons given for a change since 1959--reasons which have been thoroughly weighed in the balance of judicious reason and found wanting—it cannot be overlooked so easily. In short, they should know better than this.
Moreover, they surely should be aware of the legal ramifications of a possible name-change in light of their relationship to the EC. If they were aware, why have they remained silent? If they were not aware, why are they soliciting support for a name-change concerning which they possess no factual data about the probable consequences, devastating consequences to our cherished free church heritage? Either way, it seems to me, appears less than responsible at best.
Hence, I call on all Southern Baptists to question those who recruit others to support name-change when, in fact, name-change is hardly a possibility—at least legally—that Southern Baptists can, with clear conscience, entertain. What Southern Baptist leader will step forward and publicly, shamelessly say, "The risk to our present SBC polity is worth changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention"? Let the leader take the microphone and speak plainly.
This is aside from the hundreds of thousands of dollars--perhaps millions of dollars--to fund a name-change even if we could legally do it without sabotaging our free church status .
Personally, I remain curious precisely why GCRTF members, who insisted their commission was to ask questions about how we are spending Cooperative Program monies to see if we can spend the monies better, now appear adamant Southern Baptists must change their name. Will more monies be given to the CP if we change our name? Will we be better CP stewards if we change our name? Will more come to the Lord if we change our name? Will our vision be any greater if we change our name? Will we send more missionaries if we change our name? Will churches be any more bold in sharing the gospel if we change our name? Will we be more gospel-centered if we change our name? Will we even be any more relevant if we change our name?
Additionally, the very same GCRTF members who've lamented the fact that the IMB has missionaries ready to go but have no funding are the very ones soliciting support for a name-change potentially costing millions of dollars! I know I live in West Georgia, but for me, I cannot see how those tators fry.
In conclusion, I challenge those who continue to incite division over our name to either produce the research which necessitates name-change--change even in light of the mammoth legal complications reiterated above--or promote a sense of peace about our present name. “Twittering” for negative feedback, offering sound-bites to state papers, or making generic appeals on blogs can only promote even more division and sectarianism among Southern Baptists.
Dr. Jack Graham had it right: we need to either get it on or put it to bed for good. The Convention voted to put it to bed. And, Dr. Chapman's report is more than enough to keep it there for good.
With that, I am…