SBC name change study sparks lively debate
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- The announcement from Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright of a presidential task force to study the prospect of changing the convention's name sparked a lively debate during the SBC Executive Committee meeting Sept. 19 in Nashville, Tenn.
Executive Committee member Darrell P. Orman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Stuart, Fla., offered a motion that convention attorneys study the issue for one year "before we take any action" on possibly changing the name. The motion later failed on a 39-20 vote.
"Every man here wants to do something significant in his life for Christ and His Kingdom," Orman said. "A name change could be a future necessity for our convention but it should start from the bottom up, not the top down."
The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force's 2010 proposals for dramatically reorganizing the Southern Baptist Convention and reallocating missions dollars had caused a "tug of war" and left "a lot of conflicted feelings ... across our nation," Orman said. "We don't need another wedge issue at this time."
An Executive Committee member from Ohio echoed Orman's concerns.
"If you get outside of Georgia, Florida and Tennessee, GCR is still very, very divisive among Southern Baptists," said Charles Chambers, a layman from Toledo, Ohio. "Don't divide us again."
Another Executive Committee member suggested a better approach would be to let messengers to the SBC annual meeting bring up the subject themselves.
"I would counsel us to be very thoughtful and prayerful before we open a can of worms that the convention has not said on the front end they want to open. [Messengers] have said in years past that this is not something we want to do," said Ron Madison, senior pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala. "It may be time to consider it again, but if it is time to consider it again, isn't there wisdom in letting the messengers generate that request, rather than putting something out here ... that is almost guaranteed to become a focus of, at very best, a spirited discussion?"
Executive Committee chairman Roger Spradlin reminded the group that the wisdom of discussing a name change was not the issue before them.
"If this is a can of worms -- [if] that's how you would want to characterize it -- we, meaning the Executive Committee, are not opening that," said Spradlin, co-pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Calif., and a member of Wright's task force. "The president has made an announcement.... We can't take action on whether a group of volunteers is appointed by the president. That's under his purview."
After Orman's motion was defeated, Executive Committee member Bill Whittaker, a retired college president and retired pastor from Glasgow, Ky., offered a motion "that the Executive Committee respectfully request President Wright to share his concerns for a convention name change with the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention meeting and request the convention approve the task force." That motion was defeated by a large margin on a show of hands.
In a news conference later, Wright said it is not a "foregone conclusion" the task force would recommend a name change.
"I think there would be a good number of members of the task force that would certainly, if they were to speak for themselves tonight, would be able to share they do not know what their conclusion would be," Wright said. While some members favor the prospect, "not everybody on the task force by any means has come to this with a foregone conclusion. I think everybody, most especially the chairman of the task force, Dr. [Jimmy] Draper, sees the importance of a study and just letting the study guide us and direct whatever recommendation might eventually come to the convention."
While the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force's recommendations had been controversial, they opened the door for Southern Baptists to be more effective in fulfilling the Great Commission, Wright added. Significant change can be risky, he acknowledged, but noted that the GCR study led to Southern Baptists publicly dealing with how "we were really not fulfilling the commission Christ has given us as fruitfully as we have done in the past and as fruitfully as we would love to see happening today," Wright said.
"Even though that was a difficult study, ... it was a very, very valuable study.... I just feel like God worked in a powerful way," Wright said. "I feel their work was a very valuable work ... and the Lord used that to prepare the way for some important steps in our convention.... This is just another possible step to help us as a convention be better poised to be a more fruitful convention in reaching our world for Christ, especially in North America."
Asked if LifeWay Research might be enlisted to survey Southern Baptists about a possible name change, Wright said he had discussed that possibility with Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, but that no decision on that possibility had been made.
Wright also noted the convention's name is geographically regional, which he said could be a barrier to starting new churches outside the South. He added he has received "continual feedback" from church planters outside of the South and Southwest regarding the "regional nature of our name."
"In New York and Boston and Minneapolis and out West, it's just a big barrier that they are continually dealing with," Wright said. "... Part of the study is to consider a name change as a possibility of removing a barrier to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are so many people that are unreached, that it's a barrier to even have communication with them, or for them to even consider coming to a new church plant that is a Southern Baptist church. Hearing that feedback in [my] travels around the nation was definitely influential in me praying about this possibility."
In his announcement, Wright said he believes Southern Baptists would benefit from another look at the question and noted four questions he was going to ask task force to consider: "1) Is it a good idea, that is, is there value in considering a name change? 2) If so, what would be a good name to suggest? 3) What would be the potential legal ramifications of a name change? 4) What would be the potential financial implications?"
Motions to study a name change have been presented to the convention on numerous occasions -- for example, 1965, 1974, 1983, 1989, 1990 and 1998. More recently, the convention was asked in its 1999 annual session in Atlanta to conduct a "straw poll" to consider a name change. The "straw poll" was defeated on a floor vote. A motion at the 2004 annual meeting in Indianapolis to authorize the SBC president to appoint a committee to study a name change was defeated on a ballot vote (44.6 percent yes; 55.4 percent no).
Wright said he hopes the task force will be able to provide an interim report he can share with the SBC Executive Committee during its Feb. 20-21 meeting, with the possibility of a final report in time for the SBC annual meeting June 19-20, 2012, in New Orleans. Any proposed name change, as well as other legal implications involved in a name change, would have to be approved by a majority of messengers at two consecutive SBC annual meetings, according to the convention's constitution.
Mark Kelly is senior writer and an assistant editor with Baptist Press. The Baptist Press article on Wright's announcement of the task force can be found at www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=36156.