DARRELL HUCKABY: What's in a name really isn't the issue

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

Never discuss religion or politics in polite company and never tell folks how to raise their children. Now that's pretty good advice. Of course, I've never been one to follow good advice. If I were I'd probably be governor of Georgia by now -- but that's another story for another day. Besides, this is an opinion column and it is difference of opinion that makes a horse race. Mark Twain said so -- and I wish Mark Twain were alive today because I would purely love to read his opinion about today's topic.The Southern Baptist Church, in case you haven't heard, is contemplating a name change. Bryant Wright -- who seldom is, if you ask me -- has appointed a task force to study the idea. He seems to think that the word "Southern" is too regional and the term "Baptist" has earned a bad reputation in some circles.

In the words of my dearly departed friend Gerald "Snuffy" Fuller -- do what?

I ain't making this up y'all.

Studies done by Lifeway Research show that in 2010 membership in Southern Baptist congregations declined for the fourth straight year. In an effort to find out why, Lifeway commissioned a study -- online, of course -- to determine if the name of the convention had a negative connotation. It seems that 40 percent of the 2,000 people surveyed had an unfavorable few of the denomination while 53 percent had a favorable view.

Let's see. Forty percent of 2,000 people would be 800 folks, if my meager math skills haven't failed me -- so we are fixing to spend all sorts of money having a committee decide if changing names will help put more fannies in the pews and dollars in the offering plates based on what 800 people said on the Internet. Sounds about right.

Reminds me of a story my daddy used to tell about the man named Jim Megamogapoulasinski. He came into the courthouse one day and told the clerk that he wanted to change names and she said, "I can certainly understand why." Then she asked the man what he wanted his new name to be.

"Bob Megamogapoulasinski," was his prompt reply.

"A rose is a rose is a rose," according to Shakespeare, and he knew a right smart about a right smart.

Nobody asked me, but I think the Southern Baptist Convention is asking itself the wrong question. Instead of asking if a name change will help recruit more members the Southern Baptists should be asking themselves why the name has come to generate such negativism over the years.

I've read a lot of articles about the issue this week and the leaders of the group -- the ones involved in the studies -- seem to think that the perception of the population is that Southern Baptists -- as a group, not as individual churches, understand -- are a tad legalistic.

Remember the old joke about the difference in Baptists and Methodists? Methodists speak to one another in liquor stores. Jesus would take a drink, on occasion, but Baptists supposedly aren't supposed to.

Other leaders pointed out that Southern Baptists are seen to be closed minded and judgmental. Inclusiveness is not seen as one of the denomination's strong points. Now don't get angry with me. These aren't my thoughts. I'm just the messenger. There was a lot of talk in a lot of the articles I read, for instance, about the time the SBC called for a boycott of all things Disney because Walt Disney World in Florida did not deny gay groups the right to get together in their public theme parks.

There is more, of course, but you get the idea, and, like I said -- all of the things I have commented upon so far are what other people have said about the situation. Now I'm going to put in my two cents worth.

The question should not be "should we change our name?" The question should be, "should we change our ways." The answer could be yes. The answer could be absolutely not. But the answer should be based on Biblical teachings, not potential parishioners.

It really is that simple. The Southern Baptist Convention -- and every other denomination, for that matter -- should look at each and every reason for people's negative opinions about them and try to determine if the opinions are justified. If there are negative markers concerning Southern Baptists that are erroneous, and are possibly keeping people away from Jesus Christ -- the denomination should make an effort to correct the perception. A public relations campaign should trump a name change.

If there are negative markers that are warranted, the denomination should examine each one and ask if those Baptist tenants are Biblically sound. If they are, they shouldn't change them to make their "brand" more attractive. If they are not true to Biblical principle, they should change them. That is cut and dried.

If there is a problem with the church, we should change the church, not the name. That's just my opinion, but as I've said many times before, mine is the only one I've got -- and I'm not trying to write yours, so save me the self-righteous indignation.

You can't help but wonder though if anyone has stopped to think what Jesus might think about all this.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.