Headquarters for the Southern Baptist ConventionPhoto: Associated Press
Southern Baptist Convention leaders are trying to jettison the racist connotation that comes with the denomination’s name. Instead, they’re starting to call themselves “Great Commission Baptists.”
But while the PR move may gloss over the racist roots of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, but major figures in the group have maintained close ties with President Donald Trump. Trump’s racist tweets and actions – along with the support of the convention’s leadership – all stand in direct opposition to the group’s stated goals for transitioning.
Related: Pastor who calls homosexuality Satan’s ‘con job’ to lead Southern Baptists
The convention was formed in 1845 in a split with Northern Baptists over slavery. Southern Baptists insisted that missionaries should be able to own other human beings.
“Our Lord Jesus was not a White Southerner but a brown-skinned Middle Eastern refugee,” said convention president J.D. Greear. “Every week we gather to worship a savior who died for the whole world, not one part of it. What we call ourselves should make that clear.”
Earlier this year, Greear used the phrase “Black lives matter” in a presidential address and announced that he would retire a historic gavel named for an enslaver.
The convention will continue to bear the name “Southern Baptists,” instead using “Great Commission Baptists” publicly. They say changing the group’s name officially would cost too much money. With over 14 million members tithing big bucks every Sunday, the cost to print new stationery and change some legal documents must be exorbitant.
Ronnie Floyd, the head of the convention’s executive committee, was on President Trump’s evangelical advisory council during the 2016 campaign.
This isn’t the first time lately that the Southern Baptists have stumbled while trying to look more modern and welcoming – and, once again, the leadership’s support of Trump put the lie to their halfhearted attempts to model their savior.
Paige Patterson, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a founding father of the modern religious right movement, had come under fire for advising a woman to stick with her husband, who was battering her and then justifying the abuse as ultimately leading the husband to church.
In the past, Patterson’s comments–as well as others in which he praised the libido of a teen boy who had called an underaged girl “built”–would have earned him a hearty tsk-tsk from his colleagues. But apparently even the Southern Baptists had to acknowledge the changing times.
Patterson was ultimately fired as head of a leading Southern Baptist seminary and stripped of his retirement. In dismissing him, the seminary revealed other offenses, not the least of which was that Patterson tried to meet a woman who had reported a sexual assault so that he “could break her down.”
Less than two weeks after Patterson was canned, the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting. Patterson was on the minds of many attendees, but as if to illustrate the mind-numbing hypocrisy of the group, the meeting was also a hymn to the serial-philanderer-in-chief, President Trump.
“You’ll have skeptics, with people who say, ‘You’re only doing it because you’re trying to whitewash history’,” Marshal Ausberry, president of the convention’s National African American Fellowship and first vice president of the convention, told the Washington Post. “But it’s a good time to do it. There’s a sincerity.”