NEW ORLEANS — Southern Baptists who think that designation is a barrier to ministry can start calling themselves Great Commission Baptists.
Fifty-three percent of the more than 7,800 delegates to the SBC’s annual meeting approved the optional alternative name by secret ballot. Results were announced Wednesday morning.
The legal name of the nation’s largest Protestant body will continue to be the Southern Baptist Convention, and associated churches and members will continue to be known as Southern Baptists.
But “those churches, entities and organizations in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention which desire to use a descriptor other than ‘Southern Baptist Convention’ to indicate their involvement in the convention consider using Great Commission Baptists,” read the resolution, recommended by outgoing SBC President Bryant Wright of Georgia.
Wright appointed a task force last year to study a name change. The task force said it would be too costly and confusing to change the convention’s legal name, but suggested giving members an alternative designation.
The goal, task force chairman Jimmy Draper said, was “to consider the removal of any barrier to the effective proclamation of the Gospel and reaching people for Christ”
The “Great Commission” refers to Matthew 28:16-20, in which Jesus instructs disciples to “go forth and make disciples of all nations.”
Some fear the Southern Baptist name carries negative associations for many outsiders, especially in areas outside the South, among various ethnic groups and more moderate Christians.
The SBC’s 2009 Annual Church Profile reported that the Southern Baptist name has been “a source of difficulty for church planters serving in areas outside the American South . . . It also has become a source of difficulty among African-Americans precisely because of its identity and the history of the Confederacy.”
A number of delegates agreed during Tuesday’s debate over the proposal.
“For many African-Americans, our reasons for being Southern Baptist are theological — not cultural, not political, not geographical,” Rev. Ken Fentress, a pastor of Rockville, Md., told the task force.
This isn’t the first time delegates have considered changing the name of their denomination. Similar motions were made and rejected five times in the past 50 years.