NEW ORLEANS (BP) — The descriptor “Great Commission Baptists” was approved by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention by a vote of 53 percent to 46 percent after nearly a half-hour debate June 19 at the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans.
According to results announced Wednesday morning, 4,824 ballots were cast, 2,546 were in favor of the descriptor and 2,232 were not in favor of the descriptor. Forty-six ballots were disallowed. At the time of the vote, 7,831 messengers were registered.
The measure survived some parliamentary maneuvering.
Richard Tribble, Jr., a messenger from Emmanuel Baptist Church in Decatur, Ill., objected to the consideration of the recommendation, calling it “divisive in nature, character and application.”
Barry McCarty, the convention’s chief parliamentarian, explained that if two-thirds of the messengers voted against considering the recommendation, discussion would cease. Debate continued after the vote.
Carroll Vaughn, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Bloomfield, N.M., made a motion that the recommendation be tabled indefinitely.
“We don’t need to sit around and argue about changing a name when we’re not going to change our name anyway,” Vaughn said. “Let’s be about the Great Commission and let the world describe us as people that turn the world upside down, not as people that sit around and argue about what we’re going to call ourselves.”
Vaughn’s motion to table was ruled out of order.
In debate over the descriptor, Aaron Harvie, pastor of Riverside Community Church in Philadelphia, Pa., and a member of the task force that studied the issue, said he was sent by Southern Baptists to plant a church among people “who greatly misunderstand who Southern Baptists are.”
“This opportunity that stands before us just gives us as church planters and people outside of the South an opportunity to build bridges to share Jesus,” Harvie told messengers. “As a planter and as a person living outside the South, I beg you as Southern Baptists to help us to continue to build bridges to share Jesus.”
Susie Hawkins, a messenger from Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and a member of the task force, spoke from the floor to “remind the messengers that this is not a theological or doctrinal issue.
“This is an issue of preference, and our brothers and sisters in Christ in these pioneer areas in diverse communities and churches have indicated to us that this particular descriptor would be extremely helpful to them, and I would urge us all in the spirit of Romans 14 to do everything we can to advance the Kingdom of God and vote for this motion,” Hawkins said.
Among opponents of the Great Commission Baptists descriptor, Bob Cleveland, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala., said Southern Baptists have failed in their effort to disciple the nation because “at last count about 10 million” of the members on the convention’s church rolls “are not coming to church.”
“We are not Great Commission Baptists,” Cleveland said.
Gary Hunnicutt, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Benton, Ark., said, “We have a much longer history of doing good than we did of supporting slavery. We have a good name, a good brand.”
Chris Roberts, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla., asked for clarification regarding whether SBC entities would “be encouraged to adopt this alternative name on things such as letterhead, publications, literature such as that.”
Roger Spradlin, chairman of the Executive Committee, said each individual group, from churches to entities, “will make their own decision as to how to use the descriptor or whether to use the descriptor.”
Jimmy Draper, chairman of the name change task force, told messengers the goal from the beginning “was to remove any barrier to the effective proclamation of the Gospel in reaching people for Christ.”
“Be very sure you understand this recommendation does not ask anyone to do anything. It does not obligate any person, any church, any Baptist entity to do anything,” Draper said before discussion began. “… No action that you take today binds any Southern Baptist to comply. Baptist headquarters is still the local Baptist church.”
In the end, messengers approved the recommendation from the SBC Executive Committee that “those churches, entities and organizations in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention” which desire to use a descriptor other than “Southern Baptists” to indicate their involvement in the convention consider using Great Commission Baptists.
The phrase, messengers agreed, is commended “as one fully in keeping with our Southern Baptist Convention identity.”
The legal name of the convention will remain “Southern Baptist Convention.”
In February, the Executive Committee approved the recommendation brought by SBC President Bryant Wright who had appointed a task force to advise him on the possibility of changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Based on their advice, Wright brought a recommendation to the EC that the convention keep its name but adopt an informal, non-legal Great Commission Baptists descriptor, to be used by any church that wishes to use it.
K. Marshall Williams, chairman of the Southern Baptist African American Advisory Council, said before the convention the adoption of the descriptor would be a step in the right direction and could improve the SBC’s effectiveness in Kingdom building.
“It’s a clear declaration of who we are and what we’re about, namely the exaltation of the Almighty and the edification and evangelization of all nations,” Williams, pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, said.
Erin Roach is Baptist Press’ assistant editor. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).