When many people outside our region, especially those who have never lived in the south, hear the words, "south" or "southern," they... don't hear gracious accents or men with genteel politeness... Unfortunately, they picture the turbulence of the sixties, the Ku Klux Klan, Pettus Bridge in Selma, and fire hoses and police dogs in Birmingham. When they hear the words Southern and Baptist together, they have the... image of narrow minded fundamentalists.
- Derek Gentle
Southern Baptist pastor
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham has called for a new name for the denomination and will appoint a committee to study the idea.
Graham made his proposal during his president's address to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee Feb. 16. He said he will appoint a committee in the coming weeks to report back to the 2005 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn. The committee will represent the SBC both "geographically and generationally," he said.
"I believe it is time for us once again to take some bold steps as Southern Baptists," Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church, said.
Graham said the name change would reflect the fact that Southern Baptists are a nationwide and worldwide body of believers.
"Why am I suggesting and recommending this name [change]?" he asked. "Why would we do this? Only one reason, and that is to strengthen and lengthen our witness here in America and around the world. Why would we do this? Because people are wounded, people don't know Jesus, and we are determined to do whatever it takes to connect with our culture and our country and the continents of the earth."
Changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention is not a new idea. It has been studied several times -- the latest being in the late 1990s. In 1998 at the annual meeting in Salt Lake City, two messengers made motions -- one proposing the possibility of a name change and another proposing the name be changed to the "Baptist Convention of North America." Another motion was made in 1999 to consider the name "International Baptist Convention."
The Executive Committee studied the idea but recommended against the name change, and messengers at the 1999 annual meeting in Atlanta adopted the report. The Executive Committee report gave several reasons for keeping the current name. For instance, the report said, the name has become a brand name, similar to Western Union, Northwest Airlines and New York Life -- all of which have kept their respective names despite outgrowing their region.
In the mid-1970s legendary Texas pastor W.A. Criswell made a motion to study a name change, but a study committee recommended keeping the name. Criswell supported the name change, Graham said.
"It is my view that we need to stop meeting and just talking about this," Graham said. "We need to either put it to bed forever or get on with it."
Graham made his proposal while talking about a recent trip to New York City, where he met with SBC missionaries who are taking the Gospel to NYC as part of the North American Mission Board's Strategic Focus Cities initiative. Graham also mentioned that his church has begun partnering with a church in Boston.
The Southern Baptist Convention's name has "served us well," Graham said, noting that he is a southerner who was born and raised in Arkansas before moving to Texas. The denomination was formed as the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845.
"But the fact is that this name that I love and you love is a name which speaks of our region and doesn't move us beyond to the great cities of the Northeast, to the West, to the Midwest," he said. "And I believe once again it is time for us to look at the possibility of choosing something that reflects a name which reflects our future."
Southern Baptists have not been ones to shy from change, he added.
"Southern Baptist have always been willing to embrace important and significant change," he said. "We've seen amazing change in the Southern Baptist Convention since 1979. We have been willing to grow, to develop, to do whatever it takes to get better at fulfilling the Great Commission.
"... If a name change helps us do our job and connect with the culture and communicate the Gospel, then so be it. But let us do it in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name is above every name."
Copyright © 2001 - 2004 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press
A group of Southern Baptist leaders will soon be asking themselves that very question.
The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, is not just a regional body anymore, the Rev. Jack Graham, president of the denomination, said in an address to its executive committee downtown last night. And it's name should reflect that, he said.
It's not a new idea, he said, noting that it's been discussed at least a dozen times in the past 30 years. But timing is everything with God, he said, and perhaps the time has come. "We need to either put it to bed forever or get on with it," said Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. "If a name change helps us do our job, then so be it."
He said he planned to appoint a committee within the next few weeks that would give a report during the denomination's annual convention in summer 2005.
As Southern Baptists start new churches around the country, Graham said, they need a name with which people who don't consider themselves "Southern" can identify. "Why would we do this?" Graham asked rhetorically. "Only one reason. That is to strengthen and lengthen our witness here and across the world."
Executive committee members and guests at the meeting seemed to back the name change idea.
"Our focus is on people, and if it will help to incorporate more people in the process and minister to people, then we need to take a serious look at it," said Mike Boyd, president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and pastor of Wallace Memorial Baptist Church in Knoxville.
Others had similar thoughts.
"I support the name change if that's what it's going to take to change people's perception, impression and feelings about the Southern Baptist Convention," said Fred Herring, president of the District of Columbia Baptist Convention.
The executive committee meeting continues today. The committee is expected to vote on a task force recommendation that the denomination withdraw its membership from the Baptist World Alliance, a group of more than 200 Baptist denominations around the globe.
I was in a northern state last week. I asked a pastor if the name of the Southern Baptist Convention was a hindrance to his work. He replied emphatically that it is. He told how one person had asked him why Southern Baptists would build churches in the north. He replied that not all Roman Catholics live in Rome. It was a great answer, but why did he have to waste his time discussing the name of his denomination? That night, we were together with some other pastors and their families and it came up again. The same feelings were expressed there. Why do we Southern Baptists do this to these guys? I have been wondering about this for years. Why do we insist on having a name which throws up an emotional barrier? We don't even get them in the door before we turn them off; it's on the sign out front. When many people outside our region, especially those who have never lived in the south, hear the words, "south" or "southern," they don't picture friendly folks speaking to strangers on the street and neighbors who bring you a casserole when a loved dies. They don't hear gracious accents or men with genteel politeness. They don't remember good food or sweet women. Unfortunately, they picture the turbulence of the sixties, the Ku Klux Klan, Pettus Bridge in Selma, and fire hoses and police dogs in Birmingham. When they hear the words Southern and Baptist together, they have the media driven image of narrow minded fundamentalists. Why should anyone have to overcome all that just to talk about Jesus?
