NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — Paige Patterson and R. Albert Mohler Jr., each presidents of Southern Baptist seminaries and members of the task force appointed to study the possibility of a new name for the Southern Baptist Convention, have made public comments on the issue.
“The Southern Baptist Convention is no longer a regional convention, and every Southern Baptist concerned for the lost will be interested in removing all self-imposed barriers to the evangelization of all men,” Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said in a news release Sept. 21 after the task force was announced by SBC President Bryant Wright during the Sept. 20-21 meeting of the convention’s Executive Committee.
“By the same token Southern Baptist stands for something very significant in a number of ways and should not be abandoned without careful thought and consideration of many attending circumstances.”
Patterson, a former SBC president and an architect of the Conservative Resurgence, said he has given his life in service to the convention.
“I am not sure how qualified I am to be on the committee, but I am sure that I love the churches of the SBC and wish to do nothing to harm them in any way,” Patterson said, adding that all Southern Baptists should feel free to state their opinions and convictions publicly or to Jimmy Draper, chairman of the name change task force, or to any member of the committee.
“We expect that, and we want that,” he said. “I also appeal to our people to keep this discussion on the highest conceivable level, leaning over backwards to avoid judgments of anyone’s motives, which only God can know. I also appeal for the ardent prayers of all our people for our gracious Lord to grant this committee wisdom beyond anything that we could ever have on our own.”
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said changing the name of the convention is no simple rebranding effort.
“There is tremendous value in the established name and reputation of the Southern Baptist Convention, especially when the denomination has put itself on the line again and again in defense of biblical truth and theological orthodoxy,” he wrote on his “Conventional Thinking” blog Sept. 20.
On the other hand, he said, “southern” refers to a region of the United States that gave birth to the convention but no longer contains it. The name also carries a deep stain associated with slavery and racism, Mohler noted.
“If these issues can be resolved, even to any significant degree, by a name change, a Gospel-minded people would never hesitate to consider such a proposal.”
Mohler acknowledged that the idea of changing the convention name is a highly charged issue that has the potential to create division if not handled responsibly.
“To be honest, I am personally traumatized by the very idea of changing the denomination’s name. I feel an almost physical loss at the very prospect,” Mohler wrote. “It is a deeply and unavoidably emotional question for any Southern Baptist whose life is intertwined with the convention, its work and its churches.
“At the same time, our commitment to the Great Commission and the urgency of the Gospel must exceed our emotional attachments and fears. A responsible movement of Gospel churches — of Baptist churches — must be ready to ask this question and face it fearlessly. We can and will do this together.”
The task force, Mohler said, is not poised to make an irresponsible proposal and there is much hard work ahead.
“This decision will not be made by any task force. The name of the convention belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention and will ultimately be settled by its messengers,” Mohler wrote.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach with reporting by Keith Collier of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.