After a week I have had some time to reflect on the Task Force (TF) report that was presented to our President at the Executive Committee on February 20, 2012. Reading the tweets from some of our convention entity leaders one would think the TF just resolved the tension between God’s sovereignty and Man’s responsibility. However, after some time of reflection and reading various comments and blog articles I honestly cannot support this recommendation that will come to the convention floor for the following reasons.
Is This Needed? This seems to be the multi-million dollar question. If the TF could find clear evidence there was a need for a name change then money would not have been an issue. Certainly we would have inner struggles concerning spending any amount of funds that exceeded the million dollar mark. However, most Baptists would see no problem with spending the funds if it could remove a barrier that would hinder the Gospel.
Speaking of barriers, one must remember that Baptists have no problem spending money when there is a removal of a barrier to share the gospel. We spend thousands upon thousands of dollars each year on study committees. Baptists will not flinch if one can reveal that something is making the gospel into a false gospel. We as a convention voted on a resolution that would remove the NIV 2011 translation from our Lifeway stores resulting in loss of revenues totaling in the thousands of dollars. (Lifeway decided we did not have enough intellectual understanding so they have openly rejected what the people in the pew voted to do.) We spend multiple thousands of dollars set aside in our church budgets in order to make trips to cities to attend a two day event in order to express our opinion that will enable the Gospel to go forth. Thus spending money is not an issue if the barrier can be removed.
After the committee was placed together the researchers at Lifeway Research burned the candles at both ends in order to find a research tool that would generate results concerning a name change. However, with facts they are a strange thing. If “facts are our friends”, for some they became a friend that no one wanted to acknowledge. This tool revealed that the name Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) did not provide the overwhelming negative barrier everyone was saying it did. What they did find out was that people in the Northeast and Western area of the country had never even heard of the SBC.
Instead of being confused by the facts, it seems the TF was determined to find a way to change the name. Micah Fries, a member of the TF, stated; “we possessed sufficient evidence to allow us to move forward in our study”. In the Fries article he expresses the “specific” evidence the TF used and it is “a large and vocal group of Southern Baptists”, specifically made up of Executive Directors. Thus, the only evidence used by the TF was this “large and vocal group” of Executive Directors. Wow, I did not realize that Executive Directors are “grassroots” Southern Baptists. The question for the TF should be a very simple one. Do we look at the facts from the Lifeway research, or do we move forward with innuendo and find a way to fulfill President Wright’s desire? It is clear the TF wanted to appease President Wright. At no place in the Fries article does he even mention the Lifeway research tool. Thus, the question of the need should have been overwhelmingly rejected. There really is no need to change the name because the name, according to research, is not a barrier for a lost person that people are reporting it to be.
Is it the Right Time to do this? This is a question that should have been bantered about within the TF. Not so much as to answer God’s timing but to look at the convention as a whole.
Dr. Thom Rainer, in a article on leading in change, expressed something the TF seems to have not thought through. In his “Five Characteristics of Healthy Church Leaders” Dr. Rainer listed #5 as leading “toward incremental change”. Dr. Rainer advises a leadership model where leaders observe their leadership schedule. Concerning leaders leading he said;
“They “eat the elephant” one bite at a time. And they seek God’s wisdom and the counsel of wise men and women on how big that elephant bite should be.”
Thus, it seems President Wright’s TF did not observe the size of the elephant bite they have bitten off. Certainly they spoke with people but did they speak with any that disagreed with this step? It is apparent they ignored the research. On the heels of the Great Commission Resurgence that still has a section of the convention up in arms it appears the TF has not concerned themselves with the timing. If they did consider the timing this nickname was seen as a wave they can still ride as the name “Great Commission Baptists” indicates. Thus, if one wants a name change then one would have to say now was the right time. However, if one is more concerned with the unity of the convention and the furtherance of the Gospel, then one would have to agree the timing for such a name change is not good.
Did the Task Force Go Too Far? To answer this question one would have to review the job assigned to the TF. According to the BP article Dr. Wright assigned four questions for the TF to answer in their deliberations.
“1) Is it a good idea, that is, is there value in considering a name change? 2) If so, what would be a good name to suggest? 3) What would be the potential legal ramifications of a name change? 4) What would be the potential financial implications?”
These were the questions the TF was supposed to answer. According to the reports we are seeing one can find the answers to these questions.
1) Is it a good idea, that is, is there value in considering a name change? In Dr. Draper’s report he said;
“We believe that the equity that we have in the name Southern Baptist Convention is valuable,” Draper said during the task force’s recommendation. “It is a strong name that identifies who we are in theology, morality and ethics, compassion, ministry and mission in the world. It is a name that is recognized globally in these areas.”
Dr. Draper has answered the first question. We already have a “strong name” and it gives us an identity. Also, this name is recognized globally that we are a convention of churches that has a correct theology. We are identified in the areas of ethics, compassion, ministry and mission in the world.
2) If so, what would be a good name to suggest? The answer to this question is moot because of the answer to the first question. If one looks at these questions it is evident they were formed with the intent the name we already have needs to be changed. However, since Dr. Draper answered the first question it is evident that we already have a “good name”.
3) What would be the potential legal ramifications of a name change? The answer to this question is found in Micah Fries article giving us the insight from his perspective. Fries states; “As we began to consider the legal options, we quickly learned it would be nearly impossible (and not necessarily beneficial) to change the name of the SBC.” Fries goes on to express to us the reason the legal considerations were “nearly impossible.”
“When the SBC was founded in 1845 in Augusta, Georgia it was organized under a charter issued by the legislature of the state of Georgia. Southern Baptists were granted some legal exemptions that have proven to be extremely valuable to us. Should we have chosen to recommend a legal name change, we would face a possible change to our charter that would potentially require that our updated charter be under the jurisdiction of current Georgia non-profit statute. This would place the SBC in the vulnerable position of forfeiting our current legal status.”
Thus, we see the answer to this question is evident–the legal status prohibits a name change.
4) What would be the potential financial implications? Dr. Draper expresses it clearly when he said;
“Changing the name of the convention would require a great cost in dollars and in energy… create a multitude of issues. The value of a name change does not justify the risks involved.”
Fries adds more insight concerning the cost as he points to the cost in legal assistance and logos being designed. Fries explains it clearly when he says;
“As we began to contemplate the potential financial costs of everything from the legal professionals required to assist in this process to the modification of logos, the cost estimates became counterproductive and insurmountable. We literally could not calculate the enormous financial cost to a legal name change.”
Thus, we see the answers to the questions presented is clearly–No! However, there is a natural question that follows these negative answers to the task presented by Dr. Wright. Why did the TF come back with an recommendation for a “nickname”? Once again I turn to Fries as he articulates this reason.
“The Task Force came to the unanimous recommendation that ‘Great Commission Baptists’ captures well who we have historically aspired to be and propels us forward to a bright Great Commission focused future.”
That is good, but that is not what the TF was charged to do. Let’s face it, had the TF entered this process as Dr. Wright challenged them to enter it they would have stopped everything after the first meeting. Why? According to Dr. Wright;
“While some members favor the prospect, “not everybody on the task force by any means has come to this with a foregone conclusion. I think everybody, most especially the chairman of the task force, Dr. [Jimmy] Draper, sees the importance of a study and just letting the study guide us and direct whatever recommendation might eventually come to the convention.”
Thus, if there is no “forgone conclusion” then why was it necessary to recommend a “nickname” when all of the studies indicated the current name was still doing a pretty good job? This is not a matter of good versus best, it is a matter of the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray the Holy Spirit will quell the anger and belligerent remarks of those who do not get what they want in New Orleans.