What's in a name? A lot for Southern Baptists, who met Tuesday in New Orleans to vote on giving the denomination a new name.
The issue caused a heated debate at this year's Southern Baptist Convention meeting, with some saying the name "Southern" alienates other regions of the country, even races, and churches should have the option to change it. If the vote passes, the new name is slated to be "Great Commission Baptist."
Before the vote, church representatives at the convention came to the stand to share their opinions. A speaker in favor of the new name explains, "Our brothers and sisters in Christ in these pioneer areas, in diverse communities and churches, have indicated to us that this particular descriptor would be extremely helpful to them."
A man against the name change responds, "We have a much longer history of doing good than we did of supporting slavery. We have a good name, and a good brand, if you would."
Opinions also differ here in the Valley. T.C. Johnson is Pastor of St. Luke Christian Church. The church has deep Missionary Baptist roots, which is a traditionally African-American denomination. He says, "Southern Baptists of course supported slavery and to many people that stigma still affects—I believe it affects their ability, even when I think of Southern Baptists I think of their support of slavery."
Johnson feels a new name could ultimately draw more people to Christ: "I'm older so I'm probably not going to grow out of my stigmas, but I think for years to come, it'll have a significant effect."
However, Southern Baptist Pastor Marty Jordan fears a new name will only cause confusion. He explains, "Of course it's referring to Jesus's commission to go therefore and make disciples of the nations in Matthew 28. And churchgoers know that, but I don't think the average person would have a clue what that meant."
Jordan also says the new name could have a negative impact. For instance, calling his Southern Baptist church 'Great Commission' Baptist could be misleading, because after all, it's still Southern Baptist. He says, "I'd kind of rather be up front about it; this is who we are, give us a chance and let us get to know you."
As for what they'll be called on introduction, the results of the vote will be announced Wednesday morning.