Sunday, February 19, 2012

What's in a Name (Change)?

It's come close to happening a few times over the years, but we may have reached a tipping point.  Last year, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention gave denominational leaders approval to begin considering a name change for the convention.  Emotions on both sides run high, but a lot of people are open to the idea.  The issue is certain to come up at the SBC's Executive Committee meetings this week:
On Monday (Feb. 20), Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright is expected to give his recommendation on a possible name change to the denomination's top leaders. That recommendation is likely to be debated at the Southern Baptists' annual convention in June in New Orleans.
Like many issues that are peripheral or unrelated to academic freedom at OBU, Save OBU has no compelling reason to take a position on this matter.  But it is worth pausing for a moment to consider what an institution's name means and what associations it carries.

Southern Baptist Convention
There are apparently two main arguments for changing the name of the SBC.  The first has to do with the role of slavery in the convention's formation in 1845 and the notion that "Southern" somehow brings to mind an association with a racist past.  Along these lines, proponents of a name change point to statistics showing that 44% of people have a negative view of Southern Baptists (according to a LifeWay study quoted in the linked article above).  The second reason for a change has less to do with public relations and more to do with the reality that Southern Baptists are increasing their presence in areas outside the Old Confederacy.  If you are planting churches in the West and Northeast, the reasoning goes, why call them "Southern" Baptist?  (Though Baptists' foothold in the South is obviously the only region where they are dominant, as the figure shows.)

Another story, though one less talked about in the media and discourse I've read, is the decline of denominationalism overall and particularly the decline of denominational loyalties among the young.  Overwhelmingly, people are not nearly as likely to identify with a denomination than their parents were.  Anecdotally, when you see churches being built in the middle class white exurbs, they are almost never have denominational identifiers on their signs and buildings, even if they are affiliated with a denomination.  Instead, you see "The Rock Church," "Living Vine Church," "River of Life Community," etc.

If I had to bet, I think I'd bet on a name change.  To what, though?  From my perspective, I wish they would choose a name that helps distinguish who the convention is now that it has taken over every institution, board, and agency and purged/marginalized all moderates and what few liberals there ever were.  Probably the "Conservative Baptist Convention" would be the most accurate.  Such a name would help imply their victory in the Fundamentalist Takeover as well as their new place as the religious wing of the Republican Party.  If you read what Baptist leaders taught and believed about the separation of church and state 30 or 40 years ago, you would not believe that today's leaders are in the same denomination.

I'm just sad that, whatever the SBC does, the Nashville boys will get to claim the name "Baptist" -- a label they have dragged through the mud of fundamentalism and secular politics for a generation to the point that nearly a majority of Americans have an unfavorable view of a word that used to be synonymous with soul freedom, liberty of the conscience, and separation of church and state.

Oklahoma Baptist University
One of the tricky things about the Save OBU effort is that our mission is a little more difficult because OBU has "Oklahoma" and "Baptist" in its name.  For one thing, unlike Furman, Stetson, and Jewell, we can't start with a discussion about academic freedom or whether the school and the convention can even be partners in the same mission.  Before we even get to that point, we have to deal with the objection, "It's Oklahoma Baptist University," by which our critics mean to imply that the BGCO should be able to do whatever it wants, no matter how perilously its vision for OBU encroaches on academic freedom.

So, for better or worse, before we can even have a substantive debate about the merits of disaffiliation, we have to have a debate about what it means to be Baptist.  When you are eager to argue for disaffiliation, that discussion can feel like a distraction.  But the truth is, we welcome that debate.  We welcome the opportunity to discuss all the Baptist distinctives we stand for.  Because whenever we have that discussion, it becomes easier, not harder, for us to show that it is the SBC and the BGCO that moved away from those distinctives.  We have remained true to them all along.

While they are glad to have OBU in their portfolio because it represents and reinforces that they own us, we are proud to be OBU because we have been living by and fighting for the best of the Baptist tradition all along.  We are the descendants of a great generation of OBU administrators, teachers, and students who built a proud name in Christian higher education.  They are the descendants of a Takeover faction that booed Herschel Hobbs at the SBC, purged and marginalized anyone who dared to disagree with them, sold out for a pittance to the religious right, ran our agencies and institutions into the ground, and created a P.R. emergency for a denomination that nearly half of Americans view unfavorably.

The BGCO may own the buildings and grounds.  But it absolutely does not own what it means to be Baptist.  It turned away from that legacy years ago.  And that is why we will win.


  1. You're arguments are ridiculously biased, you throw the word "fundamentalist" around just to promote hate mongering, and you tie in ridiculously biased studies to try and "prove" your biased positions. And that's why you will lose.

    1. My arguments are opinionated, sure. But no one has challenged the factual basis of anything I have reported. The only study I cited in this post came from LifeWay. I'm with you - it may be a load of crap. For now I decided to trust them until I can dig deeper into other studies that have measured the extent to which the Takeover faction has dragged the Southern Baptist label through the mud and associated it with intolerance and narrow-mindedness.

  2. I had a whole long reply ready, but I realized it went completely off the topic of OBU. I will be one of the first to tell you I don't particularly like the current administration of OBU, especially Stan. I don't agree with many of the decisions, but I don't agree with your stance either. If I had the time, which unfortunately I don't, I would challenge you factually. I had hopes that your movement might be one that I could support, but currently, I cannot, and I hope sincerely that it does not gain enough traction to make any people in power at OBU listen to the ideas that are put forward on here because I think it would do a grave injustice to the legacy of OBU.

  3. If the SBC goes the way wanted on this blog it will go the way of the Methodists and all the other denoms that have gone away from being built on the Word of God and that is down the tubes.

  4. Great job on this post! You are letting people hear about a lot of the concerns that are expressed by many alumni, staff, faculty, and current students at OBU. Thank you for what you are doing! Keep it up!

  5. Free name change forms and information. Change your name online today! Name Change after Marriage in PA provides information about legal name change process and forms to make the changing your last name a pleasant experience.


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