Substance and Advertising: Southern Baptists as “Great Commission Baptists”

Various news outlets are reporting that the Southern Baptist Convention stopped short of voting for a name change, and has instead added an additional name to their denomination: “Great Commission Baptists.”

The article in the Washington Post says

Convention President Bryant Wright and other church leaders are concerned that the Southern Baptist name is too regional and impedes the evangelistic faith’s efforts to spread the Gospel worldwide…The Southern Baptist Convention formed in 1845 when it split with northern Baptists over the question of whether slave owners could be missionaries. Draper said that history has left some people to have negative associations with the name…Of the 2,000 Americans surveyed, 40 percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of the denomination and 44 percent of respondents said that knowing a church was Southern Baptist would negatively impact their decision to visit or join the church.

It seems to me that the organization is concerned with the negative connotations that its name has, but not with the approach to religion and understanding of Christian teaching that leads to those negative views of them. Is this not an example of trying to dupe customers by re-releasing an unpopular product under a new label?

I think Southern Baptists should ask if they actually think that there is something fundamentally wrong with their past emphases and practices. If so, then they should stop interpreting the Bible in the same way in relation to women in ministry and other issues as they interpreted it in relation to slavery. Then they can adopt not only a new name, but a new stance to go with it.

If, on the other hand, they are not ashamed of what they have stood for in the past, then they should keep the same label, to communicate honestly to people that nothing has changed, and they are proud of it.

But trying to add a new name to distract from their stagnation and shameful past (apparently it is only legal hassles that has led them to keep the old name) strikes me as akin to false advertising.

Let me conclude with a Wordle that was created from the results of a 2009 survey, asking people what they associate with the name “Southern Baptist”:

  • http://profiles.google.com/vogelz Andrew Vogel

    chicken?  I like that Wordle!

  • Crayton

    Of course you could argue that the change away from “Southern” Baptist is past due and reflects actual changes in stance during the twentieth century.

    Had this name change occurred in the mid-90s after conservatives “rescued” the denomination from traditionalism and mainline theology and when the convention renounced its racist past, then we would all be more understanding.

    All in all there is nothing terrible with re-branding with a less provincial name, but if the denomination wants to respond to that study citing mass unfavorability then they better not rely on a name change to work miracles.

  • RSBrenchley

    Chicken fried Pharisees? If that’s what they serve they need more than a name change!

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  • Anonymous

    In another life, my pre-skeptic Christian fundie life, I was enrolled at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, an SBC seminary. 

    I was only there for half a semester, but for several reasons, that was all I could take.  Those people sure talked about their belief in a place called hell, but who needs hell when you already have hell in this life?  Hell is a place in the here and now. It’s called midwestern baptist theological seminary.  Gosh, I hated that place.  Let’s just put it this way. If you were human, you were considered “rebellious” at midwestern. I see no evidence that it’s any better at other SBC seminaries and institutions. 

    • Crayton

      I am at Southeastern and beyond a single hard-nosed professor who considered any point of view dissimilar to his own as “wrong,” it has been pretty chill here. I have some great, encouraging roommates too and that definitely helps.

      If you decide to respond, I’d be curious to know what your hopes were when you initially enrolled at Midwestern.

      • Anonymous

        Hi Crayton. Thanks for the cordial response. Could I have made a mistake by painting all SBC seminaries with a broad brush? Sure, but I doubt it considering my experiences with all things SBC. Wasn’t Paige Patterson the president at Southeastern for a while? You’re not making the case that southeastern is liberal, are you?

        I don’t want to bore you with details, but I was at Midwestern because I wanted to pursue a particular kind of ministry that ended up not working out for various reasons. This particular opportunity falling through had nothing to do with midwestern, though. As for my expectations when I enrolled there, well, at the time I was an evangelical/fundamentalist Christian and I was expecting an evangelical seminary, which it was and is. It was also expected of me by others to enroll at such a seminary.  Even though I was a fundie Christian at the time, I didn’t feel comfortable there.  People were humorless. I hardly saw anyone crack a smile. It was a VERY legalistic environment and atmosphere.  I had to be a phony to get a long there.  The day I left that place for good, I felt as if I was becoming a human being again. 

        Of course I didn’t regain my full humanity until about 8 years later, when I abandoned the faith altogether. 

        Hope that answers your question. 

        • Crayton

          It does, thanks. Yeah, I’d definitely advise anyone to spend as little time as possible being around phony people or acting phony. I’d say “phony” fits in with that description as “legalistic.” I’m glad you’ve gotten to a place where you can breathe easier.

          I deal with legalism occasionally with some guys I go to church with currently, if I am dealing with a particular issue someone may suggest I read a certain chapter (often the same one they’d already suggested) and it is as if they are advising me to say 2 Hail Marys and an Our Father.

          Continue pushing on toward truth, concerning both this world and beyond. And continue surrounding yourself with friends who won’t stifle your thoughts and beliefs but will instead challenge and refine them.


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