CR:V has received a leaked copy of an article planned for release during next year’s Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. For the purposes of documentation it is provided below.
Southern Baptists Choose Name Change Rather than Deal with Racist Past
June 14th, 2021
Nashville A denomination in crisis, reeling from the scandal of widespread sexual abuse and facing a world that has largely moved beyond their sexual values, the Southern Baptist Convention – still the largest Protestant denomination in the world if their reported numbers are to be believed – voted today to change the name of the denomination in an effort to close the door on a legacy of racism which has dogged the denomination since its founding.
Hailed as a historic moment by its leaders, Southern Baptists hope the name change will provide a clear and final break with the pro-slavery past which led to the founding of the denomination in Augusta, Georgia in 1845. Previous superficial efforts at distancing contemporary Southern Baptists from their racist founders have largely failed to move the needle of public perception. SBC institutional leaders and pastors believe now that a change in branding may be the ticket to a less embarrassing future.
Reigning Southern Baptist President J.D. Greear’s tenure has seen some of Southern Baptists’ greatest challenges – the aforementioned exposure of a rampant culture of sexual abuse and cover up among SBC Churches, the refusal by a considerable number of SBC churches to honor the government’s dictates during the coronavirus pandemic, and the public relations disaster of high profile leaders supporting Donald Trump – is enthusiastic about the change. “Southern Baptists want to be a people who love their neighbors well. We thought we had struck the fatal blow to racism when I earlier retired the Broadus gavel [Editor – named for another Pro-Confederacy Southern Baptist founder] but after some soul-searching, conversation among our leaders, and external polling we decided that a name change was our best way to signal to the world that Southern Baptists are listening and responding.”
Stephen Balmer of Dartmoth University’s history department commented on the decision: “It is amazing to me that Southern Baptists, born in a pro-slavery moment and continuing to exist largely in the deep South, believe that a simple name change will gloss over both their denominational legacy of racism and continuing position on the wrong side of history when it comes to a progressive understanding of human sexuality. The Southern Baptist Convention never fails to surprise.”
Harry Banking, an historian of American Religion teaching at Baylor University, called the name change “a spasm of desperation coming from a people terrified to lose their cultural power.” He continued, “Surely someone within the Southern Baptist Convention is self-aware enough to realize that a PR stunt like this is going to be met immediately with just the kind of scorn it deserves from a world waiting for the SBC to get serious about the backward and fundamentalist elements at the core of its being.”
Meanwhile, Ronnie Floyd, President of the SBC’s Executive Committee sees the changing of the name as a meaningful step in the denomination’s efforts to bring advance their religion into the various cultures of the world. “Southern Baptists want to be a people on mission with Jesus and if we are going to do so in a way that is winsome and empathetic we have to make important changes in how we present ourselves to the broader world.” However, as Reverand Dawn Hutchings has noted, the pro-missions impulse Floyd refers to is itself an expression of problematic elements within evangelicalism. “…the so-called ‘great commission’ was added to the gospel by the Christian community sometime around 325 [and ] granted white European Christians the authority to claim, seize, conquer, and ‘Christianize’ any and all lands inhabited by people who were not Christian. Colonizing became Europe’s preferred method of evangelizing and in Jesus’ name indigenous people were slaughtered or subjugated.” Thinking of the consequences of this idea, Dr. Anthony Bradley has written that the idea of a “Great Commission” toward missions for evangelicals is driven by “a truncated view of the gospel, the kingdom, and redemption that may permanently keep evangelicalism one of America’s only predominantly white spaces.”
Vancouver-area SBC church planter Preston Spiccoli hopes that the name change eases the burden of reaching his neighborhood in the name of Christ. “Honestly, the previous name was a barrier. ‘Southern’ carries a lot of negative connotations here in Canada and I am hopeful the change lowers the degree of difficulty for us in terms of being understandable to our neighbors.” Spiccoli, however, finds himself struggling in a vocation fast becoming obsolete. The pandemic quarantine has demonstrated that churches need not actually gather in a physical location, as demonstrated by SBC President Greear dissolving his own church into a collection of home-gathering fellowships (in a state with lax masking and social distancing requirements) or Nashville-area Long Hollow Baptist Church looking to accommodate online-only church members. These changes toward an online Christianity leaves church planters like Spiccoli struggling to justify his work in a post-coronavirus America.
Time will tell whether or not this name change really is the seismic shift away from the problematic past of Southern Baptists and toward the more evolved values of the people which the SBC hopes to reach with their message. Choosing a re-branding over meaningful action against their movement’s legacy of racism nonetheless appears a strange move by a people claiming to represent Jesus’ teaching of love for one’s neighbor.