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Baptist leaders OK optional name change

Leaders of the nation's largest Protestant denomination have endorsed an optional alternative name for the Southern Baptist Convention: Great Commission Baptists.

The "Great Commission" description endorsed by the SBC's executive committee on Tuesday would be strictly optional. It still must be voted on by delegates at the annual convention this summer. Southern Baptist churches are independent, and many of them don't have "Southern" in their names anyway.

The "Great Commission" refers to Matthew 28:16-20, in which Jesus instructs his disciples at Galilee to "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

SBC President Bryant Wright formed a task force last fall to study the idea, saying he was concerned the name Southern Baptist was hindering the group's ability to reach new people for Christ.

One of the idea's most ardent opponents at that time supported the proposal at a Tuesday meeting of the SBC's executive committee.

Darrel Orman, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Stuart, Fla., said he was relieved by the compromise that addresses the concerns of those who think "Southern Baptist" is a liability while still keeping the name.

Supporters of the "Great Commission" name argue it would offer an official identity for churches trying to spread the Gospel to diverse groups of people outside the South and worldwide.

Some conservative church members don't even want the option: Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., vowed to fight even an alternate name.

"There are certain things you ought not to compromise on," he said.

Others, like the Rev. Joseph Lyles, said the alternative name could help in reaching out to African-Americans in particular. He leads the Fort Foote Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md., and is a former president of the SBC's African-American Fellowship.

"Sometimes among some other African-American pastors, they find out you're a Southern Baptist and they look at you like, 'You're selling us out,' " he said.

The name task force considered a few hundred suggestions, but narrowed it down to three. The other two in final contention were "Continental Baptist" and "Evangelical Baptist."