Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Uphill Climb for a Name Change

The name-change effort in the Southern Baptist Convention faces a long, uphill climb. Allow me to sketch out some of the obstacles it will have to overcome in order to succeed:

  1. Voting Requirement

    Any change to the name of the Southern Baptist Convention will necessitate a change to the convention's constitution. To accomplish this, a supermajority of two-thirds of the convention messengers would have to vote in the affirmative for two consecutive annual meetings.

    As recently as 2004, it was not possible to find a simple majority (50% + 1) even willing to have a task force to STUDY having a name change. Has the makeup of the convention changed so dramatically in a mere eight years that two-thirds of the convention will now support what was such a minority position so recently?

    Perhaps it has, but I have seen no evidence yet of such a dramatic sea-change in the convention.

  2. Annual Meeting Locations

    If one were interested in accomplishing this political feat, the time to have done it would either be two years ago or two years from now. This is the worst possible time to attempt this simply because of the location schedule for the annual meetings.

    If one had attempted this starting in Orlando, then one would be trying to win a supermajority out of crowds in Orlando and Phoenix. Winning in Orlando might have been slightly touch-and-go (and there was the risk that this divisive issue would have harmed the GCR push), but the odds for this proposal would have been far greater in Phoenix, simply because of depressed messenger count. In general, the less of a voice Southern Baptists have in this process, the better its chances of success.

    Two years from now, the convention will begin a two-year tour through Baltimore (2014) and Columbus (2015). Maryland and Ohio are probably places where convention turnout will be low and where the hurdle of obtaining a two-thirds supermajority will be much, much lower. A serious attempt to push the name-change through would have been wise to delay itself for two years. And, indeed, perhaps some strategy of delay is still possible for proponents to implement.

    But at this time, Bryant Wright's proposal will face messenger bodies in New Orleans (2012) and Houston (2013). Two worse locations could hardly have been imagined. Messenger turnout will be high and will contain large numbers of the same people who have defeated these measures over and over. I'm willing to predict the odds of clearing the 66% threshold in both New Orleans and Houston as being well lower than the odds of President Obama's attending the Collin County Lincoln Day gala.

  3. A Poison-Pill Process

    The way that the will of the messengers has been sidestepped in the beginning of this process has been divisive. It divided the Executive Committee, with many EC members not learning about this until the press releases were being distributed in the public meeting, after the story had already gone out on Twitter. It has scandalized some of us to see how this initiative is being railroaded through. As was discussed in the Executive Committee meeting, this comes at a time when many Southern Baptists are still a bit bruised and tender from the way that the GCR report was pushed through with high-pressure political tactics that are still fresh in the memories of Southern Baptists and that are unprecedented in our polity.

    The GCR was not so bad of an idea (with the exception of Great Commission Giving) that it deserved such heavy-handedness from the platform. Good ideas can rise on their own merits. God's people can be trusted to seek God's will. Missing from the process seems to be faith in the action of the Holy Spirit to build consensus among SBC messengers around those things that are His will. Tell the truth and trust the people, I say.

    What President Wright ought to do, instead of bringing a report from this task force in New Orleans, is to backtrack and ask the convention to approve the formation of the task force to begin with. Such a humble, conciliatory, and congregationalist move would do much to counter criticisms and to pour oil on the waters of this process. The inherent delay would also, by the way, cause his proposal to come to more favorable locations for the annual meeting, as outlined above.

    That's not likely to happen. Apart from something like that, the procedural aspects of this initiative will make it less likely to gain a broad and dispassionate hearing. The discourse up to this point has included plenty of people who falsely presume that I got so worked up about this just because I don't favor a name-change. Not so. My previous post on this topic is the kind of post that I produce when we're just exploring the possibility of changing the convention's name. It is the disregard and disrespect for the convention's messengers that bothers me most about President Wright's task force initiative and that catapults me into a more energetic and confrontational mode of writing.

  4. The Paucity of Alternatives

    Southern Baptists were eyeing the name "American Baptist Convention" back before the Northern Baptist Convention snapped it up out from under us in 1951. That would have been a good name, but it is no longer available. "Baptist Convention of the Americas" is also gone. Nothing with "Cooperative" in it will be feasible, because of the CBF. A few alternatives remain that still communicate a gathering of Baptists, but not many.

