Southern Baptists approve alternate name, but barely

NEW ORLEANS — Members of the Southern Baptist Convention narrowly accepted the alternate unofficial descriptor of “Great Commission Baptists” as … Continued

NEW ORLEANS — Members of the Southern Baptist Convention narrowly accepted the alternate unofficial descriptor of “Great Commission Baptists” as the denomination attempts to make inroads beyond its base in the Bible Belt.

Delegates meeting here heatedly debated whether to affirm a recommendation from church leaders that congregations and other Southern Baptist organizations voluntarily could use the “Great Commission” moniker, which is based on Jesus’ command that his followers spread his message worldwide.

On the second day of their two-day meeting, officials announced Wednesday (June 20) that the unofficial name was approved with 53 percent in favor and 46 percent against.

The debate on Tuesday immediately followed the election of the Rev. Fred Luter as the denomination’s first African-American president.

Supporters of the change said the option might help those who are put off by the word “Southern” in the name because the denomination has moved beyond the South or because of its link to a Civil War-era defense of slavery.

“It would have been terrible if we elect Fred with enthusiasm and then reject one of the biggest needs that African-Americans expressed to us,” said Jimmy Draper, chairman of the task force that studied a possible name change. “It would have been inconsistent.”

Luter, at a press conference following his election, said he was “amazed” there had been so much debate over the name, and pointed to it as an example of how Southern Baptists can get sidetracked by divisions instead of what they have in common.

“I love it,” the New Orleans pastor said of the option of “Great Commission Baptists.” ‘’I think it’s a win-win situation.”

Southern Baptist researchers recently found that more than 70 percent of Southern Baptist pastors think the official name should continue, and more than half had no plans to use “Great Commission Baptists.”

Tom Law, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa, said pastors from his state’s 100 Southern Baptist churches had a mix of views about the alternate name. Some considered the regional nature of “Southern” to be an “inhibitor of conversation.” Others appreciate the traditional name, he said, because “it made us feel like we’re part of a larger body.”

But opponents called the additional descriptor “divisive,” and complained that those who wanted another name were not focusing enough on evangelism at a time when membership has declined five years in a row.

The Rev. Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., was disappointed in the close vote.

“That’s a tragedy,” he said. “That means that Southern Baptists are split and we’re split over who we are, what we are, and they’re trying to blame everything on the name.”

On Wednesday, Southern Baptists passed a resolution opposing the framing of same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue.

“We deny that the effort to legalize’same-sex marriage’ qualifies as a civil rights issue since homosexuality does not qualify as a class meriting special protections, like race and gender,” the resolution reads.

The resolution notes that Baptists oppose gay bashing, but affirm that pastors “should preach the truth of God’s word on human sexuality, marriage, purity, and love with all boldness and without fear of reprisal.”

Baptists also called on President Obama to withdraw his administration’s proposal that would require religious organizations to provide contraceptives to employees. The resolution on “protecting religious liberty” also supported the rights of chaplains after the administration lifted the ban on openly gay military members, and urged the Justice Department to drop its opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act.

Delegates also:

— reaffirmed their belief in the doctrine of inerrancy, which holds that Scripture is without error, and in “the direct creation and historicity of Adam and Eve.”

— affirmed a “sinner’s prayer” as an expression of repentance but cautioned that “it is not an incantation that results in salvation merely by its recitation.”

— stated that the Baptist Faith & Message, their statement of faith, provides a sufficient understanding of the doctrine of salvation.

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Adelle M. Banks | Religion News Service Adelle M. Banks is a production editor and national correspondent at RNS.
  • DeeStonewall

    What’s in a name? A name change will not alter the extremely loooooooooong history of ultra-conservative, hate-mongering, discriminatory, damning behavior, policies, procedures, and negative protelizing of the Southern Baptists, including inserting their brand of “Christianity” into our state and federal laws as well as attempts to add new constitutional amendments to our federal constitution embedding only their view of religion.

  • Tiredashell

    Your comment certainly strikes a familiar note, as that is how I remember that church as well. However, I really have not kept up with the Southern Baptist Church, so I don’t know what they are about nowadays. Back when I lived in in the Deep South, the KKK members were almost exclusively Southern Baptists, and would even resort to burning the churches of black Baptists. They disliked Catholics almost as much as they did blacks. Since I moved, over 30 years ago, I haven’t really interacted with many Southern Baptists, although there is one I know “up here” that contributes to the old stereotypes (hates blacks, Catholics, Jews, etc., and thinks the founders meant this to be an exclusively Christian nation). Maybe as a group they have changed. I do certainly hope so. The thing they do seem to be doing that I dislike is, as you noted, messing around in politics, trying to turn the US into a theocracy. It is a very self destructive pursuit, since theocracies inevitably drift and begin to persecute the founding religion as it is diluted by another. Ultimately, theocracies always fail, and are generally viewed with disdain. Their best bet to protect their religious rights is to support separation of church and state, which prevents the state from suppressing their private religious views. That, of course, means the state also can’t do some of the things they want it to do, like provide religious education, adorn government buildings with religious icons, or suppress particular religions they may dislike.

  • bluesdoc70

    It doesn’t matter what’s over the door. It’s what you preach inside. The church is not a social or political organization. It is the ground and pillar of the truth and its’ mission is to disseminate the gospel.

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