Point of View: Process matters in SBC name change proposal

Article Date: Sep 20, 2011

Yesterday at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, President Bryant Wright led the Executive Committee to appoint by fiat a task force to study a name change for the denomination (BP). In a matter of hours, Twitter is already alive with discussion over the proposal. People are likely to take sides on this matter based upon their opinions of the idea of changing the name alone. I'll give my opinion on whether we should change the name of the SBC at the end of this post. For now, I'd like to direct your attention to the procedural intricacies of this proposal.

First, it might be helpful to give a brief review of the history of this concept. The messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention are not as clearly on record in our opposition to Satan and Hell as we are in our opposition to changing the name of our denomination (not necessarily a good thing). It has been voted down and voted down and voted down, starting since long before I realized that I was either Southern or Baptist—since long before anyone discussing this matter today was ever born. In 1974, W. A. Criswell came to the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention and asked them to appoint a study committee to explore a possible name-change. The messengers approved the committee, the committee chose not to change the name, and Dr. Criswell honored the will of the messengers.

In 1999, an attempt was made by members of the Executive Committee to initiate the name-change process within the EC rather than on the convention floor. The Executive Committee declined to do so. An excellent report by Augie Boto outlined the advantages of retaining the historic name of the convention.

In 2004, SBC President Jack Graham asked the messengers in the convention meeting to appoint a task force to consider a name change. Graham, astute president that he was, noted that by 2004 this question had come to the convention floor "seven or eight times" and opined that our convention needed in 2004 "to stop meeting and just talking about this…We need to either put it to bed forever or get on with it."

The convention chose to "put it to bed forever" by a considerable margin.

Here's hoping that, when we use "forever" in speaking about the promises of the gospel, Southern Baptists mean something longer than eight years!

The question of a name-change arose during the GCR debates of recent memory, but no name change task force arose out of the GCR report.

And now, SBC President Bryant Wright has chosen to lead the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to take an action that the messenger body of the SBC has explicitly and repeatedly refused to take—to appoint a task force to study a name change. The normal course of affairs is for SBC Presidents who desire the appointment of task forces to ask for the approval of the convention's messengers before doing so, especially on questions of such importance. Why not follow that time-honored process now?

On Twitter, Dr. Albert Mohler reported that Wright had indicated that he followed this process "out of respect for the SBC Executive Committee." I can understand how it would be an indication of respect for the Executive Committee to make them the people from whom Wright sought authorization to take this action. And yet, if it is an action of respect to seek this consent from the Executive Committee, is it not therefore, by Wright's own definition, an action of disrespect of the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention to decline to seek their consent for this action, especially since the seeking of messenger consent is the standard operating procedure of the convention in matters such as this? Certainly, it may be inadvertent disrespect, but it is disrespect nonetheless.

Southern Baptists on various sides of the issues that we face in this day and time are demonstrating what I believe is a dangerous inclination to belittle and disrespect the messenger body in order to accomplish at all costs the will of the empowered few. This threat was evident during the GCR process when anti-GCR voices were privately expressing the opinion that the messengers of the convention COULD NOT instruct the Executive Committee to do anything—that the Executive Committee was not beholden to the messengers of the convention to follow their instructions. This threat was evident during the GCR debate itself in Orlando when the rules of order were violated and the rights of a messenger were trampled underfoot as he attempted to amend the GCR recommendations. But for the courage of a bold lady standing at a microphone, our convention might have done something possibly illegal that day. This threat is evident tonight, when rather than poll the convention messengers to see whether their opinion has changed on the question of appointing a name-change task force, the action has been taken to short-circuit the expressed will of the SBC and to have this task force after all, messengers be…disrespected.

Let no one supporting such a thing ever breathe a word of criticism about unelected, unaccountable activist judges wresting legislative authority out of the hands of the people where it belongs. Let no one supporting such a thing ever utter the slightest complaint about Presidential Czars and Executive Orders bypassing the will of the Congress. People on all sides of SBC debate have adopted an "ends justifies the means" approach to our denominational polity. We need to repent of it. We need to quit it. We need to start acting in good faith.

Now, I promised to offer my opinion of the name change idea itself. Here it is. If this process goes forward to the messengers of the convention, then I will fully support a name-change so long as it removes the word "Baptist" from the name of our denomination. When the will of the messengers has become an obstacle to get around by any means necessary rather than the sacred core of our polity, then we are no longer Baptists, and we no longer deserve to own that name.

Bart Barber is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas. This column originally appeared on his blog, http://praisegodbarebones.blogspot.com, and is used here with permission

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