We should change the name because the word Southern describes where we have come from, but it does not describe where we are. Admittedly, the SBC was founded because northern Baptists would not agree to send southern slave owners as missionaries. But that was then. Southern Baptists have confessed the sins of our fathers in this area. We are becoming increasingly a multi-cultural denomination.
We should change the name because the word Southern does not describe where we are going -- which, of course, is into all the world. While most of our churches are still in the south, we start churches everywhere we can. Southern is no longer an accurate discription of the region where we start churches.
We should change the name because the word Southern is not a theological statement. There is no Biblical or doctrinal truth which we would be discarding or to which we would be disloyal by changing the word. The two words together have come to be linked with certain beliefs and doctrines. But Southern Baptists believe what they believe as Baptists. They believe the same things other Baptists believe (or at least, have historically believed). We believe those truths because they are what the Bible teaches, not because we are Southerners.
In years past, some have objected to changing the name because there was doubt as to what we could change it to. Look, if our name is a hindrance to our work, then almost anything would be better. We can find something. Continental Baptist Convention. . . Global. . . North American. . . Joe's Grill and Baptist Convention. . . Sure, keep the Baptist part; that's what we are, but if we want to be effective in our times, almost anything is better than Southern.
I am for changing the name because southern pride is not our priority, the great commission is. And I do have some southern pride. I am a son of the south. I have something inside of me that is respectful of Robert E. Lee, and swells at the sound of Dixie. I am tempted to resentment when some northerner moves down here and tells us how backward we are (usually because they are upset that we don't sell liquor on Sunday or support state sponsored gambling). I get tired of seeing PBS showing something every-other-night on the sins of the sixties and those same pictures from Birmingham. I am tired of having our noses rubbed in something that happened decades ago. I realize that the word southern shouldn't mean what it does to some, that they are being unfair. The south really is new. For example, Birmingham has some of the best medical care in the world. Race relations really have improved. The prejudice against the south really can be offensive to us. And it is a temptation to be defiant in the face of the slander. But our ultimate citizenship is in heaven. We are Americans by birth, but citizens of heaven by the grace of God. And if that be true we should say with Paul: "We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed" (2nd Corinthians 6:3). Let's change the name!
When we ran the Suite101 poll on the name change, most of our visitors had a different opinion and voted 2 to 1 to keep it "Southern Baptist Convention." Many would be interested in hearing reasons for the opposing view and for keeping our present name. Have you expressed your opinion on this subject in the discussion on the SBC Name Change ? Please do so; we would love to hear your thoughts.
Some fundamentalist leaders think it is time for the Southern Baptist Convention to have a face lift. They want to change the name of their denomination. (See news item below).
They apparently believe that a cosmetic change to the most unattractive church body in America will successfully hide the negative truth and revitalize a sagging denomination.
Of course, these leaders claim a different motive. The proposed change is to help new church starts outside the South to shed the problem associated with the word "Southern."
When SBC president Jack Graham called for a name-change study committee, he emphasized that the only reason for a change was "to strengthen and lengthen our witness here and around the world."
Interestingly, the SBC Executive Committee decided against a name change in 1999, saying that there was "no compelling rationale for changing the name of the convention nor for underwriting a study of the same." They said a name change could weaken the SBC's image as a citadel of conservatism.
While Graham pitched the issue in terms of regionalism, a more truthful explanation at the Executive Committee meeting this week came from Fred Herring, president of the District of Columbia Baptist Convention. "I support the name change if that's what it's going to take to change people's perception, impression and feelings about the Southern Baptist Convention."
Herring fingered a real problem -- the need to change perceptions and feelings about the SBC, which are extremely negative and widespread. Under fundamentalist leadership, the name Southern Baptist has become synonymous with fundamentalism, which after 9/11 has become the first dirty word of the 21st century.
In March 2002, Bob Jones, the grandson of the school's founder, admitted that the term fundamentalist "evokes fear, suspicion and other repulsive connotations."
He said that fundamentalists needed a "new term that will define us" and recommended the term "preservationists." Yet he also said that his school would remain "unashamedly Fundamentalist."
Like Jones, some Southern Baptist leaders now want a new name that will define who they are. Their move takes half-a-page from the corporate world.
When WorldCom collapsed in scandal and became synonymous with fraud, leaders changed the corporate name to MCI. But they also moved the corporate headquarters and began reforming corporate practices.
It is this second step that is lacking in the SBC: reformation. Rather than cut a new path of reformation toward a positive, inclusive and proactive future, some SBC leaders duck down the easy, superficial path of name change.
Yet a fundamentalist denomination by any other name is still a fundamentalist denomination.
Robert M. Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
AS "A NETWORK of churches that circle the planet," the Southern Baptist Convention must consider changing its name to "reflect who we are and what we are doing nationally, and internationally," SBC President Jack Graham told the Executive Committee of the nation's largest Protestant denomination.
At the same Nashville meeting in which the SBC leaders voted overwhelmingly to sever the denomination's longtime membership in the Baptist World Alliance, Graham suggested on February 16 that it is time to take a name reflecting the SBC's preeminence among conservative Christians.
