Messengers defeat proposed study of new name for Southern BaptistsINDIANAPOLIS–A proposed study committee to consider changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention proved controversial when the idea came to the floor of the SBC annual meeting June 15 in Indianapolis.
Messengers voted by a slim margin to refuse the suggestion outlined by SBC President Jack Graham in February to appoint a committee. It was presented to messengers as a motion by Texas pastor Claude Thomas.
With about 8,500 messengers registered at the time of the ballot Tuesday night, 1,731 (55.4 percent) opposed the motion while 1,391 (44.6 percent) were in favor of the proposed study committee.
In what Graham praised as “a spirited debate,” most of those calling for a study related the challenges that local churches face when ministering in an area that is far from “southern.”
In the Midwestern region where the annual meeting was held, Southern Baptist work is relatively new compared to the SBC’s 159-year history in the South. Southern Baptists in Indiana organized in 1958 during a decade when the convention began expanding to the West, North and Northeast.
A comity agreement with Northern Baptists (who changed their name to American Baptists) fell apart as migrating Baptists from southern states started churches like those from which they came. In the case of Indiana, Southern Baptists found encouragement from their neighbors in Kentucky and southern Illinois who helped plant the earliest Hoosier churches.
SBC President Jack Graham informed the Executive Committee in February of his desire to have a study committee consider a name change. At the EC’s pre-convention meeting June 13, Graham said he had received “a very positive response” to the proposal.
The issue has been raised almost every decade over the last half-century, Graham said, but has never received a favorable recommendation.
“The South isn’t your daddy’s South anymore,” Graham said, noting he observed more Yankee and Red Sox fans than Ranger supporters at recent baseball games in Texas. “That’s primarily because of the vast number of people from New York City and Boston who have moved to Texas.
“This is not only about the missiology of the name and its relationship up north,” Graham added, “It has to do with our identity all across America and potentially around the world.”
Graham conceded the biggest challenge would be in finding a name better than the one that has been used since 1845.
Claude Thomas, pastor of the Dallas-Fort Worth-area First Baptist Church of Euless, made the motion proposing the study, recognizing “the expanse of our mission and ministry has transcended regional identification.”
Thomas said he believes it would be wise to authorize the SBC president to appoint a study committee to determine whether identification with a southern region “has been an impediment to our effectiveness” in reaching across North America and the world.
The four messengers voicing support for the motion were from regions outside the South — while a number of other messengers cited concerns about the resources that would be needed to conduct such an assessment.
In support of the motion, John Flint of New Horizon Baptist Church in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., spoke of serving a small church in upstate New York where any mention of Southern Baptists “is almost evil” due to cultural perceptions.
“We don’t have Baptist in our name,” Flint said, “not because we’re not proud we’re Baptist, but because it becomes an impediment to sharing the Gospel.” He said he would rather see the name changed in order to see one more person saved than continue using a name that might be a stumbling block to non-southerners.
In opposition to the motion, messenger Sid West of First Baptist Church of Bosque Farms, N.M., asked for an estimate of the cost of the study, amusing the audience when he said the question made him “sound like a deacon.”
“The brief answer to your question, my brother deacon, is we don’t know,” Graham answered. “It certainly will require financial resources to do the right kind of study.”
Ed Taylor of Amissville (Va.) Baptist Church, cal