Friday, March 2, 2012

SBC Name Change and Unintended Consequences

Much has been said both for and against the Southern Baptist Convention changing her name. You can find a number of good articles for either position at the following sites: SBC Tomorrow, From Law to Grace, SBC Voices and PraiseGod BareBones. Just search their blogs for numerous articles that have been posted about the subject.

As we now know, the recommendation from President Wright's unilaterally appointed task force is that the convention maintain its legal name but adopt an informal, non-legal name for those who want to use it: "Great Commission Baptists."

While not being diametrically opposed to changing the name of the SBC, I certainly have many reservations. I agree with Bart Barber, Howell Scott and others in that my objection has centered mostly on the intentional end run around the messengers in the appointment of the task force by President Wright. This even though messengers clearly spoke on this matter as recently as 2004. The legal and financial implications of a name change alone are troubling. But so are some of the reasons given for a name change (see my comments at SBC Today here, here, and here). But many believe (including the task force) that all of these issues are resolved by taking on an unofficial name and that it is a "win-win". I'm not so sure about that.

So let's look at two (I'm sure their will be more) unintended consequences that adding a descriptor or nickname might bring:

Disunity - I do not know if this will pass or if so, by how much. But clearly a firestorm is in progress now. This may further divide our convention especially between those churches who go with GCB and those keeping SBC. I fear the day that this could lead us into having two different groups existing within our Convention that incrementally take us down the road of a formal split. I sincerely hope that does not happen.

I wonder how many pastors would be in favor of having a group within their church adopt an informal descriptor of the church and voluntarily choosing to abandon the name of the church in it's promotions and missions work? Would it not be confusing and lead to disunity of the body as well as to prospects? Would anyone think this would be a good idea?

Legal - I do not think the legal implications of doing this has been thought through. This is especially true regarding the impact to local churches. What happens if a church decides to use the GCB name in legal documents? Are those documents valid? For example: what if a church changes or puts a requirement in their bylaws or Constitution requiring affiliation with their local association, state convention, and with the GCB? A generation (or less) from now, a local church may not know that GCB is a non-legal name for the SBC. Would those documents be worth the paper they are printed on?

What if a member in a church that only has publicized "GCB" innocently gave a gift in their will to the church, with the requirement of it remaining in the GCB? Since the GCB is not a legal entity or name, could that gift (money, land, or other asset) be contested by family or others with standing?

This may not happen in five years, but what about ten years from now or twenty? For the sake of argument, let's assume the GCB name explodes in use across the country. A generation from now local churches and her members may unwittingly use GCB in legal documents, wills, and trusts. From this non-lawyer's perspective, I am concerned that it could open a legal paradox that one day could put those local churches at risk if the SBC does decide to use an informal and non-legal name.


Ron P.
Read more!