The task force's recommendation passed the Executive Committee overwhelmingly Tuesday (Feb. 21), receiving only about six "no" votes out of about 80 members present. As part of the recommendation, the Southern Baptist Convention would maintain its legal name while adopting a non-legal descriptor, "Great Commission Baptists," for churches, entities and organizations that wish to use it. The label is purely voluntary. Messengers to the SBC annual meeting will consider the recommendation in June in New Orleans.
The task force, appointed by SBC President Bryant Wright, said church planters and ethnic groups have suggested a name without the word "Southern" could be beneficial. Task force member Ken Fentress, a pastor who is African American, said many African Americans consider the name "Southern" offensive because of the convention's ties to the Confederacy in the mid-1800s.
"We have an opportunity," EC member Darrell Orman said during discussion, "to keep our name and fortify 'Southern Baptist Convention,' and we have an opportunity to extend an empathetic hand to some of our other brothers and sisters in Christ and say, 'I love you and I'm sensitive to your situation. It's not just about me in South Florida or Georgia or Alabama or Mississippi. It's all about you, too.'"
Orman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Stuart, Fla., called it a "brilliant Solomonic compromise." Last September when Wright announced the formation of the task force, Orman was a vocal opponent.
"I stood and shot every bullet I had last fall, and several of them ricocheted and hit me right between the eyes," Orman told EC members. "And I left here with my tail between my legs, and I felt probably the lowest I've felt in quite a while."
Orman was opposed to the task force, he said, because he felt it would present "more opportunity for division" and would be a "distraction." But the task force's recommendation, he said, can make both sides happy.
"I can't tell you the relief I had that it is not a renaming of the Southern Baptist Convention," he said. "As an alternative, this can take such a monumental, divisive issue off the table and allow us to move forward."
The task force's report passed the Executive Committee after being approved by the EC's Administrative Subcommittee earlier in the day. Orman chairs that committee -- a fact he called ironic.
One Executive Committee member asked if there were "copyright or trademark" concerns with "Great Commission Baptists."
D. August Boto, executive vice president and general counsel for the Executive Committee, responded.
"There is no name that could be chosen over which lawyers wouldn't have concerns," Boto said to laughter. "... We have begun the investigation of the best means available to protect this name. And that shows promise."
The "possibility exists that in a few limited areas there may be some impediment," Boto added. "We are moving forward cautiously and prudently" to "get the protection we can for this name."
Frank Page, president of the Executive Committee, was asked by one EC member if adoption of the recommendation would necessitate a change in the SBC logo. Page said the logo "would not have to change," but that "we would do everything that we could" -- if messengers approve the recommendation -- "to put that descriptor as part of our publications, as part of our publicity."
Borrowing an illustration from task force chairman Jimmy Draper, Orman likened the "Great Commission Baptists" descriptor to the "good hands" phrase used in Allstate advertisements. People know what "good hands" references, Orman said, but it's not the name of the insurance company.
Executive Committee members discussed the recommendation for 20 minutes before passing it.
Following is the text of the full recommendation:
"That the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention report to the Convention meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 19-20, 2012, that it declines to study or develop a plan and implementation strategy for the adoption of a new name for the Southern Baptist Convention for all the reasons mentioned in the report issued on February 20, 2012, by the SBC president's name change task force, as well as those in the 1999 report of the Executive Committee on the same subject.
"And, further, that the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention recommend to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans, June 19-20, 2012, that those churches, entities and organizations in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention which may desire to utilize a descriptor other than the term 'Southern Baptists' to indicate their relationship with each other and their involvement in the Southern Baptist Convention and its ministries, use the descriptor "Great Commission Baptists," a phrase commended as one fully in keeping with our Southern Baptist Convention identity, and
"That the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention report to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 19-20, 2012, that it will study ways in which the use of the phrase 'Great Commission Baptists' might be protected and preserved for use by those churches and institutions which find its use beneficial and will assess how using the phrase in various ways in its communications and publications might be helpful to those groups."
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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