Over the last several years, the Southern Baptist Convention has considered changing its name, reflecting a more national identity it has worked to develop since World War II and perhaps escaping the implications of a name associated with its 1845 origins in a controversy over slaveholders serving as missionaries. A task force set up to consider the change reported back last night, and decided to keep the legal name. But churches were given the option of identifying with a new name, one with no legal meaning but a spiritual one: Great Commission Baptists.
I reflect on the meaning of the name "Southern" Baptists in this piece just posted here at Religion Dispatches. The pragmatic legal and financial reasons for keeping the name were decisive, and changing the name of a big organization is always a risky and expensive proposition. But the "southern" identity has meanings beyond this, both geographic and in terms of contemporary politics (points I develop in much greater detail in Moses, Jesus, and the Trickster in the Evangelical South, out and ready for you to check out of your university library as soon as you tell your univ. librarian to get it!). A little taste of the piece:
While recognizing the name “Southern Baptist” was a “strong name that identifies who we are in theology, morality, and ethics,” former SBC president Jimmy Draper said,
“we also recognize the need that some may have to use a name that is not associated with a national region as indicated by the word ‘Southern.’ We want to do everything we can to encourage those who do feel a name change would be beneficial without recommending a legal name change for the convention.”
But it is precisely in “theology, morality, and ethics” that the official name—Southern Baptist Convention—matches the key role of the SBC in guiding the white South on its long transformation from the era of segregation, through the turmoil of the civil rights struggle, and into the era of Baptist Republicanism.
Read the rest here. And while you're doing that, a little Hank Williams Jr. theology from the 1980s would be good to go out on. Yes, his recent history of comparing Obama to Hitler was, umm, an ill-advised career move, shall we say. And yes, his best tune -- and I think one of the greatest and most cleverly cunning country tunes of all time -- is "Family Tradition." But "If Heaven Ain't a Lot Like Dixie" provided both the soundtrack to endless college hours wasted losing quarters to the jukebox at the local gourmet establishment (Pizza Hut) as well as the inspiration for my piece. (this one goes out to Margaret Martin -- she'll understand).