One of the most iconic cultural brands in America may be on the verge of shedding half its name. Perhaps because of the regional stigma, and perhaps because of an identity with partisan politics. From the Associated Press:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The nation’s largest Protestant denomination will definitely remain “Baptist,” but leaders are thinking about whether it will be “Southern” for much longer.
Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright was expected to present the recommendation of a task force assigned to study a name change to the denomination’s executive committee at a meeting Monday night. Any name change would have to be approved at the SBC’s annual conventions the next two years.
Wright has said he is concerned the name is too regional and hinders efforts to plant new churches outside of the South. Others outside of church leadership say the name has become a liability because it is too often associated with divisive, partisan politics.
Either way, a recent survey conducted by the SBC’s own Lifeway Research firm gives weight to the idea that the name does drive away some potential members.
Of the 2,000 Americans surveyed, 40 percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of the denomination and 44 percent of respondents said that knowing a church was Southern Baptist would negatively impact their decision to visit or join the church.
Although 53 percent of respondents overall had a favorable view of the Southern Baptists, the high negatives are a concern for a denomination in which spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a fundamental to their faith.
While the 16 million member denomination continues to plant new churches in the U.S. and around the world, it has seen a decline in baptisms, church attendance and membership in recent years.
Wright has not revealed whether the task force voted in favor of a new name, but task force members have spoken positively about the idea.
“If we don’t aggressively plant churches and lead people to Christ, we become increasingly irrelevant to the world around us,” Jimmy Draper, the task force chairman, said recently. Draper also is a former SBC president and the former head of the SBC’s Lifeway Christian Resources.
Wright, the senior pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., will address the SBC executive committee on Monday evening at SBC headquarters in Nashville. If that group approves a new name, it would still have to pass a majority vote of delegates to the convention’s annual meeting for two straight years.
Note that many Southern Baptist churches have begun omitting any reference to the denomination in their names. Among them: First Redeemer Church, where GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum spoke Sunday night.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider