In Part I, I attempted to put the present call to change our official name as “The Southern Baptist Convention” into historical perspective.
Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) members like Drs. J.D. Greear and Danny Akin who are actively soliciting support for discarding the name, “Southern Baptist Convention” are by no means the first to raise the issue1. Indeed since at least the late 1950’s, about once a decade the issue resurfaces. Let’s look at some of the more prominent ones...
In 1961, an Arkansas Executive Committee (EC) member, Rheubin South, proposed to the EC to study changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention, and subsequently, the matter was referred to the Administrative Committee (AC)2. And, even though the AC moved, at a pre-convention meeting of the EC in 1962, that SBC “best describes” who Southern Baptists are and “needs to be retained,” the EC voted the recommendation down. Hence, no action was taken to the convention floor on the name change that year.
State papers were apparently flooded with editorials and letters of continued interest in the name change for the next few years. One task force—The 70 Onward Project—which had a working group in excess of 615 members on 41 sub-committee groups, took special interest in a name-change and appealed to the EC to continue to explore the possibilities of the proposed change which seemed to interest many Southern Baptists. Consequently, Illinois messenger, Charles Chaney made a motion at the SBC in 1965 concerning the name-change, which subsequently was referred to the EC.
After studying the proper protocol for a name-change, the EC asked “Dr. Routh… to work with Martin Bradley of the Department of Research and Statistics of the Baptist Sunday School Board to make a survey of attitudes and possibilities of a name change of the Convention, and report to the committee in its pre-Convention meeting." A survey of a “selected sample” was performed by Routh’s team and the vote for a name-change was practically dead even: “48% favoring a change, 48.7% opposing, and 3.3% indicating no opinion.” However, a later follow-up study indicated the sampling was hardly representative of the broader convention.
In addition, a survey of state paper editors, state convention secretaries, and SBC agency heads clearly indicated one two-fold conclusion: there was no consensus to change the name and there was no consensus on a suitable name. Consequently, in February, 1967, the EC voted that
“any proposed change of name of the Southern Baptist Convention--if such should be proposed--be tested as to its public relations implications; also, that the following list of questions be used as suggested criteria to test these implications.”
Thus far, it seems to me what we have seen is wise and sober caution in proceeding forward with changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention. Why some would frame the debate in terms of “deception”1 (Miller, see footnote below) or accuse Southern Baptists of fostering “parochialism” (Greear, see Part I) is surprising, not to mention disappointing. It also appears historically clueless concerning the larger issues with which Southern Baptists have dealt concerning a name-change.
Some of the criteria for a suitable name the EC assimilated in 1967—if such a name were proposed--include:
- Is it legally available?
- Is it distinctive?
- Would it be confused with other Baptist organizations?
- Is it easily recognizable?
- Is it short?
- Would it be capable of world-wide use?
- Would there be any unfortunate meanings, visual or auditory, in any foreign language?
- Is it easy to pronounce?
- Is it geographically accurate?
- Is the name consistent with Baptist history?
- Would it be acceptable to other Baptist bodies?
- Would it be received favorably by non-Baptist bodies?3 (p.36).
These criteria are well thought-out and represent an entirely different level of thinking than name-change advocates seem to generate today. What appears as the bottom line for them tragically is, anything but “southern” is an improvement over our present name.
At the Dallas SBC in 1974, the famed Dr. W.A. Criswell, Pastor of the influential Dallas First Baptist Church and twice-elected president of the SBC (1968, 1969), moved the president of the SBC appoint a committee of seven members to study the possibility of changing the name of the SBC. Criswell himself was named by the president along with other high profile Southern Baptists including Hershel H. Hobbs (p.37).
After a year’s study, the Committee of Seven brought to the SBC in Miami Beach (1975) the recommendation that “in light of its findings it is the committee's considered judgment that the name of the Southern Baptist Convention should not be changed at this time" (p.38).The Committee of Seven appeared to exhaustively study the issue.
Included in their work were the following projects:
(1) An invitation through Baptist Press to all Southern Baptists to express their views.
(2) Participation with the September, 1974, Public Relation Advisory Conference in a name change study
(3) Study of past name change studies, especially the 1966 opinion survey conducted by the Research Services Department of the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board
(4) A mass opinion poll through ballots placed in all state Baptist papers
(5) A professional opinion survey conducted by the Research Services Department of the Baptist Sunday School Board (p.68).
In every sphere considered, the results were “decisive,” the overwhelming majority of which favored no name-change in the SBC. There was simply not enough support among grassroots Southern Baptists to make the change.
Dr. Criswell formerly advocated a name change. However, after observing the complications up-close as a member of the Committee of Seven, he changed his position in supporting a name-change for the Southern Baptist Convention. This fact is often overlooked by those who are aware of Dr. Criswell's support for the name-change. While many name-change advocates today regularly use Dr. Criswell's public support of changing the name of the SBC, it's rarely mentioned that after careful, studied consideration, Dr. Criswell also changed his mind on the matter.
Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to conclude the Committee of Seven did not discover positive reasons to change the name. They concluded:
“The Committee of Seven reached its decision on the name change issue after careful study of all known reasons for and against a name change. Some valid reasons exist for a name change, especially in pioneer areas for Southern Baptists” (p.69).
For them, the issue was not a stubborn resistance because of some sacred allegiance to the term “southern.” Rather, for the Committee of Seven, the issue revolved around whether any of the reasons which exist for a name-change trumped what they considered the overwhelming reasons to retain the name, Southern Baptist Convention.
Hands down, the Committee of Seven concluded the reasons for a name-change could not overcome the insurmountable reasons to keep the name as it was. Some of the reasons to keep the name “Southern Baptist Convention” included:
1) the overwhelming number of people strongly against a name-change (all polls were decisive, some ridiculously so)
2) the name “Southern Baptist” was identified with doctrinal stances with historic proportions
3) the danger of other groups capitalizing upon the name once we forfeited it and the confusion it would cause
4) the long and arduous task of communicating a new name to all constituents;
5) the difficulties of instituting a new name into charters and documents of the SBC at all levels of convention affairs; also, the legal ramifications of wills, trusts, etc.
6) the absence of consensus on a new name (p.51).
Concerning the latter, a whopping 52 different names were considered with no real front-runner. The top five were: Cooperative Baptist Convention, Continental Baptist Convention, United Baptist Convention, World Baptist Convention, and Baptist Convention of America.
The issue squeezed back into the SBC conscience during subsequent years with motions at the 1983, 1989, and 1990 conventions. If I am not mistaken, all of these motions were referred to the EC and were lost in motion to consider.
Other than the most recent rhetoric about name-change coming mostly from GCRTF members, a push in the early twos to change the name of the Southern Baptist Convention came from then, president of the SBC and mega-church pastor, Dr. Jack Graham (//link). Baptist Press reported Graham as saying: "I believe it is time for us once again to take some bold steps as Southern Baptists."
Dr. Graham surely had the right attitude: "It is my view that we need to stop meeting and just talking about this... We need to either put it to bed forever or get on with it." Well, put it to bed the convention did though by a slim margin.
At the June, 2004 meeting in Indianapolis, the motion lost for a study committee to be appointed (//link). The report of the Executive Committee led by Dr. Morris Chapman had apparently made its way into many Southern Baptists' thinking (next up).
The focus next will be Dr. Chapman's wise contribution to the name-change issue along with some concluding remarks.
With that, I am…
1What is a first, from what I can tell, is framing the name-change issue in moral categories. Amazingly, Dave Miller, at SBCImpact did just that (//link). According to him, apparently those of us like myself who are not convinced there exists a worthy enough tension between retaining “southern” and discarding it to justify the resources to change it are embracing deception! Why do we embrace deceit? According to Dave, because we are “no longer a Southern denomination and we should not call ourselves such.” My reply was and is, if Dave’s point is valid now, it was valid in 1845, for one of the first actions the newly formed SBC did was set in place a board to oversee taking the gospel to the heathen. In other words, the SBC has never been about “the south” so far as our vision goes. Hence, if we embrace deceit now, we’ve always embraced deceit. Note also, Dave attempted to answer my comment on his post with a complete dismissal of it.
3The entire list of 25 criteria can be seen online at www.sbc.net.