A week after the great “Nickname” proposal was unveiled to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, more illuminating information continues to trickle out. With each new nugget, more questions seemed to be raised. For many
name change completely optional nickname proponents, the EC’s approval of the recommendation of an unofficial blue ribbon panel assembled by the sitting President of the Southern Baptist Convention, thus sending it to the messengers to vote whether to approve the aforementioned completely optional nickname (or is it now a tagline or informal descriptor) — Great Commission Baptists — settles the matter. Without speaking to the bad precedent that has been set (I’ll save that for another post), the Executive Committee (save a reported five brave souls whose vote against the nickname proposal not only cut down on their own mental clutter, but also made a courageous statement that process matters) sent what is sure to be a divisive recommendation to this June’s Annual Meeting in New Orleans.
Only those who speak against this entirely reasonable and clear proposal to establish a dual identity for the nation’s largest Protestant religious body will be seen as trying to divide the Convention. It reminds me of President Obama (it seems that many of the tactics of some SBC establishment leaders in the last few years remind me of Mr. Obama, but I digress) who, in the wake of the Tucson shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, pleaded for civility in a speech given in the aftermath of that tragedy. The only problem with Obama’s call for civil discourse was his silent agreement with the lunatic left’s vilification of Sarah Palin in particular and conservatives in general for being solely responsible for creating the climate which led to the shooting in the first place. Not much of an effort to unite, if you really digested what the President said — and didn’t say — that day in Tucson.
When one begins to digest the Task Force’s reasons for concluding why an official name change would not be feasible, more questions — at least for me — come to mind. In an article posted at SBC Voices entitled, “Anatomy of a Name Change,” Micah Fries, a member of the Task Force, provides a good synopisis of the thinking among the Task Force members as they deliberated whether the name of the Southern Baptist Convention should be changed. Shouldn’t the Task Force have decided that question and that question only? If the Task Force concluded that the current name, “Southern Baptist Convention,” was a hindrance to the Gospel and to fulfilling the Great Commission, then, as Peter Lumpkins points out:
“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.”
And, apparently issues dealing with slavery, racism and the SBC’s founding were at the heart of some of the discussions of the Task Force. That is not surprising given that the Convention’s racist founding was brought up early and often, including by at least one prominent member of the Task Force, Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Jimmy Draper, Chairman of the Task Force, give us a glimpse of the Task Force’s discussions regarding the SBC’s pro-slavery beginnings:
“It’s (the optional nickname/descriptor/moniker) not requiring anything,” Draper said. “If the name catches on, it’ll be because it came from the grass roots. The Southern Baptist Convention was born in the midst of the slavery controversy, and we were on the wrong side of that. We abhor the slavery issue and regret the circumstances of our birth. But that’s in the past, and we need to recognize we’re sensitive to people’s needs.”
I appreciate Dr. Draper’s candidness about some of the motivations of the Task Force. But, from his words comes several questions that need to be asked and answered. Given the clearly negative and odious connotation that the word “Southern” continues to have among many within the SBC, the following questions surely would have been asked by Task Force members before embarking on an optional nickname proposal that was not (at least publicly) part of their original assignment:
- If entities and institutions of the SBC, including elected leaders in positions of authority, begin using the informal descriptor in their publications, communications, materials, etc. (which the recommendation encourages), can we say this really “came from the grassroots?”
- Understanding that the SBC was born out of slavery — even if it is in the past — are we more sensitive to people’s needs by using the new nickname?
- Conversely, are we insensitive if we continue to use “Southern Baptist Convention,” a moniker that our leaders constantly remind us will forever be associated with slavery and racism and be a great hindrance to the Gospel?
- Is there at least the possibility that the new nickname will be used (perhaps unintentionally) to shame those who still prefer the official name, but who will be seen as clinging to a name whose use is insensitive on its face and whose continued use — especially in light of the great descriptor, Great Commission Baptists — will be automatically seen as callous to people’s needs?
As more information and interviews with Task Force members continues to be available to grassroots Southern Baptists, the more questions will arise between now and New Orleans. The above four are but a few that will help folks to make sense of what appears, on its face, to be a confusing recommendation, but which, with the passage of time, looks to be as clear as the blue skies in the Land of Enchantment!