The president of the Southern Baptist Convention formed a task force to study the possibility of changing the name of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
“The convention’s name is so regional,” SBC President Bryant Wright told Fox News Radio. “We are going to think through potential names that would better describe us without such a regional geographic limitation.”
The Southern Baptist Convention is 166 years old and has churches in every state, with most of its membership is in the South and Southwest.
“It could be helpful to us when we are seeking to start new churches and begin work outside of the South and Southwest,” he said.
Wright announced the formation of the task force Tuesday night during a meeting of the SBC Executive Committee.
According to Baptist Press, the national news service of the SBC, the task force will consider four questions:
1. Is there value in considering a name change?
2. If so, what would be a good name to suggest?
3. What would be the potential legal ramifications of a name change?
4. What would be the potential financial implications?
So what is more problematic for the SBC – the word “Baptist” or the word “Southern”?
“That would probably depend on who you are talking to,” Bryant replied. “In this case though, it’s really just the regional aspect of the term ‘Southern’ that really no longer describes who we are.”
David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., has been appointed to the task force. He told Fox News Radio that the possible name change could present several challenges for the task force and the convention.
“There are major legal issues and huge financial issues regarding a name change like this,” Dockery said, adding, “the whole issue of loyalty and tradition to a particular name – as marketing people would call it – to a brand name.”
It’s not the first time the subject has been discussed, Dockery said.
“It’s a subject that has come up every decade since the 1970s – since the Southern Baptist Convention began planting churches far beyond the southeast,” he said. “Looking for a name that would represent the work that now takes place nationally and globally has been a question for about 40 years.”
Jon Akin, pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., said he’s glad the SBC is considering a name change.
“We’ve always had a global mission and a global task and we need to seriously look at the question of does our name -- ‘Southern’ -- cause us to be hindered from accomplishing that global task that God has given us,” he asked.
A young pastor, Akin said the name of the denomination comes with baggage dating back to the days of slavery.
“While I’m grateful for the many good things in our heritage, there are some connotations that go with the label Southern that our convention was started in part over an argument about slavery,” he said. “We’ve obviously made statements and resolutions saying that we do not affirm what happened in our past in terms of that, but it’s something we’ve got to continue to answer in terms of our heritage -- that we aren’t going to be a mostly southern, mostly middle class, mostly white denomination, that we want to reach all nations.”
Bryant, who is pastor of the Atlanta-area Johnson Ferry Baptist church, said any name change would require approval from messengers at two consecutive annual SBC meetings.
Southern Baptists have created a website for individuals to submit their opinions and possible name changes. The website is www.pray4sbc.com
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary and the author of "Dispatches from Bitter America: A Gun Toting, Chicken Eating Son of a Baptist's Culture War Stories."