"I have loved the Southern Baptist Convention and its name," said Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church. "But this name that I love and you love speaks of our region and doesn't move us beyond to the great cities of the Northeast, to the West and the Midwest. It's time to consider a new name that reflects our future."
Despite pleas from Baptist leaders worldwide and some Southern Baptists not to leave the BWA, the Executive Committee voted 62-10 to approve the recommendation from a study committee. Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in June will vote on final approval. The action would take effect October 1, deleting the final $300,000 of annual SBC support for the Baptist World Alliance, which has 211 member bodies and an annual budget of $1.7 million.
The SBC, with 16 million members, is the largest member body and biggest contributor to the Baptist World Alliance. But the conservative leaders of the SBC say the organization has become too liberal, a charge Baptist leaders worldwide deny. Southern Baptist leaders say they will form a new international network of like-minded conservative Christians.
The break with the BWA has seemed almost certain after the world body admitted as a new member the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an association of moderate congregations critical of the SBC. Southern Baptists had objected to the CBF's admittance to the BWA.
Reviving the question of a name change, however, was somewhat surprising since resolutions to that effect have always failed in the past. Graham said he will appoint a name-change study committee that is "geographically and generationally" representative. "It is my prayer that the committee can bring a recommendation to the SBC in 2005," he said. "Timing is everything," said Graham, noting that "seven or eight" previous studies of a possible name change resulted in no change, including one initiated by Dallas Pastor W. A. Criswell in 1974. The most recent effort was in 1999.
"This is a significant, important decision," Graham said, but "Southern Baptists are always willing to embrace significant change." He added that "we've seen amazing change in the Southern Baptist Convention since 1979," referring to the last year a moderate president headed the SBC.
"A name change will not change the hearts of people," Graham said, "but it will speak to people in New York, in Los Angeles, in the Pacific Northwest, in Canada, and around the world that we are a global network of churches committed to proclaiming Jesus Christ throughout the world." Graham noted that he had floated the idea to many key SBC leaders who seemed favorable to the change.
Graham's call for a new name came toward the end of a sermon on the theme of spiritual warfare. Baptists face a culture war, Graham said, illustrated by the halftime show at the Super Bowl, "which became the Toilet Bowl."
A political war is also at hand, Graham said. "There will be a very clear choice in the decision of 2004 as to what kind of leadership and values will represent our country, conservative Christian values versus no values or liberal values." Graham did not specifically endorse President George W. Bush but said, "I'm thankful that he is a man of faith."
Christians also face an ecclesiastical war, he said, illustrated by the Episcopal Church's division over the election of a homosexual bishop, and a domestic war, as seen in the court order to allow gay marriage in Massachusetts.
Graham did not mention a war looming as well between the BWA and a new SBC-led Baptist coalition, but some of the more conservative Baptists bodies around the world have already expressed interest--raising the possibility of two competing worldwide organizations of Baptists.
The hour-long debate on the BWA was limited to Executive Committee members. Denton Lotz, the alliance's general secretary, was present but not permitted to speak. "We are, of course, very sad," Lotz said after the vote. "Any time there is a breach in fellowship, it is sad." Opposition from within the Executive Committee focused on preserving Baptist unity worldwide. But supporters said unity must take a back seat to a "biblical stand" on theological issues.--ABP
COPYRIGHT 2004 The Christian Century Foundation
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group
INDIANAPOLIS (BP)--A proposed study committee to consider changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention proved controversial when the idea came to the floor of the SBC annual meeting June 15 in Indianapolis.
Messengers voted by a slim margin to refuse the suggestion outlined by SBC President Jack Graham in February to appoint a committee. It was presented to messengers as a motion by Texas pastor Claude Thomas.
With about 8,500 messengers registered at the time of the ballot Tuesday night, 1,731 (55.4 percent) opposed the motion while 1,391 (44.6 percent) were in favor of the proposed study committee.
In what Graham praised as "a spirited debate," most of those calling for a study related the challenges that local churches face when ministering in an area that is far from "southern."
In the Midwestern region where the annual meeting was held, Southern Baptist work is relatively new compared to the SBC's 159-year history in the South. Southern Baptists in Indiana organized in 1958 during a decade when the convention began expanding to the West, North and Northeast.
A comity agreement with Northern Baptists (who changed their name to American Baptists) fell apart as migrating Baptists from southern states started churches like those from which they came. In the case of Indiana, Southern Baptists found encouragement from their neighbors in Kentucky and southern Illinois who helped plant the earliest Hoosier churches.
SBC President Jack Graham informed the Executive Committee in February of his desire to have a study committee consider a name change. At the EC's pre-convention meeting June 13, Graham said he had received "a very positive response" to the proposal.
The issue has been raised almost every decade over the last half-century, Graham said, but has never received a favorable recommendation.
"The South isn't your daddy's South anymore," Graham said, noting he observed more Yankee and Red Sox fans than Ranger supporters at recent baseball games in Texas. "That's primarily because of the vast number of people from New York City and Boston who have moved to Texas.
"This is not only about the missiology of the name and its relationship up north," Graham added, "It has to do with our identity all across America and potentially around the world."
Graham conceded the biggest challenge would be in finding a name better than the one that has been used since 1845.
Claude Thomas, pastor of the Dallas-Fort Worth-area First Baptist Church of Euless, made the motion proposing the study, recognizing "the expanse of our mission and ministry has transcended regional identification."
