The Southern Baptist Convention Still Struggles With Its Tainted Brand

The Southern Baptist Convention Still Struggles With Its Tainted Brand September 15, 2020

Hi and welcome back! Wow, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is still having serious trouble with its brand! That part isn’t news to us; we’ve known for years that SBC churches often conceal their denominational affiliation. Even the SBC has known for years that its name is tainted. But now, their president, J.D. Greear, has concocted a big plan to fix that problem. Yes! And he’s sure it’ll totally work. He’s swung into action to suggest that the SBC informally adopt a nickname that sounds better. Today, let’s see what the SBC’s name change involves — and ask if it’ll work. (Spoiler: It will not.)

da ships of the field go baa baa baa
(Mary Pokatova.) Someone seems to have spray-painted the sheep in the foreground.

(Previous posts about the SBC: Tons. They’re the biggest Protestant denomination and make their Annual Reports public (they moved ’em here). So they’re a big source of information about Christianity’s ongoing decline. But I probably like this post most right now.)

Announcing: The 2021 SBC Meeting Theme!

Yesterday, SBC President J.D. Greear announced the theme of next year’s big convention for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC):

“We Are Great Commission Baptists.”

Yes.

This name actually came to life around 2012, apparently, with a barely-there 53% majority vote at the Annual Meeting that year. (See endnote. This whole situation sounds like a fustercluck.) Then, everyone kinda forgot about it till last month. I’ve never even heard of it till now.

But now, J.D. Greear (enjoying a third year as President, thanks to the pandemic) wants the denomination to use this nickname “Great Commission Baptists.” If they want, he means.

In addition, he’s going to start using this nickname instead of “SBC” for his own megachurch, The Summit. Instead of being “Southern Baptists,” they will be “Great Commission Baptists.” Except they’re still really Southern Baptists, just they’ll be calling themselves this other thing.

Confused yet?

Now, this isn’t a legal name change. Greear has made that clear too. It’s just a nickname. Churches can use it if they like, or forego it just like they already often omit the SBC name itself.

See, Greear actually thinks (or at least pretends to think) that the SBC’s always been all about the Great Commission, not angrily clinging to a regressive Confederacy mindset glorifying racism and male supremacy. So gosh, why not start calling themselves “Great Commission Baptists” instead?

Why not, indeed?

Sitrep: The Tainted Brand of the SBC.

For years now, the SBC has faced a very serious problem.

No, I don’t mean the fact that they’re now well-known for being hateful, cruel bigots trying to turn America into the Republic of Gilead. They like that part and don’t see it as a problem.

By “their problem,” I don’t even mean their slow, inexorable decline. That decline now enters its 16th-ish year with no end in sight. In 2004, they counted 16.3M members. Last year, they counted 14.5M. Ouch. Their baptism numbers — even counting the tiny children they now desperately dunk to buoy up their numbers — hovers at 235k, down from 377k in 2004.

But no, I don’t mean that. I mean their Bizarro-world reaction to that decline.

They see “their problem” as something else entirely.

Responding to the Tainted Brand.

They’ve known for a long time that just hearing the words “Southern Baptist” provokes a negative reaction in people similar to that of a baby trying a lemon for the first time. Just hearing that denominational name turns people off (as it should).

I do the same thing
Oh, don’t I know the feel.

The SBC has known about this brand problem for years, at least since 2014. That’s when we began hearing about SBC churches trying to hide their denominational affiliation. For a while now, SBC churches have quietly removed that despised, toxic SBC name from their signage and websites. Only clever searchers who knew exactly what they were looking for could find an SBC church’s dogwhistle links to the mother ship of bigotry.

Of course, these churches were still despised, toxic Southern Baptists: culture warriors, bigots, all the rest. They just didn’t display the denomination name on the signs to forewarn visitors.

Amusingly, at least one writer for a Baptist news site fretted in 2014 that it would be very easy for SBC churches to fib about exactly what kind of hate-filled viper’s nests churches they were to attract more visitors.

