Summarizing Part I, I explained the good, the bad, and some of the ugly stemming from this last attempt to change our name spawned by SBC president, Bryant Wright's appointing of a "task force" to study the name change last September (2011). As for the good, "Great Commission Baptists" (GCB) surely captures the ideal of what and whom Southern Baptists have been throughout their history. From the moment of our beginnings in 1845, Southern Baptists have been, at their best moments, about carrying out the Great Commission of our Lord. Few, if any, imagined arguments could usurp this proposition >>>
Even so, the bad about this name is, while it speaks to us about us and speaks to other Christians about us, "Great Commission Baptists" possesses little, if any, more explanatory power to our culture in particular and the global community in general about who we are and what we are than our present, time-tested name--Southern Baptists. The truth is, "Great Commission" is the language of the church, the language of the gospel-initiated. People familiar with Christ's words to go and make disciples, preaching the gospel to every creature, as constituting the church's undeniable assignment (Matt 28:18-20; John 17:5; cp. Mark 16:15) will surely understand our focus on the Great Commission. Unfortunately, the uninitiated, untutored, gospel-illiterate culture will most probably lack the faintest clue what "Great Commission" means.
If I am correct, what benefit will a "tag-line" offer Southern Baptists if it lacks literary power to explain to the larger population who and what Southern Baptists are? For my part, this may pose reluctance on the part of some to quickly climb aboard the name change bandwagon if for no other reason than "Great Commission Baptists" has, deposited to its credit, no empirical evidence to suggest the faintest probability that it will add tangible benefit to the Southern Baptist Convention. Are we to understand that the task force has proposed "Great Commission Baptists" because they feel it will give Southern Baptists more cultural likeability with less cultural liability toward greater evangelistic opportunity? If so, we ask the task force to present their case to Southern Baptists so we may decide for ourselves (more on this below and Part III).
We also noted in Part I how some are already greasing the bucket against those who have expressed reservations about the name change principle and process. Both Bryant Wright and Jimmy Draper framed the question about name change and the task force's decision for "Great Commission Baptists" as being led of the Holy Spirit, with Dr. Draper explicitly stating, "this is a name...nobody can object to the name...Great Commission Baptists. It's a way hopefully to focus our people again and thus encourage participation" (video embedded below; cp. Bryant Wright's words at approximately the 18min mark; Jimmy Draper's words approximately 21:30 mark). Is present in this assertion some sort of implication that if Southern Baptists are following the leadership of the Holy Spirit in June, then we will come to the same conclusion? Again, given Draper's confidence that "nobody can object" to the name the task force has chosen, should Southern Baptists therefore view those who might try to object as the popular but mythical "crazy uncles" we're all supposed to love and tolerate in the SBC?
We find some other rather "ugly" implications in the task force proposal. Given the optional nature of the name change "tag-line"--that is, one church has it and another does not; one state convention adopts it, another does not; one association embraces it, another does not--how does this proposal reflect unity as Great Commission Baptists? We cannot tell.
Contrarily, it remains fairly easy to comprehend how an endorsed optional approach reflects the opposite--chaos, factionalism, and competitiveness. It's true we already possess liberty to not publicly affiliate with the Southern Baptist Convention via name. But to have an officially endorsed option, how long will it take before one church is pitted against another, one association against another, one entity against another? How long will it take before sides--new Baptists and old Baptists--forge along the fault line between GCB and SBC? Haven't Southern Baptists already got enough factions without officially endorsing one on the convention floor of the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans?
In my view, then, Wright's task force may have unintendedly created division where no official division necessarily existed. They have effectively recommended that Southern Baptists divide. How Dr. Draper thinks this is a "win/win" for Southern Baptists when it officially sanctions us dividing up along the lines of different names has not been explained.
Also in the press conference (originally posted Monday, Feb. 20 and same as linked above) Draper and Wright brought the racial issue back into the spotlight suggesting that since Southern Baptist origins are tied to slavery, then Southern Baptists need to change their name (approximately 22:30 mark). I personally grow weary of this particular reason for name change being publicized as if Baptists in the south somehow were alone in their skewed, morally repugnant acceptance and defense of slavery.
Virtually every Christian denomination embraced the godless institution of slavery as did our own civil government. To cite the south as if it alone remains worthy to take the lion's share of condemnation for slavery's existence because it was chronologically one of the last bastions of a long-line of slavery-supporting constituencies before falling to abolition's righteous crusade seems too incredible to take seriously. The truth is, if ones early (and unethical) position on slavery remains detrimental to ones identity now, consequently calling for a name change, perhaps we shouldn't stop with Southern Baptists. Indeed would it not require we drop "church," "Christian," and "Christianity" from our ecclesial vocabulary as well?
I would also argue, if Bryant Wright and others are correct, and it's morally imperative to create a distance (i.e. name change) between our Southern Baptist forefathers and Southern Baptists today concerning slavery, then not only making our name change into a mere "tag-line" add-on while retaining the offending name fully intact, but also making the change optional surely constitutes one of the most cowardly, sideways insults one might imagine.
Consider: if our name genuinely and morally offends; and we are concerned it definitively hinders both our effectual evangelism and healthy relationship with African Americans as well as other minorities; and that we are morally compelled to put substantial distance between our sinful roots and today's mature ethical position on slavery; then we have no right to retain our name regardless of the cost to change it. If it is morally right to change our name, then we dare not cite legal, fiscal, or other hardship costs prohibiting us from doing what's right and moral and good. In short, if Wright and Draper are correct that our name morally inhibits our service to God, including the effectual preaching of His Son's gospel, then it seems that anything less than a full name change remains personal preference at best and moral hypocrisy at worst.
Somewhere Martin Luther King, Jr. said something like, "I can forgive a white man for taking my pencil. But I can't reconcile til he gives it back." The task force apparently wants to confess on one hand we stole a lot of pencils, but on the other, they're not willing to give them back. Why? It's "too costly," or there are "legal barriers." Since when did our Lord place a price tag on doing the right, the good, and the honorable thing?
This is the dilemma in which the task force placed Southern Baptists by framing this issue (or allowing others to do so) in moral terms and bringing racism into the equation. If we accept the "tag-line" of "Great Commission Baptists" as sufficient but optional, all the while Wright and Draper frame the name change decision in moral categories by insisting our ties with our racist past must be severed, we're, in effect, accomplishing little more than soothing our own pitiful consciences while once again morally insulting the African-American community.
Southern Baptists ought to change their name if a name change is morally required; and we ought to change it both fully and legally no matter the costs to doing so. Pinning a "tag-line" on the end of our name while actually keeping the offensive moniker may be the cheap way out. It may also be a very easy thing to do, and do with the least resistance. Granted. Nevertheless, we are not called to do cheap and easy things; nor are we called to do those things which manufacture the least resistance.
Rather, we are called to do the right thing. And, contrary to the task force, the right thing is never optional.
With that, I am...
Part III up next