Thomas said he believes it would be wise to authorize the SBC president to appoint a study committee to determine whether identification with a southern region "has been an impediment to our effectiveness" in reaching across North America and the world.
The four messengers voicing support for the motion were from regions outside the South -- while a number of other messengers cited concerns about the resources that would be needed to conduct such an assessment.
In support of the motion, John Flynn of New Horizon Church in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., spoke of serving a small church in upstate New York where any mention of Southern Baptists "is almost evil" due to cultural perceptions.
"We don't have Baptist in our name," Flynn said, "not because we're not proud we're Baptist, but because it becomes an impediment to sharing the Gospel." He said he would rather see the name changed in order to see one more person saved than continue using a name that might be a stumbling block to non-southerners.
In opposition to the motion, messenger Sid West of First Baptist Church of Bosque Farms, N.M., asked for an estimate of the cost of the study, amusing the audience when he said the question made him "sound like a deacon."
"The brief answer to your question, my brother deacon, is we don't know," Graham answered. "It certainly will require financial resources to do the right kind of study."
Ed Taylor of Amissville (Va.) Baptist Church, called the effort "a waste of time" because "no matter what we change our name to the media will let the secret out that we're really Southern Baptists," prompting widespread laughter and scattered applause from the crowd.
Taylor said he could not think of any name that would be international in its scope. "Perhaps United Baptists?" he jested. "There's an oxymoron for you," he added. "I understand that some churches do not put the name on the sign because of the stigma attached to the area they're in, but when I go and witness, I don't ask if they want to be a Southern Baptist. I ask if they want to know Christ."
Observing that 11 of Jesus' 12 disciples were from Galilee, Taylor said, "They had weird accents much like I do, being from the South." He noted that God's strength was made perfect "through their weakness."
Messenger Blain Barber of Agape Baptist Church in Petoskey, Mich., spoke of his service on the SBC Executive Committee when a similar proposal was studied in 1999. "If the name is a hindrance to starting churches and reaching people," he said, "then we should consider a name change."
Byron Edens of Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in Austell, Ga., drew strong applause when he said a name change would "cost thousands of dollars across our convention," preferring to see money expended to support seminaries and other SBC causes.
An Ohio messenger recalled that he addressed the issue about 30 years ago when it was raised on the floor of an annual meeting.
"There's no need to change the name so there's no need for a study," stated George Pennington of First Missionary Baptist Church in Louisville, Ohio. "Being in what you'd call a northern area, all that the name Southern Baptist means to people of other denominations and no denomination is the fact that you're a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching, Bible-teaching church. We are identified in the most positive manner we could be. For goodness sake, for God's sake and our own sake, let's keep it that way."
Herb Stoneman of Southeast Baptist Church in Salt Lake City, favored the study since the SBC includes churches from two nations -- Canada and the United States. "A name that better reflects those two nations' cooperation in building churches for the Kingdom's sake should be addressed," he said.
Glenn Peck of First Baptist Church in Saint Louis, Okla., opposed the motion based on the convention's heritage, doctrinal distinctives associated with the name and the media's identification of "who we are and what we stand for." As a former Midwesterner, Beck added, "There is no good time for a bad idea and this is a bad idea."
California pastor Rob Zinn of Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland appealed to the body to "see if God could raise up a better name that would identify all Southern Baptists across the country." He recalled having been taught "there is nothing so dark as a closed mind," pleading for an effort to find a name that would "appeal to everybody regardless of race, color or region."
Messenger Dottie Salman of Miami Shores Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio, chided the SBC president by raising what she thought was a point of order. "You've come to us tonight asking for a study, but you have no idea what it's going to cost. That's not good business," Salman said. "You should have had some estimate before you came to this. It's not right to say you have carte blanche to do this study without some idea of what it's going to cost."
Messenger Doug Austin of Lynnwood Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau, Mo., opposed the study, preferring for Southern Baptists to invest time and money to "explain Jesus and His saving grace" instead of spending "hundreds of thousands of dollars to change legal documents, constitutions, title papers and signs."
After time for debate expired, Graham responded to a call for messengers to vote on the question, but could not determine which side garnered more support based on uplifted ballots. "It looks very close here so I order a ballot to get an exact vote of the people," Graham said. "All we want to do is get the will of the people on this."
Copyright © 2001 - 2004 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press
...America's largest non-Catholic flock has certainly outgrown its Civil War-era name. In this case, it also might be a good marketing move to change the franchise name on thousands of signs from coast to coast and around the world. The Southern Baptist name hasn't exactly been baptized in good publicity during the past two decades, as "fundamentalists" and "moderates" fought a bitter war of words over the authority, or "inerrancy" of the Bible.
Druin knows it would be almost impossible to pass a motion to change the SBC's name. That's why he could get away with the heresy of joking about it.
"I think they ought to change the name to the International Baptist Convention," he said...
...Nationwide, denominational loyalty is at an all-time low. Forget "Southern" -- legions of churches are taking "Baptist" off their signs. Meanwhile, the doctrinal land mines of the late 20th Century are causing new splits in once major bodies...
DALLAS (AP) -- The Rev. Roddy Clyde discovered that he could add hundreds of parishioners to his church simply by subtracting the word "Baptist" from its name.
"I'm not ashamed to be a Baptist, but a brand name can be a hindrance," Clyde said Monday. "Some people mistakenly associate the Baptist name with an angry, judgmental kind of fundamentalism."
