The president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest denomination in the U.S., called for a name change to the group during his address to the Executive Committee in Nashville, Tenn., Feb. 16, 2004.
"I believe it is time for us once again to take some bold steps as Southern Baptists," said President Jack Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church.
According to Graham, the name change would reflect the “worldwide” nature of the denomination, and would represent the body of believers “geographically and generationally.”
"Why am I suggesting and recommending this name [change]?" he asked. "Why would we do this? Only one reason, and that is to strengthen and lengthen our witness here in America and around the world. Why would we do this? Because people are wounded, people don't know Jesus, and we are determined to do whatever it takes to connect with our culture and our country and the continents of the earth."
"I have loved the Southern Baptist Convention and its name," Graham continued. "But this name that I love and you love speaks of our region and doesn't move us beyond to the great cities of the Northeast, to the West and the Midwest. It's time to consider a new name that reflects our future."
Graham’s call came a day before the executive committee overwhelmingly agreed to depart from the Baptist World Alliance -- the international organization the SBC helped build 100 years ago.
By late October, the denomination is expected to break completely away from the BWA, and begin building its own international outreach extension. According to several Southern Baptist leaders, the BWA pullout will make way for a new international network of like-minded conservative Christians.
Graham, one of the more vociferous supporters of the break, said he would appoint a name-change study committee in the next few weeks to represent "the heart and compassion and theology of the SBC around the world."
"It is my prayer that the committee can bring a recommendation to the SBC in 2005," he said. "Timing is everything," Graham added, noting that "seven or eight" previous studies of a possible name change resulted in no change, including one initiated by W. A. Criswell in 1974. The last effort was in 1999.
"It is my view that we need to stop meeting and just talking about this," Graham said. "We need to either put it to bed forever or get on with it."
"This is a significant, important decision," Graham said, but "Southern Baptists are always willing to embrace significant change.
"We've seen amazing change in the Southern Baptist Convention since 1979," he said. "We've been willing to grow, to develop, to do whatever it takes to get better at fulfilling the Great Commission.
"If it will help us connect with culture and communicate the gospel, let's do it in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ," continued Graham. "A name change will not change the hearts of people, but it will speak to people in New York, in Los Angeles, in the Pacific Northwest, in Canada, and around the world that we are a global network of churches committed to proclaiming Jesus Christ throughout the world."