Southern Baptist President Pushes for Downplaying ‘Southern’ Name - Word&Way

Southern Baptist President Pushes for Downplaying ‘Southern’ Name

J D Greear

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear would like Southern Baptists to be less known by the word “Southern,” which references the convention’s birth as Baptists in the southern part of the U.S. in 1845 broke away from the national body to support slavery. Instead, Greear prefers the moniker “Great Commission Baptists.”

J D Greear

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear speaks to the denomination’s executive committee on Feb. 18, 2019, in Nashville, Tennessee. (Mark Humphrey/Associated Press)

On Monday (Sept. 14), Greear announced the theme for the 2021 SBC annual meeting: “We are Great Commission Baptists.” The meeting is scheduled for next June in Nashville, Tennessee. Greear is serving a third term as president until that meeting because the 2020 meeting was canceled due to coronavirus.

The phrase “Great Commission Baptists” actually gained SBC approval in 2012 as an official moniker, though not an actual name change. The messengers at that meeting approved an SBC Executive Committee recommendation that Southern Baptist churches and entities who “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” should “consider using the descriptor ‘Great Commission Baptists,’ a phrase commended as one fully in keeping with our Southern Baptist Convention identity.”

Greear also mentioned Monday that the church he pastors, The Summit in North Carolina, would begin using the descriptor “Great Commission Baptists” instead of “Southern Baptists.”

“Our leadership affirms the decision made by messengers in 2012,” Greear said. “We believe now is a good time to use it due to the fact that the primary reason we are part of the convention is for the Great Commission.”

Eight years after that 2012 vote, Greear noted he’s seen an increase in pastors seeking to use this alternative name as the nation sees protests against racial injustices after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“In the last month we started receiving emails from around the country with pastors and leaders asking about using the name. By making this our annual meeting theme and encouraging the use of the alternate name, we do not in any way want to minimize the significance of our past, either its accomplishments or its failures,” Greear said. “Our past sins, as well as God’s forgiveness and restoration, are an important part of our history. We not only preach the grace of God, we are ourselves a story of it. We owe it to those whom we sinned against to not minimize our injustice against them or their suffering in it.”

“At the same time, we are also grateful for many of the great achievements of God’s grace in our past. For 175 years we have gathered for one purpose: mission. The landscape of our nation, and the world, is different because of Southern Baptist commitment to make the Gospel known in word and deed,” Greear added. “Utilizing ‘Great Commission Baptists’ is simply one more step to make clear we serve a risen Savior who died for all peoples, whose mission is not limited to one people living in one time at one place. Every week we gather to worship a Savior who died for the whole world, not one part of it. What we call ourselves should make that clear.”

Several past attempts to officially change the SBC’s name and remove the word ‘Southern’ failed. The Northern Baptist Convention is now known as American Baptist Churches USA after claiming the word “American” in 1950 as both bodies expanded beyond the regions indicated by their geographic names.

Earlier this year, Greear also announced he would not again use the Broadus gavel to start the annual meeting as is traditionally done, but would use a different gavel. The Broadus gavel is named for John A. Broadus, an enslaver and Confederate chaplain who helped started Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Broadus is still honored on the campus of SBTS with the chapel bearing his name.