But as Clancy pointed out earlier today, the SBC’s problem was never the Southern Baptist name on their church signs. Their problem has always been the Southern Baptists sitting in their pews.

Accordingly, SBC leaders think (or at least pretend to think) that The Big Problem Here is the name people know them by, not what lurks under their name.

Problem One: Nothing Is Actually Changing in the SBC. Ever.

J.D. Greear phrased the name change as something he hopes will better describe what the SBC’s always been about. In this way, he conveyed that he’s not actually changing anything about the SBC. Nope.

This imaginary mission of theirs was always their stated purpose, he grandly informs us, so the name just fits that stated purpose better. The Alabama Baptist (relink) brings us his reasoning:

“Our leadership affirms the decision made by messengers in 2012,” Greear said. “We believe now is a good time to use it due to the fact that the primary reason we are part of the convention is for the Great Commission.”

With this disclaimer, Greear hopes to reassure panicky, change-averse SBC flocks that nothing’s going to substantively change.

But that’s kinda the whole problem here.

(The Covert Purpose of the SBC.)

The SBC bundles their stated purpose together with an unstated, covert purpose. That’s the purpose they actually pursue — and it’s this redirected focus that makes them a broken system.

Their unstated purpose has been with them since they first broke from regular Baptists years ago to maintain their pro-slavery stance. It has never changed. It can’t, because it’s the heart of their entire denomination. Their Dear Leaders neither desire to nor even could change it.

Their unstated purpose involves the single-minded pursuit of white male supremacy: gaining power, flexing it, and defending it.

Racism birthed the SBC in the first place. And male supremacy guaranteed its capture in the 1980s and 1990s by hyper-politicized, antifeminist, racist ultra-conservatives. Bigotry of all kinds now drives the denomination to engage in its various culture wars. They think their god told them to wage these culture wars and to behave like they do.

However, J.D. Greear has very specifically stated that nothing’s really changing in the denomination. Again, they’re not even legally changing their name. This is nothing but an optional nickname suggestion.

That might be because even if Greear wanted anything to substantially change, which I doubt, even the effort to change would turn into a disaster for the SBC.

Problem Two: Painted Into a Corner.

For as long as I can remember, the SBC’s leaders have very consciously tried to hyper-politicize the flocks. They fused their evangelical zeal with fundamentalist control-lust and came out of it for the worse as fundagelicals. They very deliberately climbed into bed with hardline Catholics and Republican politicians to create an ironclad association of fundagelical with ultra-conservative politics. To keep the flocks panicky and angry (and voting appropriately), they ginned up endless culture wars to gain temporal power — an effort that continues to this very day.

And through it all, they try to gatekeep not only fundagelicalism, but also Christianity itself.

To be a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, one must hate Democrats, vote straight-ticket Republican, obey the Dear Leaders in every particular, believe in a (very modern and warped) interpretation of the Bible that those leaders claim is “inerrant” and “literal,” and never, ever miss a chance to attack the tribe’s enemies.

And every single bit of what I’ve described is stuff they likewise think their god commanded them to do, think, and believe. Anything less is disobedience to this god.

The architects of the Conservative Resurgence got exactly what they wanted.

But they also painted themselves into a corner.

Walking Back Divine Revelation.

It’s almost fiendish in scope, but it probably all happened organically and bit-by-bit. However it happened, the SBC taught the flocks exactly how to respond to any suggestions of change to the SBC’s extremism.

The rank-and-file learned that any changes whatsoever to their leaders’ words constituted watering down the gospel. And that became the worst crime of all. Anybody who tries to soften the culture wars — much less reject them — gets accused of this worst-of-all-worst crimes.

Check out “Lee Templeton” at this link for a great example of how the flocks react to suggestions of change. But you can find this judgment almost anywhere that allows comments on any post or news article criticizing any aspect of the culture wars.

