I was in attendance as the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention heard a report from the Name Change Task Force appointed by SBC President Bryant Wright. This discussion isn’t new to Southern Baptists. At a press conference following the committee meeting, Task Force chairman, Jimmy Draper, reminded us that the issue was first raised in 1903 and has been considered no less than 13 times. This latest consideration has generated a great deal of discussion across the SBC, much of which has been intensely emotional. Draper stated that 585 suggested names had been received by the committee, and at least another 300 were submitted that were not serious in nature. The recommendation made by the Task Force is for the SBC to keep its name but to allow the use of an alternative name, ‘Great Commission Baptists,’ for those churches, agencies, and institutions that would find it helpful in their mission.
For all that has been said and will be said, and for all that has been written and will be written, this issue took on a new meaning for me during the Task Force’s presentation. That defining moment came when Pastor Ken Fentress, Ph.D., rose to speak. Ken is an appointed member of the Task Force, an African American, and a pastor who is originally from the south (Texas), but currently serves outside of the south at Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, Maryland. I have known Ken for several years as a colleague and friend from our days at Southern Seminary.
Ken focused his remarks on his long time enthusiastic identification with the theological positions of the SBC. Ken then expressed his support for the recommendation of the Task Force to allow churches to use the name ‘Great Commission Baptists’ in order to open doors of opportunity for progress for the gospel and progress toward racial reconciliation as a powerful display of the impact of the gospel.
As I scanned the room filled with members of the Executive Committee and leaders from across the SBC, I could see no more than ten African Americans, one Cuban, and one Asian present. While I could have missed one or two others I easily drew the conclusion that Southern Baptists have a long way to go toward integrating our leadership.
Will an alternative name help us accomplish the needful task of reaching the lost among the African American and ethnic communities? Will it help us build bridges to existing African American and ethnic churches that are baptistic in theology and practice and are looking for partners for mission work? Will it somehow result in more African American and ethnic Southern Baptists being welcomed into leadership roles in our convention? I don’t know the answer to these questions with certainty, but if the answer to any one of them is yes, then so is my vote.