Southern Baptist Convention leaders dropping 'Southern' from name over slavery connection

Southern Baptist Convention leaders dropping 'Southern' from name over slavery connection
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Leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention are steadily removing the “Southern” part of the group's name in an effort that Convention President J.D. Greear said is essential following a summer of Black Lives Matter protests and increased calls for racial justice reform. 

In an interview with The Washington Post published Tuesday, Greear said there has been more support to adopt the new name “Great Commission Baptists,” both because of the changing climate in the U.S. and because many have long believed the “Southern Baptist” title no longer adequately encompasses the approximately 50,000 churches that now exist around the globe. 

“Our Lord Jesus was not a White Southerner but a brown-skinned Middle Eastern refugee,” Greear told the Post. “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.”

These statements come after the leader also announced in June that he would be retiring a historic gavel named for a slaveholder that Southern Baptists had continued to use to open their meetings. 

“While we do not want to, nor could we, erase our history, it is time for this gavel to go back into the display case at the Executive Committee offices,” Greear said in a statement at the time. 

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The convention formed in 1845, splitting from Northern Baptists over Southern support for slavery. While the group had a historic drop in membership last year, it remains the largest Protestant denomination in the United States with 14.5 million members

According to the Post, officials said that while the convention will continue to operate with the Southern Baptist name legally, its website now states, “We Are Great Commission Baptists,” an alternative moniker that refers to the verses in the New Testament when Jesus calls his disciples to baptize believers in all nations.

The convention narrowly approved a recommendation allowing Southern Baptist institutions to call themselves “Great Commission Baptists,” but most leaders chose to continue using the previous name. 

The move toward the convention’s name change comes as various institutions have altered their names or removed other indicators of a racially insensitive past. 

On Saturday, the statue of a Confederate soldier and monuments of weapons were removed from outside a Charlottesville, Va., courthouse. In July, Washington's NFL team announced it would temporarily call itself the Washington Football Team following years of their former name being criticized as a racial slur against Native Americans.