Southern Baptists Adopt Great Commission Name Option to Expand Appeal
Pictured: Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, reacts to the audience Tuesday as he is elected as president of the Southern Baptist Convention under way in New Orleans. Behind him is current president Bryant Wright. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
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In its latest move in that direction, delegates to its annual meeting voted 2,546 to 2,232 vote to adopt an alternative name for churches that feel the "Southern Baptist" title could be a turnoff to potential believers. The vote was Tuesday but the results were not announced until this morning.
Those who supported the optional name "Great Commission Baptists" argued it would help missionaries and church planters reach more people for Christ. The Great Commission refers to Jesus's command to his Apostles to go forth and make disciples of all nations.
The vote was too close to call by a show of hands, so paper ballots were cast.
"We have a much longer history of doing good than we did of supporting slavery. We have a good name -- a good brand. ...If it's not broke, don't fix it," said delegate Gary Hunnicutt, of First Baptist Church in Benton, Ark.
Delegate Susie Hawkins, of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, urged the crowd to vote in favor. "Our brothers and sisters in Christ, in these pioneer areas, in diverse communities, have said ... it would be useful to them. ... We should do everything we can to advance the kingdom of God."
The vote to adopt the alternative name was more controversial than the decision Tuesday by the nation's largest Protestant denomination to elect the Rev. Fred Luter Jr. to lead it, passing the group's presidency to a black pastor for the first time by today's end. It's an important step for a denomination that was formed on the wrong side of slavery before the Civil War and had a reputation for supporting segregation and racism during much of the past century.
In a news conference after the vote, Luter said he doesn't think his election is some kind of token gesture. "If we stop appointing African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics to leadership positions after this, we've failed. ... I promise you I'm going to do all that I can to make sure this is not just a one-and-done deal."
Luter was unopposed when he was elected shortly before the name vote by thousands of enthusiastic delegates in his hometown of New Orleans.
At a news conference afterward, he spoke about the decline in Southern Baptist Convention membership. He described his efforts to grow his church, which include intensive outreach to men, and expressed his concern that men in his inner-city neighborhood are not taking responsibility for their children.
Luter began to cry as he recalled growing up with a divorced mother and no father in the house, saying he asked God, "Let me be that role model to my son that I didn't have." And he recounted how his son followed him into ministry and asked Luter to be his best man at his wedding.
Luter described what he hopes to achieve for the convention, saying he always has had the ability to get along with everyone. He plans to use that skill to bring denominational leaders together to discuss how they can leave aside their differences and work together to spread the Gospel.
It is unrealistic to think the Southern Baptist Convention will become less political, Luter said, but he prays "we can do it in a way that won't offend other people."
David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist New Orleans, nominated Luter, calling him a "fire-breathing, miracle-working pastor" who "would likely be a candidate for sainthood if he were Catholic."
The Southern Baptist Convention needs Luter at the head of the table as it increasingly focuses on diversifying its membership, Crosby said. "Many leaders are convinced this nomination is happening now by the provenance of God."
Luter wiped tears from his eyes as he accepted the position. Two female ushers from the Franklin Avenue congregation embraced, swaying and weeping with joy.
"I think I'm just too overwhelmed by it right now to speak," said another member, Malva Marsalis.
A minister from Luter's church, Darren Martin, said the Southern Baptist Convention's past support of slavery and segregation is well known but Luter's election is "a true sign ... that change from within has really come. ...Christ is at the center of the SBC."
SOURCE: Shreveport Times
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