    Of course, a great many Southern Baptists will want to ditch both "Southern" and "Baptist" (and probably even "Convention"). "Convention" speaks of a business meeting, and anti-congregationalists will want something warmer and fuzzier. "Southern" is, of course, the most offensive label, and a strong argument can be made for ditching Southern. After all, our churches that happen to be in the South really aren't Southern any longer, by and large. As I wrote in a post last year:

    As a historian I would assert that the distinctiveness of Southern culture is at its lowest point since the Colonial period. Everything from media to chain restaurants and big box stores have made it more true than ever before that Boston = Atlanta = Houston = Los Angeles. Of course, these equations are not absolutely true, but they are more true than they have ever been before.

    Moving from culture-at-large to church culture, a Cowboy Church movement has arisen largely because the standard Southern Baptist church culture has almost nothing Southern about it. The music is Rock, the marketing is Madison Avenue, the platform dress is Abercrombie & Fitch, and the A-V technology is Times Square.

    What's Southern about that?

    So, with a convention full of churches in the South that are embarrassed of their Southernness, one can see a rationale for eliminating the word "Southern."

    But the word "Baptist" will be examined as well. Just yesterday a Southern Baptist from Idaho reported that, in his state, "Baptist" presents far more of an obstacle than "Southern" does. One cannot ignore the phenomenon that an alarmingly growing number of Southern Baptist churches is removing the word "Baptist" from church signs throughout the nation. Many of the agitators for change are people who have already taken this action in their local churches—not all of them, but many of them.

    Now, what makes all of this interesting is that we probably can't go about changing the name of the denomination every decade (although it seems that we can reorganize it on that timetable). The safe bet is to keep "Baptist" in the name and go for changing only "Southern" (or, at the most, do away with both "Southern" and "Convention"). And perhaps that would be a sufficient change for those who wish to do away with "Baptist" as well, so long as they thought they could easily work incrementally. But multiple changes of the denominational name are likely to weaken it over the long run, and so I think there's going to be an inclination to see this as the one, best opportunity to do this thing all the way.

    Moderation and incrementalism are often successful political strategies, but it remains to be seen whether a moderate, incremental change to the name will really satisfy anybody. A good alternative would need to be a name that enjoyed broader support than the present name enjoys. Maybe such an alternative exists, and we probably won't know until people are finished dreaming up the options, but the selection of the right candidate name remains one of the more difficult obstacles for this process to overcome.

For all of these reasons, I predict that it is going to be very difficult for the task force to succeed at their objective. Certainly, there are members of this task force who have accomplished the improbable before, and we do well not to count them out before the first bell has rung. Nevertheless, if they will change the name of the Southern Baptist Convention, all of these are among the more prominent obstacles that they will have to overcome.


Dave Miller said...

Obviously, we do not agree about the process, but I agree completely about this - it will be a very difficult sell for the name change. .

I've been an advocate of a name change for a long time and have had many discussions about this. In all that time, and with dozens of serious suggestions being made, not one has been compelling.

The name suggested a decade ago, "Baptist Convention of the US" would have been great. Cooperative Baptist Convention would have been nice.

Unless they come up with some trendy name like Guidestone or Converge Worldwide, finding a new name is not an easy thing.

Mary said...

I wonder if this isn't perhaps a longer term stategy looking ahead to (was it Maryland?) time to browbeat and do the media blitz. Since this is the President's task force he doesn't have an obligation to bring it to the convention next year or even the next. Since the elite seems to be preordaining the future Presidents the timing on when to bring this before a convention may all be part of the strategy. Especially with the SBC looking to make the historic election of the first black President - what better time to remind everybody why we should ditch Souterhn. Jon Akin brought up the race angle in the Fox News blurb.

I can't believe the elites are pushing for this without recognizing the points you've raised here. So I'm thinking they see this as coming before the convention in 3 years after much brow beating and guilting with a little race politics thrown in.

Bart Barber said...


As you (I think it was you) astutely noted, "International Baptist Convention" (a leading candidate I've seen mentioned multiple times on Twitter) is only accurate if the SBC intends to change its focus and become a worldwide operation.

That's an interesting possibility, but it involves far more than a name-change. An "International Baptist Convention" strategy could fill the hole left by our difficulty in finding conservative Baptist international partner conventions (as illustrated in the difficulties present in the BWA). That's an interesting possibility.