Clyde's Trinity Baptist Church in Round Rock, Texas, became the Fellowship of Forest Creek in 1992. Around the country, many other churches are dropping "Baptist" from their names.
The North Point Community Church outside Columbia, S.C., dropped Southern Baptist from its name, and John Sharp, its 26-year-old pastor, prefers not to use the title of Reverend.
Although some ministers have been able to attract new members after the change, more conservative Southern Baptist pastors believe deleting the designation goes against Scripture.
"Most Southern Baptist churches have dropped the word 'Southern' from their name -- we're no longer just in the South. But dropping the word 'Baptist,' I don't think there's anything to gain from doing it," said Harvey Tingle, pastor at the Hampton Place Baptist Church in Dallas.
Tingle said he supports anything that will help Baptists reach more people, but "dropping the word from church names is a change from traditional values."
Tradition is revered at the Southern Baptist Convention, which has 15.6 million members and is dominated by theological conservatives. In 1997, the church called for a boycott of the Walt Disney Co. over what it called gay-friendly policies. Last June, the convention said women should "submit graciously" to their husbands.
Ken Hemphill, president of the Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, said he doesn't think removing the denomination from a church's name can bring in more members.
"Many of the fastest growing churches in the country still have 'Baptist' in the label," he said. "The key issue is not necessarily the name, but changes in the content of what happens in the church."
Most of the churches that drop their Baptist label are otherwise adhering to Southern Baptist doctrine in many respects.
In Grapevine, just outside Dallas, senior pastor Ed Young wanted to draw a new crowd -younger people, even Jews -- to his 6,000-member church. And so, the Las Colinas Baptist Church became the Fellowship Church.
"Basically, we changed the name for one reason -- to reach as many people as possible," Young said. "People now don't have the product loyalty, or the denomination loyalty, they once had."
Young has also tried passing out neon yellow sunglasses promoting a lecture series and T-shirts pushing Saturday services to get what he calls "unchurched" people to attend.
He said the number of members increased dramatically when the name changed, but he admitted some conservative members left because of it.
"I tell people my church is not for everyone," Young said. "Each church is autonomous and has a different style for different styles of people."
At Lake Hills Church in Austin, pastor Mack Richard took "Baptist" out of the title to remove what he regarded as a barrier to people of other denominations.
Vaughn Stanford, a 28-yearold real estate agent who attends Lake Hills, said he grew up in a Southern Baptist home and understands that the word is associated with "the old way, the hard way of doing things."
"To some degree, leaving it out of a name does matter, but I have enough knowledge about Baptists to know that it doesn't matter to me," Stanford said.
...Most Southern Baptist churches proudly bear the name "Baptist," but many nontraditional churches in Texas and across the nation are removing the denomination's name to help attract younger members and people who have not been churchgoers.
On Monday night, speakers included internationally known evangelist Luis Palau and the Rev. Ed Young Jr., pastor of The Fellowship Church in Grapevine, a fast-growing Southern Baptist church.
"I'm not ashamed to be a Baptist, but a brand name can be a hindrance," Clyde said. The senior pastor at Fellowship of Forest Creek in Round Rock, near Austin, Clyde said his church has grown rapidly since changing its name last year from Trinity Baptist Church...
...Clyde's congregation, which omits the Baptist name, is part of a new wave of churches that have broken away from the old pulpit preaching style of worship. Some often feature dramatic presentations and have full bands that play contemporary Christian music geared to a younger audience.
"Our dress code has changed to a more casual style," he said. "I preach in my golf clothes. Some people think all Baptist preachers have to wear a dark suit and a red tie."
Since the changes were begun in 1992, the average worship attendance at Fellowship of Forest Creek has grown from 65 to 650, Clyde said. His church had been averaging 140 new members a year, but after taking "Baptist" out of the name early last year, the annual growth increased to 240 members, he said.
Clyde said he believes that infighting between conservatives and moderates in the Southern Baptist Convention has also hurt the Baptist name in the eyes of outsiders...
About 40 of the 50 new congregations are to be established - the common term is planted - as part of a multimillion-dollar project set to begin in 2002. The effort, called "Philadelphia Spirit: Let Caring Ring," is being developed by local clergy and lay teams and bankrolled by the SBC as part of its Strategic Focus Cities plan.
The other new churches are outgrowths of the SBC's national Nehemiah Project, which is primarily aimed at younger adults. ["SBC" is the Southern Baptist Convention."] Local Nehemiah organizers are setting up their first four churches this autumn - none of which bear the name "Baptist" - in Royersford, Warrington and Feasterville, and near the hip South Street corridor.
The plan is to plant most of the Philadelphia Spirit churches within the city, often as "satellites" of nearby churches, the local spokesman, the Rev. Steve Sheldon, said. Mr. Sheldon, pastor of Bux-Mont Baptist Church in Hatboro, said the new churches frequently would be aimed at nonwhites and at ethnic groups such as Koreans, Ukrainians and Chinese.
The local SBC church body, the Greater Philadelphia Baptist Association, has had quiet success in recent years attracting nonwhite members. Since 1983, its total of African American member churches has grown from eight to more than 80. The churches are drawn by SBC's conservative doctrine, bounteous teaching materials, and staff pension and benefit packages, although many retain their affiliations with African American denominations as well.
