Southern Baptists' most prolific (and youngest) cultural critic, Jonathan Merritt, placed his public vote on the question of name change in USA Today on Monday. Agreeing with SBC President Bryant Wright, Merritt wrote: >>>
Wright is, well, right. The label is no longer accurate. Until the mid-20th century, the denomination was concentrated almost exclusively in the American South and Southwest. That is no longer the case. While most congregations still exist below the Mason-Dixon line, SBC churches...have spread to all 50 states, and the SBC's missionary effort has planted thousands more globally. The denomination also comprises more than a quarter of all American evangelicals... . It's safe to assume that if the denomination were forming today, the name "Southern Baptist Convention" wouldn't even be considered.
While one may agree with the factual content of Merritt's assertions, one is hardly obligated to accept Merritt's inferences. Merritt concedes not only the high concentration of churches in the south at the SBC's birth, but also that most churches affiliated with the SBC "still exist below the Mason-Dixon line." Even so, "southern" in the "Southern Baptist Convention" had little to do with the vision of Southern Baptists in 1845. One of the first acts of the newly birthed convention of churches was to set up a foreign missions board to take the gospel to the "heathen." Hence, regionalism had little to do with the visionary thrust of Baptists in the south.
As for not considering "Southern Baptist Convention" as a name were we forming a convention today it goes without saying. But what that assertion is supposed to imply, who possesses a clue? I suppose if any organization--profit or non-profit--the existence of which is approaching two full centuries were to form the same organization today, it would not consider the same name it chose two hundred years earlier.
Similarly, Merritt quotes Al Mohler to his cause:
"The SBC is not driven by a Southern agenda nor a Southern vision," said Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. "In the context of the United States, 'Southern' refers to a region. That region gave birth to the Southern Baptist Convention, but it no longer contains it." Mohler went on to say that the name sounds "strange, if not foreign" to those in the Pacific Northwest and New England, for instance"
Nonetheless, as we stated above, while the Southern Baptist Convention was birthed in the south, neither "agenda" nor "vision" was particularly limited to or "driven by" loyalties to Dixie. Dr. Mohler is a very smart man. He knows our visionary history of global evangelism, and that the first acts of the newly formed Southern Baptist Convention indicated a non-regional, world-wide focus. And, while it may be true "southern" sounds strange to those in the "Pacific Northwest" and "New England," no guarantee exists we can find a less "strange" moniker to other parts of the globe. Indeed to just limit "strangeness" to regional parts of the United States when Southern Baptists are definitively global is a bit truncated.
For example, were we to include "America" or "United States" in our name, there surely exists many parts of the world which would not be welcoming to missionaries for that very reason. Perhaps that's why some are already floating a model for Southern Baptists to consider which employs a completely vacuous name like "Converge Worldwide." Indeed one has to dig deeply into their website to discover whether or not Converge Worldwide is Presbyterian, Catholic, Baptist, Mennonite, or Mormon. Examining Converge Worldwide's bylaws, however, one finds out that, "The name of this organization shall be Baptist General Conference (conducting affairs as Converge Worldwide, hereinafter referred to as the “Conference”)" (Article I--Name).
Of interest to the reader will be the "former" name of Converge Worldwide--"Baptist General Conference." Baptist General Conference? How un-regional could one possibly get? Indeed perhaps Wright's name change "task force" can approach Converge Worldwide and ask them if they'd mind if we used their old name* since we so desperately want to rid ourselves of this horrid regional, racist baggage--southern. A perfect solution! The Southern Baptist Convention could become the Baptist General Conference (or Convention).
Not too fast, however...
If regionalism is the real issue standing as an insurmountable obstacle for church planting in the "Pacific Northwest" and "New England" like Dr. Mohler suggests, why would Converge Worldwide insist on dropping a non-regional moniker like Baptist General Conference? Exactly whom would Baptist General Conference offend? The reason is very simple: regionalism had absolutely nothing to do with dumping Baptist General Conference. Instead, it was the "Baptist" part of the name. And, they even said so in their name change campaign! "Baptist" apparently was the great offender in hindering people in coming to Christ. Hence, they chose an innocuous name like "converge" (Latin, "to incline together) coupling it with "worldwide" ("to the ends of the earth").
One has to wonder precisely what difference there is in "converging" on the one hand and "ecumenical" on the other. I don't know. But with an innocuous name like "converge", one could easily see how Southern Baptists would be posturing themselves to align with non-Baptist denominations to plant churches across the globe. Is this in the vision of the elitists who continue to recreate the Southern Baptist Convention in their own image? Are we not right, then, to ask why name change advocates like Ed Stetzer are raising Converge Worldwide as a standard for Southern Baptists to consider in solving their own superimposed name change "crisis"? Could it be that not only do name change advocates desire "southern" to be dropped but also "Baptist" as well?
Let's see if this idea is pursued further by the elitist men who're apparently confident they know better for Southern Baptists than we know for ourselves.**
With that, I am...
Jonathan Merritt's full piece can be read at "Column: Southern Baptist Convention, change that name"
*I am perfectly aware Converge Worldwide still legally possesses the name, BGC, and that CW is but a dba
**which is why, of course, that a name change "study" was unilaterally decided for us by President Wright rather than we making our own decision about it