Southern Baptist Churches must do more than drop the “Southern” from their name

(Originally written in September 2020)

As the Southern Baptist Church considers dropping the “Southern” from its name (or renaming itself to Great Commission Baptist) [1], I can’t help but feel like this is much too little, much too late. I was raised in a Southern Baptist Church (SBC) and was a regular attendee up until my mid-twenties, when I realized my values no longer aligned with my church home. At the time, the Supreme Court had just legalized gay marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges, [2]), and my fellow church members were acting like it was the worst thing imaginable. Even before that, I had started feeling uncomfortable with certain norms and beliefs within the church.

In summer of 2009, I was excited to begin my freshman year of college. I sat through a sermon by the new college pastor on how men must always lead the women, and how this businessman in my town would NEVER hire a woman in any position where she has authority over a man. I was fresh off a church camp where leaders had joked about the most important thing women did in college was get their “MRS Degree”. This sexism made me deeply uncomfortable, but I was afraid to say anything or to call myself a feminist because of how badly my church talked about those uppity women, and, really, I was a “good baptist girl who doesn’t drink, smoke, or chew, or date boys that do”.

Around 2015 I was trying to figure out where my values aligned. I was, quite frankly, terrified, as the Southern Baptist Church was all I’d ever known. I had gone to a predominantly Southern Baptist school for 5 years, had attended church 5 times a week, and had even led Bible studies! I was looking for a new church home when I discovered that the Southern Baptist Church split off from the other Baptist church in 1845 because the SBC condoned slavery as a just and godly enterprise [3]. This felt like a huge revelation, and something that really should have been addressed! Though I cannot speak for all Southern Baptist Churches, the ones I have attended in several different states have never addressed this ugly pro-slavery position in their formation. In fact, some of the church leaders even repeated the deeply racist “Curse of Hamm” myth to justify slavery.

During country-wide protests for Black Lives Matter and still rampant discrimination of Black people in America, the Southern Baptist Church simply changing its name is far insufficient. These churches must address the racism involved in their formation AND the racism that has been prevalent since. The SBC must atone for the hand it had in maintaining slavery and discrimination.

I think back on the countless sermons I attended where church leaders railed on about the reasons young people like me left the church. They blamed it on parents not reading the Bible at home, kids being too into video games, pop culture, etc. The reason I, and many other millennials left, is because the SBC does not align with our values. The problem with the southern Baptist church is not the name, but that they have long-maintained a (white) status quo while proclaiming a savior who was very much about disrupting status quo.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2020/09/15/southern-baptist-name-great-commission-baptist/

[2] https://www.oyez.org/cases/2014/14-556

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/12/us/southern-baptist-slavery.html

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