...The Rev. Fred Provencher said he feared the word "Baptist" had "political connotations" that might stand in the way of people "searching for God." Furthermore, throughout its 45-year history, the congregation had never affiliated with any Baptist organization. And now thanks to squabbles among Southern Baptists over such things as politics and the way a wife should subordinate herself to her husband, "Baptist" can be a loaded word...
Source: Baptist Press
By: Mark A. Wyatt
Date: November 2000
RIVERSIDE, Calif. (BP)--The largest evangelical body in the nation's most populous state will continue to be known as the California Southern Baptist Convention after a vote on whether to remove the word "Southern" failed for a second consecutive year.
Messengers, meeting Nov. 14-15 in Riverside, also voted overwhelmingly to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs as adopted at the SBC's annual meeting in June in Orlando, Calif.
The vote to affirm the newly revised Southern Baptist doctrinal statement came in response to a motion by Roger Spradlin, pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield. Spradlin asked CSBC messengers to "affirm The Baptist Faith and Message as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, June 2000" and notify the SBC president of that action.
"It's an important time for us as a convention to express our solidarity with the Southern Baptist Convention," said Spradlin, who served on the committee that drafted the revised faith statement.
"I recognize it's already in our constitution, but it is important for us to go on record," Spradlin stated. "It is a doctrinal statement and doesn't impede on any church's authority."
Willie Simmons, pastor of Greater Cornerstone Baptist Church in Los Angeles, asked whether the statement would be used to bar messengers from churches that endorse earlier versions of the Southern Baptist faith statement.
Spradlin responded that he was simply seeking CSBC affirmation of the new Baptist Faith and Message "as a confession of faith." He added, "The issue of how that is used in our convention is a separate issue -- an important issue, but a separate one."
Dan Nelson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Camarillo, favored the motion to affirm the latest version of Southern Baptist doctrinal beliefs. "We are a cooperating entity with the SBC," Nelson said. "Our [national] convention has spoken. For us not to affirm would indicate we are not in cooperation and not appreciative of the funding we receive."
E.W. McCall, pastor of St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church in La Puente, moved the previous question and messengers voted to end debate. President Larry Dotson, pastor of Panama Baptist Church in Bakersfield, called for a show of hands and ruled that Spradlin's motion to affirm the BFM had passed "overwhelmingly."
In the vote by messengers on whether to adopt the name of California Baptist Convention, the proposal received a majority from the messengers who voted but fell 15 ballots short of the two-thirds required to amend the constitution. The final tally was 299, or 63.7 percent, in favor of the name change and 170 opposed.
Unlike last year, there was no opportunity to introduce new business after Dotson announced messengers had defeated the name change. Consequently, no further attempt to modify the name can be considered until the California convention's annual meeting in 2002, since a constitutional amendment would first have to be introduced next year.
The name change proposal was the fifth such attempt in 15 years. The move began in 1985 when the convention's executive board recommended that "California Baptist Convention" replace the denomination's original name, "The Southern Baptist General Convention of California." While the majority of messengers favored shortening the name, the recommendation failed to gain needed support at the 1986 annual meeting in Stockton and again the following year in Oxnard.
Then, in 1988, messengers in Anaheim approved "California Southern Baptist Convention," while turning back another bid to delete "Southern" from the name.
Efforts to shorten the name resumed in 1997 when a strategic planning team suggested considering "a slightly shorter name that emphasizes the distinctives of California." One year later, a missions implementation team once again recommended that the name be changed to "California Baptist Convention," setting up a vote on the proposal the following year. The name change failed in 1999 by a margin of 61 percent in favor to 39 percent opposed. But the issue was guaranteed yet another hearing when Milton Steck, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Vacaville, reintroduced the proposed constitutional amendment for a vote in 2000.
This year, as in each previous attempt, the name change bid prompted spirited debate. Some of the discussion briefly dealt with an amendment offered by Cal Kerby, messenger from First Baptist Church in Granada Hills, to rename the CSBC the "California Worldwide Baptist Convention" failed on a raised ballot vote.
Returning to the original motion, supporters argued eliminating "Southern" would remove an obstacle to evangelism.
"It is a stumbling block to reaching people who have a negative impression of the word 'southern,'" declared Mark Milwee, pastor of First Baptist Church in Gilroy. Milwee said the proposal was not a "slap at the Southern Baptist Convention," but "a promotion of Jesus Christ and what we are trying to do here in California."
E. Glen Paden, pastor of Immanuel Southern Baptist Church in Ridgecrest, urged messengers to approve the change as "an indication that we are coming to maturity. It's time for us to take a mature stand that we stay faithful to our mission program and the SBC" while remaining firmly identified with the West, Paden stated.
Opponents argued changing the name would send an unwanted signal to the Southern Baptist Convention and others.
"I think it's the wrong time," said Bret Capranica, pastor of First Baptist Church in Granada Hills. "With the upheaval of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, we need to send a clear signal that we willingly and fully support" the SBC, Capranica said. "If any geographical change needs to be made, it belongs with our national convention."
Richard Neely, pastor of Grand Avenue Baptist Church in South San Francisco, also spoke against the name change. Neely said retaining Southern in the California convention's name would "continue to identify with the one large denomination that still stands for righteousness in our society, the one large denomination that continues to lift up Christ and Christ alone as the only way to God."
Messengers voted to extend time an additional three minutes when the period originally allotted for the discussion expired. When the extended time ran out, messengers voted by secret ballot.