Of course, the question is whether the Southern Baptist Convention could easily become "International" while remaining conservative. That's a tough prediction to make.

Bart Barber said...


The more involved I've become in convention politics, the more surprised I've been at how little organization and strategy there is. People suppose that grand strategic political planning is happening "behind the scenes," but largely, it isn't happening at all.

Mary said...

Bart, it will be interesting to watch it unfold. This is obviously a very important issue otherwise I don't think "they" would have done this unprecedented power grab bypassing another vote for a task force. Obviously they knew they couldn't get a task force through the traditional way thus the unorthodox way was chosen. If understanding that they couldn't go the traditional route then surely they would have considered the fall out coming in New Orleans. But then again it could be as you say that they are just fumbling politically or perhaps it's a throwing a bone to some "base" with the idea that it won't really bear fruit, but they can claim "hey we tried" now we need you guys to work harder for us.

I do think this move will be a wake-up call to those who have been skeptical of the accusations of the top down power grabs becoming more bold. The question is will it rile people enough to "take back" the SBC from the elites are will the SBC roll over and allow the "top" to continue to dictate how things are going to be from here on out? We'll see.

Big Daddy Weave said...

Hey Bart,

You note that a super-majority is needed because a name-change would require a change to the constitution.

But is there another way to go about the name-change? Tim Dahl, a pastor near you in the DFW-area, reminded me today on my blog that the BGCT adopted a "doing business as" name of "Texas Baptists"

I think in Texas all you need to do is fill out a couple of forms to have a separate "doing business as" name.

It would seem that - depending on Tennessee law - that the SBC could adopt a "doing business as" name, initiate a re-branding campaign and attempt to do the same.

I doubt this maneuver would require a 2/3rds supermajority since your legal incorporated name still remains Southern Baptist Convention.

In fact, I'm not positive but I'm pretty sure that the Baptist General Conference chose Converge Worldwide as its "doing business as" name and did not alter its legal documents.

Big Daddy Weave said...

Let me also add:

If the only way a name change happens is via a change to the SBC constitution...I'd like to solicit bets.

Any pro-namechanger hipsters out there who don't have a problem with a little gambling willing to stake some real money on this thing? Ain't no chance that Bryant Wright or even Al Mohler could convince 2/3rd of Southern Baptist messengers for TWO consecutive years to go the namechange route. Getting 50%+1 is one thing but 66% is something entirely different.

I expect one day down the road, after a long name-change campaign, 66% of messengers might support changing the name. But that number would probably fall well under 66% if they were asked to vote on a specific new name.

Wait a handful of years and we might relinquish Cooperative to y'all if you pony-up to cover our budget shortfalls :-)

Big Daddy Weave said...

Actually, Bob Smietana of The Tennessean just cleared things up over at Get Religion. He says Converge Worldwide is indeed a doing business as name. Here's his comment:

"It’ll be interesting to watch and see if the SBC follows the path of the Baptist General Conference, which adopted a new d/b/a - Converge Worldwide - without changing their official name. That saved the BGC a ton of headaches.

Also be interested to see if the name change is a success—like the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company becoming 3M— or a flop, like Radio Shack trying to become “The Shack”"

Todd Benkert said...

I think you're overplaying the whole "poison pill" thing. The biggest objection to the study committee in Indy was the cost -- no longer an issue if they're paying their own way.

And I don't see how the missional impact of our name has ever really been studied. What's the harm in actually hearing a matter BEFORE we answer it?

But I do agree that any name change proposal will face a steep uphill climb. :)

Anonymous said...

Some interesting thoughts here. I'm a Yankee, presently living in the Bible Belt, and as I'm a Baptist I am a member of an SBC church. While I strongly align myself with those calling for a name change, I don't think it will happen. Not anytime soon though. Hopefully when the younger generations come into power within the SBC it will happen, but at this point, it's not likely. Too many people fighting for the name Southern than for Jesus. In my opinion, as an insider who is also an outsider.

Bob Cleveland said...

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that the committee will discover and reveal some evidence that the name (and I'd guess "Southern, more than "Baptist") does pose some hindrance in many places. And that the messengers will vote down a name change nonetheless.

