As Yogi Berra would say, “This is like deja vu all over again.” Or, as Ronald Reagan quipped to the second-worst President of the modern-era, Jimmy Carter, “There you go again.” At least that’s what came to mind as I began reading the 2012 Pre-Convention Special Issue of SBC Life that I received in the mail on Tuesday of this week. Published by the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, this “communication piece” is distributed five times a year “to pastors, ministers of education, ministers of music, full-time denominational workers, chaplains, missionaries, and vocational evangelists of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
This slick publication usually has several articles that I find particularly beneficial. I would say that it is a good use of Cooperative Program funds to publish this magazine, but after reading the next-to-the last article (not to mention the one-sided article on the Lord’s Supper, which I’ll address in a future post), I’m beginning to have my doubts. The article in question was written by Marshall Blalock, the Pastor of the historic FBC Charleston, SC and a member of the unofficial official Name Change Task Force appointed by SBC President Bryant Wright to “settle the question of whether such a change is feasible and whether it serves the mission of the Convention as a whole.” I have written previously why I believe that the formation of this Task Force, and the subsequent approval of its unauthorized recommendations by the Executive Committee, blatantly disregards the last stated will of the messengers of the Convention and possibly contravenes the Constitution and ByLaws of the SBC (here, here, here, and here).
Pastor Blalock’s article, entitled “SBC Name: A Case for “Great Commission Baptists,” was originally published “on his church’s Web site on February 23, 2012,” shortly after the “historic” announcement of the proposed nickname for the Convention. In making his case, Rev. Blalock actually undercuts the legitimacy and the stated reasons for the Task Force. The Name Change Task Force was asked to answer two questions, the first of which would have been dispositive of the entire exercise had it been answered in the negative, which it was. We would therefore not be having this discussion nor would we be voting on a proposal that violates the spirit, if not the letter, of our Convention’s governing documents.
Of course, the first question, “Is such a change feasible?” was answered early on. The clear answer, which everyone on the Task Force had to know or have reason to know going in — given the extensive legal work that had already been done on this issue –was a resounding NO! But, why let that stop you from pressing forward to come up with a new name instead? If it cannot be done de jure (according to the law), then why not do it de facto (in fact). And, that’s exactly what the Task Force has done.
Perhaps they did not envision this at the outset, but at some point, the idea of a new, less bigoted moniker, started to sound pretty good. Why wouldn’t it? After all, Pastor Blalock contends that there was “a significant portion of Baptists outside of the South (who) made a compelling case that a non-regional name would benefit the cause of missions.” The logical question would be, “Who?” Was a survey commissioned by Lifeway Research to determine this? Have the results been kept under lock and key like the GCRTF records? Inquiring minds (as opposed to “yes men” ) would really like to know.
What makes the Task Force’s nickname proposal all the more ludicrous is the explanation given by Pastor Blalock. In what surely is an unintended nonsensical statement, he writes:
“The task force was faced with two competing conclusions: a name change would create legal problems that could potentially harm our mission; and the name change would eliminate barriers and stimulate greater focus on the Gospel and the mission to reach lost people.”
How can one have two competing conclusions when it was clear from the stated purpose of the Task Force that the feasibility of a name change was a central element in determining whether to proceed forward with a name change? It makes one think that the unofficial official Name Change Task Force was not designed to study the feasibility of a name change at all. Rather, this whole exercise was designed to come up with a new name for the Southern Baptist Convention. Why do we even have the pretense of impartiality? When the Task Force did not get the answer that they already knew they would get, they then came up with the brilliant and unifying idea for the new descriptor or nick name or moniker or whatever.
I must admit that I did not see this coming. In a way to maneuver around the Constitutional provision that a name change must be approved by a 2/3 vote at two consecutive Annual Meetings, the Task Force believes that it can adopt an unofficial designation by a simple majority vote. Let’s read the words of Rev. Blalock to determine for ourselves if what the Task Force, and by extension, the Executive Committee of the SBC, proposes is just an unofficial, totally optional nickname or in fact a name change in all but the formal legal documents:
“The beauty of this plan is that none of the legal documents of any of our institutions or agencies will be affected or changed. The task force members are recommending that we adopt the name “Great Commission Baptists” in all of our work as we identify ourselves. The individual agencies and institutions would have to make the decision, just as individual churches would do as well. . . . Do we think, if the motion passes in New Orleans, that the name will be commonly used? We hope so, and we believe it will occur over time, but there is no guarantee. We are suggesting that we describe ourselves in all of our publications and communications as Great Commission Baptists. . . . ” (emphasis added)
It cannot be stated any clearer than what Pastor Blalock has stated. The end game is for the Southern Baptist Convention to no longer be known by that name, but instead by the new, less offensive name, “Great Commission Baptists” (GCB for short, not to be confused with the recently cancelled ABC television show of the same initials). Let me be clear. This is a name change proposal. It clearly violates both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution and ByLaws of our Convention. This name change proposal — from the unauthorized creation of the Task Force to the final recommendation acquiesced to by all but a few of our Executive Committee Trustees who would not be forced into agreeing to such a blatant usurpation of power — has been and will continue to be divisive. I would urge every Southern Baptist messenger to vote NO when this proposal is brought to the floor of the Convention in NOLA. Only with a resounding defeat will those in power realize that the Southern Baptist Convention continues to be a Convention of cooperating conservatives who disdain heavy-handed politics and top-down edicts!