An even closer vote took place involving a motion introduced last year to amend Article III Section 2 of the CSBC constitution. That section allows churches membership in the California convention if they contribute to it financially and "have not adopted articles of faith in conflict with the Baptist Faith and Message as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention." The proposed constitutional amendment would have removed the concluding phrase, "as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention."
As discussion began, Ed Huffman, pastor of Woodward Park Baptist Church in Fresno, offered a motion to alter the proposed amendment by specifying "The Baptist Faith and Message as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in June 2000." Huffman said the change would remove "ambiguity as to which Baptist Faith and Message would be accepted by our convention."
The proposal sparked concern by some messengers about how the change would be applied.
"It seems to me if we defined it as the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 [and] a church does not adopt that then we are left to determine how to deal with that church. But that ought not to be," said Willie Simmons of Los Angeles. "I believe each church should be left to determine which Baptist Faith and Message they subscribe to. They're all good; I don't see any heresy in any of them."
Jake Hunt, messenger from Tierrasanta Baptist Church in San Diego, spoke against specifying the most recent version. "If we put a date on that, then every time they change the Baptist Faith and Message ... we've got to come back here and change our constitution," Hunt said.
The California pastor who helped draft the new edition of the Baptist Faith and Message urged adoption of Huffman's amendment. "We have every right to set the perimeters of who will be involved," insisted Roger Spradlin of Bakersfield. He noted most SBC agencies and seminaries have endorsed the updated belief statement as "an instrument of doctrinal fidelity and accountability."
"We would be remiss if we did not do so," Spradlin added.
Tom Crook, messenger from Castlewood Baptist Church in Vallejo, cautioned against raising the faith statement beyond a list of doctrinal guidelines. "The Bible to me is the most important document that God ever gave us," Crook said. "I don't want us to elevate this to the level of a creed."
That drew a quick response from Dan Nelson of Camarillo. "The Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed; it is an affirmation of the Scripture that we believe," Nelson declared. "I'm tired of people calling it a creed. This is just a smokescreen to say let's just keep everything nebulous."
Billy Hayes, pastor of Irvington Baptist Church in Fremont, sought to clear the air by asking, "If churches that adopt the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message will not be seated ... how is that not a creed?"
Hayes' hypothetical question went unanswered as time for discussion of the proposed amendment expired. The CSBC committee that oversees the annual meeting extended the discussion by five minutes, but messengers quickly approved a motion by E.W. McCall of La Puente to end debate and vote immediately on Huffman's amendment.
President Dotson ruled messengers approved Huffman's motion on a show of raised ballots. Messengers then cast secret ballots on the revised amendment. When the results were announced later that day, the proposed constitutional change had narrowly failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority. The vote count was 240 votes, or 65.93 percent in favor of the constitutional amendment, 124 against. That means the CSBC constitution still requires that member churches not oppose the Baptist Faith and Message, but does not specify a particular version of the statement of doctrinal beliefs.
Messengers also amended Article VI of the CSBC constitution concerning the election of the 40-member executive board. The amendment was presented by the executive board in response to a motion introduced last year by Dewey Squyres, pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church in San Jose. The change separates the issue of executive board representation by "geographic regions," from the delivery of executive board services to churches in previously defined "service areas." However, the article continues to guarantee two executive board members for each of at least nine geographic regions defined by the state convention. The remaining members will be elected according to a formula "based on the ratio of churches within each region compared to the total number of churches in the Convention."
In a related action, messengers approved a map designating nine geographic regions for executive board representation. It is the same map that currently defines Executive Board service areas.
In contrast to lively debate on a number of issues, messengers voted without comment to approve the executive board's record state convention budget recommendation for the coming year. The 2001 spending plan totals $16,060,146, an increase of more than 6 percent over the 2000 CSBC budget.
Included in the basic budget is a one-percentage-point increase in the amount California Southern Baptists contribute to the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists' unified giving plan to support national and international missions and ministries. The increase -- from 29 to 30 percent -- represents an additional $76,292 for SBC worldwide mission support in the coming year. If fully funded, the 2001 CSBC budget will direct nearly $2.3 million from California Southern Baptist congregations to SBC causes. It also anticipates more than $2.1 million for SBC mission offerings, an increase of $300,000 over 2000 budget figures.
In a series of mostly uncontested elections, messengers chose new officers to lead the convention in 2001. Montia Setzler, pastor of Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, was elected president by acclamation.
Larry Dotson of Bakersfield previously had announced he would not seek a second one-year term as president. While presiding over the election of his successor, Dotson quipped that Setzler was elected "by one vote," a reference to the practice of recording a single vote for unopposed candidates elected by acclamation.
The next two posts also were elected without opposition: first vice president William Eng, pastor of Chinese Baptist Church of Orange County in Anaheim, and second vice president, Robert E. Houston, pastor of New Hope Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in San Diego.
Next year's annual meeting will be Nov. 13-14 at Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield.
...Of course, the Southern Baptist Convention has set an example by removing "Baptist" from the names of Ridgecrest and Glorieta assemblies and from bookstores in order to market those entities outside the traditional Baptist family.
It's impossible to understand how dramatic this religious transformation is without understanding Southern history.
Historians say that since the Civil War, Baptists, and to a lesser extent Methodists, held a monopoly on the religious life of the South unrivaled in any other part of the nation, except perhaps Utah, which is overwhelmingly Mormon.