Compromise has become the boogeyman that brings about watering-down. Being kind to their declared enemies? Oh, that’s condoning sin. They declared perseverance to be a cardinal virtue, then criticized dissenters and apostates for not having it.

The way I reckon it, if one’s god is supposedly changeless, then changelessness in turn becomes divine. By the same token, change becomes a sign of wickedness: an error, an admission of defeat, and a concession that the previous state was imperfect.

As above, so below.

Staying the Course.

Anyone who waters-down fundagelicals’ beliefs and talking points compromises — and thus, commits a grave sin. Such a person needs to be trampled and rejected by the tribe. Indeed, fundagelicals delight in issuing these messy object lessons — when they can.

Often, their retaliation works to bring dissenters back into line. When it doesn’t, they mock the victims they drive away and celebrate their new and greater purity as a tribe. (Someone’s already setting that ball on the tee for the SBC.)

No way, no how can J.D. Greear — or anybody else in that slowly-collapsing broken system — change the SBC’s core. His predecessors set that core in stone, and then taught Southern Baptists to reject anybody who even suggests any real changes.

As for this whole “Great Commission” (nick)name change, it has been floating around for about a month now. I don’t think SBC members are really impressed so far. So far the funniest reaction to it might be this one, on an SBC opinion site:

Dean Stewart: I see a great fellowship opportunity, every 4 month are so you can have a denomination reveal party for new church members.

Only a couple of folks that I saw actually liked the new nickname.

The Funniest Part of All This.

Even if somehow the SBC’s leaders could break with their entrenched past 50 years of cultlike indoctrination, conspiracy theories, and wingnut extremism

Even if somehow they could ever manage to divorce themselves from the culture wars and those decades of hatred and animosity and control-lust and most of all their ever-increasing extremism

And even if they could even begin to move away from their marriage-of-convenience to the worst-of-the-worst Republican politicians and platforms in our entire country…

The results would be completely catastrophic.

Oh, do SBC leaders think they’ve got a decline now? Oh, honey. Just watch would happen if they ever suggested something beyond purely-cosmetic changes to their label.

Damned If They Do/Damned If They Don’t.

It’s gotta suck to be one of the leaders of the SBC right now. They know that the current path leads only to more decline along a certain trajectory.

But changing course will lead to decline as well, just in unknown ways.

The SBC wants to both keep their current members and attract more new members. But there’s not a way to do that, not for them. They’ve got a core membership that simply refuses to entertain the idea of any big changes, and will revolt — just as their leaders have taught them to do — if anybody tries to change them.

But the SBC disgusts a whole lot of people. They won’t come to the SBC as it is now. And they have clearly seen through the SBC’s various rebranding attempts and false promises of change and improvement. They’ll demand real change, which is the exact course that the SBC’s current members simply won’t accept.

So their current strategy appears to be offering false promises of change and hoping that a new nickname will distract people from the Southern Baptist Convention’s real problem, which is Southern Baptists themselves.

It’s weak, but they’re just not ready to do anything real. Not yet. And they probably won’t be till it’s way too late for it to matter.

NEXT UP: George Barna’s plans for world domination.

Never change, fundagelicals. (Oh wait. They won’t.) See you tomorrow!


Endnotes.

Regarding that whole 2012 meeting vote: According to that Baptist Press article, one of the convention attendees asked for the whole recommendation to just be set aside indefinitely. He said:

“We don’t need to sit around and argue about changing a name when we’re not going to change our name anyway,” Vaughn said. “Let’s be about the Great Commission and let the world describe us as people that turn the world upside down, not as people that sit around and argue about what we’re going to call ourselves.”

As it was, almost half of the attendees didn’t even vote on the matter. So the measure barely passed by about 300 votes. And then everyone just forgot about it till like a month ago. Interestingly, literally nobody outside of the SBC would even think to describe them as focused on the Great Commission — or as people who’ve wrought any favorable changes to the world since 2012.

Also interestingly, the Great Commission itself is probably a later addition to the Bible anyway. Can I hear an LOL?

(Back to the post!)


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.

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