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

Substance and Advertising: Southern Baptists as “Great Commission Baptists” February 21, 2012

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”:

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