That monopoly has been characterized by a particular form of Protestantism that prized conversion, a personal relationship with Jesus, and the assurance of one's salvation. Whether in camp meeting or Sunday school, Baptists and Methodists passed on to successive generations of Southerners a heritage that revolved around the Bible, personal morality, regular church attendance and the overarching goal of "winning lost souls."
In the 1920s, writer and critic H. L. Mencken blasted this type of religion, calling the South "a bunghole of the United States, a cesspool of Baptists, a miasma of Methodism, snake charmers, phony real-estate operators and syphilitic evangelists."
Whatever Mencken's views, Southerners were unapologetic about their faith. An 1873 Sabbath law prohibited North Carolinians from "all ordinary work or business, on land or water." And in 1920, the city of Charlotte passed a municipal ordinance forbidding debate with a Detroit atheist on evolution.
Southerners loved their religion, and they loved it hot.
The Rev. Samuel Wait was among the founders of this brand of religion. A New England Baptist, he traveled to North Carolina in the early 1800s and found here a dearth of ministerial training. Determined to do something about it, he founded an agricultural institute for ministers in 1834. Students worked half the day and spent the other half poring over the Bible. Four years later, the school became Wake Forest College, and its emphasis shifted to the liberal arts. In 1956, when the college moved to Winston-Salem, a Southern Baptist Convention seminary established at the college five years earlier took over the entire Wake Forest campus.
But by the 1970s, partly in response to waves of migration, the old way of life began to change. First, state legislators allowed towns to hold referendums on selling liquor in bars. The legislation passed over the loud protests of Baptists and other Protestants who insisted that "liquor by the drink" would destroy morality. Next, Sunday "blue laws" were gradually eased, and in 1993 Hudson Belk got front-page coverage for becoming the last department store in the Southeast to open its doors on Sundays.
Beginning in 1971, Baptists also began losing their dominance, dropping from 50.5 percent of all religious adherents that year to 32.6 percent of all adherents in 2000.
These days, in towns like Wake Forest, schoolteachers freely assign homework on Wednesdays -- traditionally a church night. Restaurants that once catered to Baptist breakfast clubs are now sharing space with members of other faith groups. And the missionary knocking on the front door is more likely to be a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness.
Ben Aycock, a native of the town and a member of Wake Forest Baptist, has noticed the change. "A lot of the people I play golf with aren't members of my church," he said, "whereas the people I used to play with were all members of my church."
Bevies of Baptists
Still, it would be a mistake to suggest that Baptists no longer exert influence in the town of Wake Forest.
Despite St. Catherine of Siena's huge numbers, it is the only Catholic church in town. By comparison, there are between one and two dozen Baptist churches in northern Wake County, and it's safe to say that of the 15,000 residents of Wake Forest who attend a religious congregation, the largest single group are likely Baptists.
But there's probably no more telling sign of the decline of the Baptist hegemony in Wake Forest than the calculated decisions by two of its fastest-growing churches to avoid the word "Baptist" in their name. Richland Creek Community Church and North Wake Church both affiliate with the Southern Baptist Convention, but neither the signs on their buildings nor the bulletins handed out Sunday morning advertise this fact.
Not only have these two churches shed the Baptist name, they've shed the image, too. Gone are the hymnals, the organ, and the wooden pews bolted to the floor. These churches consider themselves contemporary...
...The Rev. Larry Trotter, the church pastor, said he never set foot in a Baptist church before he was called to lead this one. And he still doesn't think the denominational name is all that useful.
"We found it made it harder for people to understand the message we were communicating," he said.
At a time when Americans are becoming ever more savvy consumers, loyalty to a particular brand is waning. Today, people pick a church not because of its theology or because they were reared in a particular tradition. They pick a church where they feel comfortable. Instead of asking about doctrine, they ask: Is it friendly? Is the worship exciting? Are there programs for the kids?
"Denomination is not important, and certainly not to seekers," said Samuel S. Hill, a retired professor of religion at the University of Florida in Gainesville and a leading expert on Southern religion...
..."The fact that anyone was welcome is what really pleased me," said Edwards, who joined the church after four visits saying it felt warm, friendly and genuine.
Increasingly, that's the lesson Baptists are learning in this age of diversity.
A Southern Focus Poll conducted last year asked 800 Southerners whether they saw themselves as different from non-Southerners, or as linked to other people around the world. Nearly 50 percent said they saw themselves as linked to people around the world; 29 percent saw themselves as different from non-Southerners.
"It seems that what the South is doing is thinking globally," said James Peacock, a professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who devised the question for the poll. "Instead of the chip on the shoulder, opposition to the rest of the nation, they're opening up."...
THE BAPTIST TEA PARTY
By Dr. G. Earl Guinn
President Emeritus, Louisiana College
An address to the Executive Board and Advisory Council of
Mainstream Louisiana Baptists
July 23, 2001
...Baptist universities and colleges in a number of states have broken away in the interest of freedom and excellence in education. State conventions are altering patterns of giving. Several alliances and fellowships have been organized. A number of new seminaries have been created. Some churches have severed their relationship with the SBC [Southern Baptist Convention]. A larger number of churches provide optional giving opportunities. An unknown number of Baptists, including pastors, embarrassed and denied opportunity to serve, have gone to other denominations... The present rulers are getting frantic over the loss of financial support by the disenfranchised. Their cries and accusations will get louder and more numerous. They would do well to remember that support will continue to decline as more Baptists realize that they have viable alternatives...