The Southern Baptists have established a task force to look at whether their 166-year-old convention should adopt a new name with no regional nature and no links to slavery.
“Starting a church in New York, or Boston, or Minneapolis, or Cheyenne, Wyoming, it’s really a barrier to a lot of folks in even considering that church or that ministry. When they hear Southern Baptist, it’s a regional perception there,” said Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright. “The reason this task force has been set up to study a possible name change is to consider a name that is not so geographically limiting, and secondly to help us be better prepared for reaching North America for Christ in the 21st century.”
Wright’s proposal to change the name of the convention was reportedly met with heated debate and high emotions. The idea is not new — it has been proposed at least eight different times, dating to 1965. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Press reported motions to study a name change were presented in 1965, 1974, 1983, 1989, 1990 and 1998. Additionally, straw polls to consider a new name were defeated in 1999 and 2004.
“Vigorous and emotional discussion over potential SBC name change now on floor of SBC Executive Committee,” said R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a Twitter message.
“There is much emotion & memory invested in the SBC name question, as well as hope among others. Hard family talks are the hardest,” he added.
The Southern Baptist Convention originated in 1845 out of a schism that divided American Baptists over the issue of slavery. African Americans received an apology from the convention in 1995 for the role slavery had at its inception.
Today, the Southern Baptist Convention is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination in the United States, but it has seen a decline in membership in recent years. Some members hope a name change would better enable the Southern Baptists to reach people for Jesus. Others oppose any change and see it as a top-down action or one that could result in substantial legal and financial ramifications.