Leaders within the Southern Baptist Convention are seriously contemplating a name change in an effort to quell racial tension and address the SBC’s past endorsement of slavery.
While a legal name change for the convention would be too expensive, leaders contend “Great Commission Baptists” better portrays the organization’s mission.
Many SBC member churches and leaders believe the word “Southern” is too closely tied to slavery and racism. They say it is a painful reminder of the convention’s historic role in advocating for slavery.
The Southern Baptist Convention formed in 1845, splitting from Northern Baptists. Those in the South wanted to continue supporting missionaries who owned slaves.
Gary Frost, a black Southern Baptist pastor, said if the word “Southern” hinders someone from hearing the Gospel, it should be removed.
“We’re not holding on to symbols of the past. That’s painful for some people. That’s part of their heritage,” Frost said. “When you learn that it’s hurtful to the spread of the gospel, you have to be willing to let go…”
The alternate name, “Great Commission Baptists,” was approved in 2012 “as one fully in keeping with our Southern Baptist Convention identity.” It wasn’t until recently that many SBC leaders expressed greater interest in using the name moving forward.
“Our leadership affirms the decision made by messengers in 2012,” SBC president J.D. 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.”
The “Great Commission” will also be the main focus of the convention’s 2021 Annual Meeting under the theme “We Are Great Commission Baptists.”
“In the last month we started receiving emails from around the country with pastors and leaders asking about using the name. By making this our annual meeting theme… we do not in any way want to minimize the significance of our past…,” Greear said.
“Utilizing ‘Great Commission Baptists’ is simply one more step to make clear we serve a Savior who died for all. The mission is not limited to one people living in one time at one place. Every week we gather to worship a Savior who died for the whole world, not one part of it. What we call ourselves should make that clear,” Greear added.
Last month, the SBC Executive Committee posted a new logo on its website reflecting the alternate name. Pastor Marshall Blalock of First Baptist Church of Charleston urged churches to embrace the new moniker.
“Will you opt to use this mission-focused name rather than the regional name rooted in the past? We honor Christ most when we are truly Great Commission Baptists,” Blalock wrote on Twitter.