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A Convention by any other name


When Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham addressed the Executive Committee in February he called for a new name for the denomination and indicated that he would appoint a committee to study the idea. Graham said the committee would represent the SBC both “geographically and generationally” and would report back to the Convention at the annual meeting in Nashville in 2005.

I have met Jack Graham, been in his church, heard him preach and when I had the opportunity to invite anyone I wanted to preach at our state convention preaching conference, I asked Jack Graham to come and be one of the keynote speakers. He is a great man of God and I respect him as much as any pastor in America, but I disagree with his suggestion that we change the name of our denomination.

Obviously, we have struggled with this issue before. In 1966 for the first time a publication of a Southern Baptist Convention agency, Home Missions magazine, editorially proposed changing the name of the nation’s largest evangelical/protestant body to the “United States Baptist Convention.” At least nine Baptist state papers jumped on the bandwagon and editorially endorsed the proposal.

When the Southern Baptist Convention met in Dallas in 1974 W. A. Criswell, the beloved and venerable pastor of First Church in the host city, moved that a committee be appointed “to study the possibility of changing the name of the Convention.” Criswell’s preference was “Continental Baptist Convention.”

David G. Pope of New York made a motion to study the possibility of a name change as recently as 1998 at the annual Convention meeting in Salt Lake City. In fact, Graham’s proposal is the seventh time the Executive Committee has been confronted with this issue in the past forty years.

Should we as a denomination change our name? Though some may look at our convention with perplexity or disdain, I am more proud than ever to be a Southern Baptist. Never in the history of Christianity has a denomination reversed a downward trend toward liberalism and re-established itself as a bastion of conservatism, evangelism and missions. Southern Baptists have done so in the last 25 years and our name is marked by that distinctive achievement.

The “Southern” part of the appellation is more definitive of a theological position than a geographical region. The South, which was once known for its segregation and provincialism (though remnants of that remain), has now become a rampart of moral and family values. Even aspiring political candidates must calculate as to how they can posture themselves in such a favorable “Christian light” that they can win the South.

Sure, Southern Baptists must work on their image. That is a neverending process. However, it should not be honed through tolerance and false piety, but through integrity, standing for righteousness and resolving to be changed agents in a world that has gone mad with permissiveness and selfishness.

The word “Baptist” should be a badge of honor to everyone in our convention. Our heritage is marked with stalwart, steadfast heroes of the faith who fought to see that the word “Baptist” embodied faith, freedom, conviction, service and world evangelization.

David Currie, a social activist, theological liberal and frequent speaker at conferences throughout the U.S. and Canada, recently said, “Southern Baptists leaders have done a great job of getting their message out. When you hear about the “Christian position” on a social issue in the media you often find a Southern Baptist behind the microphone.”

Southern Baptists are loved by many and undoubtedly held in disrepute by others (anyone embracing absolute truth in this antinomian society would), but it is doubtless that a name change will neither alter the perspective of those who know us nor give us a greater entry into the lives of those who don’t.

In past deliberations on this issue the difficulties and problems of inserting a new name into the charters and documents of the national and state conventions, their agencies and even local churches loomed large as a deterrent. The cost of such a change would have monumental proportions. Furthermore, there has always been the problem of arriving at a consensus on a suitable name.

So, let’s just maintain our name: the Southern Baptist Convention.