NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham has called for a new name for the denomination and will appoint a committee to study the idea.
Graham made his proposal during his president’s address to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee Feb. 16. He said he will appoint a committee in the coming weeks to report back to the 2005 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn. The committee will represent the SBC both “geographically and generationally,” he said.
“I believe it is time for us once again to take some bold steps as Southern Baptists,” Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church, said.
Graham said the name change would reflect the fact that Southern Baptists are a nationwide and worldwide body of believers.
“Why am I suggesting and recommending this name [change]?” he asked. “Why would we do this? Only one reason, and that is to strengthen and lengthen our witness here in America and around the world. Why would we do this? Because people are wounded, people don’t know Jesus, and we are determined to do whatever it takes to connect with our culture and our country and the continents of the earth.”
Changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention is not a new idea. It has been studied several times — the latest being in the late 1990s. In 1998 at the annual meeting in Salt Lake City, two messengers made motions — one proposing the possibility of a name change and another proposing the name be changed to the “Baptist Convention of North America.” Another motion was made in 1999 to consider the name “International Baptist Convention.”
The Executive Committee studied the idea but recommended against the name change, and messengers at the 1999 annual meeting in Atlanta adopted the report. The Executive Committee report gave several reasons for keeping the current name. For instance, the report said, the name has become a brand name, similar to Western Union, Northwest Airlines and New York Life — all of which have kept their respective names despite outgrowing their region.
In the mid-1970s legendary Texas pastor W.A. Criswell made a motion to study a name change, but a study committee recommended keeping the name. Criswell supported the name change, Graham said.
“It is my view that we need to stop meeting and just talking about this,” Graham said. “We need to either put it to bed forever or get on with it.”
Graham made his proposal while talking about a recent trip to New York City, where he met with SBC missionaries who are taking the Gospel to NYC as part of the North American Mission Board’s Strategic Focus Cities initiative. Graham also mentioned that his church has begun partnering with a church in Boston.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s name has “served us well,” Graham said, noting that he is a southerner who was born and raised in Arkansas before moving to Texas. The denomination was formed as the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845.
“But the fact is that this name that I love and you love is a name which speaks of our region and doesn’t move us beyond to the great cities of the Northeast, to the West, to the Midwest,” he said. “And I believe once again it is time for us to look at the possibility of choosing something that reflects a name which reflects our future.”
Southern Baptists have not been ones to shy from change, he added.
“Southern Baptist have always been willing to embrace important and significant change,” he said. “We’ve seen amazing change in the Southern Baptist Convention since 1979. We have been willing to grow, to develop, to do whatever it takes to get better at fulfilling the Great Commission.
“… If a name change helps us do our job and connect with the culture and communicate the Gospel, then so be it. But let us do it in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name is above every name.”