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Historical Society changes name; hints at welcoming other groups

PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP)–The Southern Baptist Historical Society (SBHS) voted to change its name to the Baptist History and Heritage Society amid questions of whether the society was bowing to political pressure from individuals who oppose the Southern Baptist Convention’s leadership.

The 58-16 vote came during the society’s March 22-24 annual meeting in Pensacola, Fla., with a majority of members agreeing with SBHS Executive Director Charles Deweese’s assessment that “our old name served us well, but the new one will serve us even better.”

The vote came in response to last year’s call for a committee to study the name change as a means of reaching a larger constituency. Feedback from individuals and entities making substantial contributions to the society were solicited, drawing overwhelming support for the name change.

Committee members included Albert W. Wardin Jr. of Tennessee, Glenn Jonas of North Carolina, Nelda Kent of Arizona, Carol Crawford Holcombe of Texas and Robert Gardner of Georgia.

Wardin, treasurer of the Tennessee Baptist Historical Society, voiced the lone opposition to the motion, agreeing to submit if his reservations were noted. He relayed his concern for unintended consequences of the decision. In changing the name it moves the society further away from being the historical society for Southern Baptists.

Wardin also questioned whether the name change would be interpreted as a repudiation of current Southern Baptist Convention leadership, shifting from a strict historical purpose to a political agenda.

“Many Baptists are reluctant to join the SBHS, purchase its products, use its services, attend its meetings or donate to its finances because they believe that the name attaches the organization to the corporate Southern Baptist Convention, which for many is a negative association,” Deweese said.

Having functioned as an independent organization in recent years, Deweese argued for a name that reflects autonomy. Since 1995, the SBHS has raised its own money, adopted its own budgets, approved its own vision statement, chosen its own directors and officers, and determined its own programs. The SBC has had no role in any of those developments.

Deweese further stated that the report sounds an important word about Southern Baptists. The SBHS, under whatever name, strongly supports its relationships with Southern Baptist individuals, churches, associations and state conventions which choose to relate to the society.

While much of the SBHS funding and other support comes from such entities, Deweese said a new name would make it possible to extend relationships as well.

In other action, the group announced:

— It has grown from 897 to 960 members in the last year. Newly elected officers recommended by the nominating committee include Dan Kent, president; Glenn Jonas, vice president; Carol C. Holcomb, secretary; and Charles W. Deweese, executive director-treasurer.

— Accepted for three-year terms on the society’s council of advisors were Brad Creed, Jerry Faught, Marlene Rickard and Walter B. Shurden.

— A long-range planning committee was given responsibility of presenting the historical society with a written recommendation at next year’s meeting addressing guidelines, development of new resources, ways to enhance communications, public relations and marketing as well as proposals for staff expansion.

The voluntary, nonprofit organization works to provide leadership and direction for the study, preservation and communication of Baptist history and heritage. Its stated mission is to help Baptists discover, conserve, assess and share their history. Ministries and services are offered to Baptists through society publications, other products, cooperative ventures, annual meetings, awards and information services

Next year’s meeting will be held June 20-22 at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn.
Cooper is a correspondent for the Florida Baptist Witness.

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  • Janet Little Cooper