Hey .. wouldn't that be revealing?

Bart Barber said...


Maybe the dba approach is what will come forth. I know that it has been discussed at length. Here's what I think is the difficulty of that approach: The result is that the Southern Baptist Convention will have TWO names, and one of them adopted with something far less than unanimity.

In order for the dba name to be successful, people have to agree to use it instead of the formal name. For a business, that's no problem. For a convention in which the membership largely agrees with the name-change process, that's not a problem.

But neither of those are the case with the SBC. If the SBC were to adopt a dba, churches are not likely to change their signs or web sites. Depending upon their proclivities, every other SBC President could convene an annual meeting in which he called the meeting by a different name.

Doing something in the SBC is like herding cats. As long as "Southern Baptist Convention" remained one among the legal options, I think that the adoption of the dba name would remain painfully slow.

And yet, because of the obstacles cleared by that tactic, perhaps that's precisely what they would try.

Dave Miller said...

If some of the legal roadblocks are what some have claimed, a dba is most likely. That is what the Conservative Baptists did. They are the Conservative Baptist Association dba CB America.

10-4 good buddy.

Bart Barber said...


I'm not overplaying the "poison pill" thing FOR ME. I can honestly say that for me it is as big of a deal as I am making it out to be.

Should we study a name change? Maybe so, but the messengers have already said that we shouldn't.

Would the messengers say differently now? Maybe so, but the president isn't bothering to ask them.

Was the expense the major reason for rejecting the task force in 2004? The way to know that would be to present a zero-cost task force option to the messengers and see if the vote would change, but we'll never have that chance now. All we can do is guess. I voted against the task force in 2004, and would vote against this one. Have you heard from anyone who voted against in 2004 who would vote in favor now?

How many people find this to be a big deal? I don't know, and I don't want to guess. Churches are losing congregationalism because members are too indifferent to attend business meeting. SBC messengers can be an indifferent lot as well. In which case people will take more and more power away from the messenger body.

Our system only functions well if somebody is around to pitch a hue and cry when people with power overstep their bounds.

Doug Hibbard said...


The dba process would leave us with two names. And then you'd have this situation: Don't like the new one? Fine, continue to count yourself as Southern Baptist, because we still are.

Don't like Southern Baptist? Call yourself (Not) Southern Baptist. Because we're not just Southern Baptists.

The weakness of the dba is its potential strength: all the "old Joes" who have sworn to be Southern Baptist until death can stay that way. All the cool people get a new name. It doesn't cost any ancillary organizations money, because there's no legal refiling. (I'm thinking of places like Mid-America Seminary that require all Trustees to be "Southern Baptists." If there's no "Southern Baptists" then they have to redo their charter, right?)

It will not need a super majority or a repeat. It needs 51%. It may not even need that. Not knowing the legal well enough, could 51% of the EC adopt a dba name? If so, then it's a really simplified process.

I don't think this will come back to needing 2/3 of 2 consecutive conventions. That method has failed enough times. This will come about in a different manner.


And Dave, I kind of like "Converge Worldwide." At least you don't expect them all to speak Swedish :)

Doug Hibbard said...

And I still prefer Tom Ascol's suggestions:


If we're gonna be BUBBA, I'll vote for that. Twice.

Anonymous said...


RK Simpson
Oklahoma Cithy

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that this may be easier and/or harder than we believe.

I'm not a Georgia lawyer, but our name was granted by an act of the Georgia Legislature. It may require an act of the same to change the name -- or merging into a newer corporate form, which has liability disadvantages.

A D/B/A/ registration, if available to the Convention corporation, may not require the two-year process at all.

It seems the latter is more likely, given Dr. Wright's reluctance to allow the EC to study the matter for another year.

Jeff Moore said...

We ARE the Southern Baptist Convention. If that's a problem for you, there are other options. Use them. But as we have already said, multiple times, leave our name alone.

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

Would you not agree that a dba would further make the the division in the convention? Some would say, I am Southern Baptist and you are not. Can you imagine the nomination speeches in the future?


volfan007 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
volfan007 said...


Yep, that's what it should be...NERD.

David :)

Anonymous said...

Could someone please tell us precisely which one of the denominational employees on the "task force" is going to "pay his own way"? I'd really like to know.

With that, I am...

peter lumpkins said...

Another question I think is worthy: if no expert opinion may be solicited--except, of course, from those "expert" advisers and professionals who will work entirely for free--how valuable will this study actually be to the president and subsequently to the SBC?

As for me, I cannot help but envision the final "study" the "task force" will produce will be the product of little more than round table discussions amongst themselves. After all, when something is "free" (i.e., to the SBC), what else would we actually expect to get?

With that, I am...

Ray said...

I don't think it will happen until on-line voting is implemented so that all those who cannot afford to go to the Convention can vote. If on-line voting is implemented, I think the name will be changed.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know of the percentage of SBC church starts that do not have the word Baptist in their name?


Big Daddy Weave said...


I have a guess that Lifeway Research will offer some free "help."

Interestingly, Ed Stetzer may be one of the few people who don't find "Converge Worldwide" to be a ridiculous name. He's lifting up the example of the BGC (an organization Stetzer consulted for but still can't get their name correct, Conference not Convention) over at the BtT blog.

I tend to think that there's an issue when the person running your Research division is one of the least "neutral" leaders in the denomination. One wonders how those personal preferences inform the methodology of Lifeway Research especially when surveying Southern Baptists themselves.

volfan007 said...

Hey, I got this one off of Scott Gordon...Campus Crusade is now CRU so can we change SBC to BaCon?

Yep, looks good to me....


PS. Everyone loves bacon; right?

PSS. I'm very offended right now... my word verification to print this comment was fatso....Bart?

Scott Gordon said...


I think your right on this. The uphill climb will likely cause a stall and kill the momentum. Or...we could have churches aligned as SBC and the Convention formerly known as SBC.


"BaCon is Good for Everything!" [Heb. 13:21]

Anonymous said...

Funny the differing views on this. I think it is pretty much a done deal. I am basing that on the rogue process used and reading media accounts that "announce": the SBC is studying a name change if we all agreed on this.

By the time this committee has kept the media apprised which means it is reported the way they want in the secular media, everyone will be ready for the big name change. Few will dare vote against it because by that time, we will have heard all the slavery stories and anyone disagreeing will be cast as a racist hick from the South.

And that is why you have the "unofficial" committee so the message could be controlled.

volfan007 said...

Also, is it not amazing that the SBC has spread to every state in the Union, and into many, many, many, foreign countries; in SPITE OF OUR NAME? I mean, we were the SBC while spreading out beyond the Mason-Dixon line. We were the SBC while going west of the MS River. We were the SBC while starting Churches in Honduras, and Zimbabwe, and India.

Why didnt the name hinder that growth and reaching out?

Maybe the name doesnt hinder as much as some think. Maybe doing away with the name "Baptist" is at the heart of this issue. I dont know.


Anonymous said...


My thoughts on this subject are pretty well known after burning up the SBC Voices site.

I don't believe that any name change should be proposed at the convention this year. In fact, I would not have the task force report at the convention. I would have them report before.

Then, I would have a series of "listening" meetings around the country like Dr. Draper's young leaders meetings.

I would keep the discussion going over a couple of years and I would promote it. Then, I would have a vote.

I am the worst at coming up with names, but some I think would work are:

The Fellowship of Baptist Christians

Baptist Christians Together

Baptist Christians on Mission

That keeps "American" out of it, which can be a problem overseas.

The Baptist nature of the SBC should be maintained. Baptists have made great theological contributions and I believe are correct on important issues.

I don't think that a name without "Baptist" in it will succeed. An alternative, however, might be a phrase after the official name.

Using my poor suggestions, one could use - Christians Together, a fellowship of Baptist Congregations. And then use Christians Together as the name where there's not a lot of space available.

These are poor suggestions.

One of the things that has made the SBC effective, in my opinion, is the openness to new ideas, creativity (when compared to other denominations) and the willingness to change.

The SBC has altered its entire convention structure, did away with non-performing assets, so to speak, changed the name of entities and last year even changed the funding mechanism.

A name change that is positive and is a better reflection of our present and future would be a good thing.

The objections that I hear to that are typically a desire to remember, preserve or project a Southern identity. I do not believe that is necessary or desirable when we a preaching a Gospel that is not tied to any region or culture.

Thanks for your good thoughts on this subject.