Since the announcement a couple of weeks ago that the SBC president was appointing a task force to study a name change for the Southern Baptist Convention, I have been asked multiple times for my opinion. I am normally shy about giving my opinion (NOT!) but decided to wade into the discussion.
We have been known as Southern Baptists since 1845. At that time, and for much of our existence, the name was appropriate even though we had begun work in every state. Today we are a nationwide convention of churches that is the most ethnically diverse denomination in America. Indeed the sun never sets on the work of Southern Baptists.
The argument for a name change is the feeling of those in the north, northwest and west—the name hinders them in their efforts. People in these regions are not friendly to being part of a “southern” denomination. I can’t relate to their feelings, so must take their word for it. Their argument seems reasonable.
My difficulty with the issue has little to do with whether it is good for us to change our name or not. I find great discomfort with the timing. The SBC is going through major upheaval as a denomination with the changes driven by the GCR (Great Commission Resurgence). Some of these changes will prove to be good; I think many will leave irreparable damage to our cooperative work. Nonetheless, the Southern Baptist Convention is in the midst of seismic change and, in my opinion, does not need further turmoil. There comes a point when people simply face fatigue and uncertainty when so much of the familiar is changed.
A hidden problem with the name change will be the cost in dollars. Legal documents, promotion materials, tons of material printed with the SBC name will have to be changed. It will also require a large expenditure to “sell the brand” of a new name both internally and externally. This will divert dollars from the SBC mission at the very time every available dollar is being poured into reaching the world with the Gospel.
One of my good friends said he wished we would center our attention on who we are more than what we call ourselves—I agree. I am watching the erosion of our Southern Baptist ethos. Our basic commitment of cooperation is eroding due to a spirit of independence and demand by some in the mega church to redesign our cooperative approach to match their independent mindset. Our mission boards will be tempted to bend with that mindset if we give ground to the demands of mega churches in the hope more money will go to missions. It is a failed approach. A little stated fact is that as the Cooperative Program has declined in per church gifts across the nation, total mission giving by the churches has also declined. No, the money does not go to missions beyond, but more money stays in the local church.
The hallmark of the family of churches now called Southern Baptists has been cooperation. Through good times and bad, we have found ways to work together, give together and go together. We really have believed we could do more together than alone. We have not demanded our own way.
In the end, whatever the name, I just wish we would act like the people we have claimed to be. Our character, marked by a spirit of cooperation rather than independence, will serve us far better than a name change.
If we change the name, I plan to stay the course. My determination is to work in Oklahoma to keep us cooperative and together. That is far more important than what we call ourselves.
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.