Is Baptist a Dirty Word?

I’m a Southern Baptist. Have been for quite a few years now. Didn’t grow up that way, mind you (we were…I don’t know what we were. Let’s call it “fundamental missionary independent Baptists” and leave it at that), but I’ve come to embrace the label. And normally, whenever someone asks me about my denominational affiliation it’s in the following manner:

“Now, wait – why are you Southern Baptist again?”

It sort of provokes incredulity from a lot of folks. After much thought on the matter, here are my two conclusions: 1) either I’m a lot more liberal than I think I am, and thereby have little to do with the convention which I claim, or 2) most people have a really, REALLY bad impression of what it means to be a Southern Baptist. And while number one could quite possibly be true, I think that number two is much more likely.

Let’s face it, of all the denominations out there, the SBC gets a pretty bad rap. We’re the backwards, racist, homophobic, woman-hating, vitriol-spewing, politicking, back-stabbing, tobacco-chewing, JEEEEEE-zuhs!-loving, Bible-thumping, our-way-or-the-highway crashers of the great Evangelical movement. At least, that’s what a lot of people seem to think. An awful lot of people, actually.

That’s why the current president of the SBC, Dr. Bryant Wright (of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church here in the good-old ATL) has convened a special task force to examine the ramifications of a potential name change.

The resulting outcry is such that you would think Wright convened a special task force to look into the moral feasibility of eating puppies. Or drinking a beer.

As the argument goes, the Southern Baptist name (read: brand) has fallen on hard times. People run away from it. People associate it with the things I jokingly mentioned above. In other words, in an era where the best brands are the most powerful ones, the SBC ranks down there with HD-DVD, Zune, HP Tablets and MySpace. (And in case you’re surprised by the hyperlink on MySpace, yes – the site does still exist.) So the most intuitive thing to do is, naturally, change the brand.

Yep, just give folks a kickin’ logo, some big ads and new packaging, and people will be fine with whatever’s inside.

Uh, not really.

Personally, I don’t think we need to change the name of the Southern Baptist Convention (regional designation has never seemed to hurt the Roman Catholic Church…), but neither do I think it would be some sort of world-ending travesty if we did. As long as we didn’t go to something lame like Fishers of Men Worldwide, or WWJD: World-Wide Jesus Domination…uh, Denomination!, I’m cool with re-branding. It certainly can’t hurt.

But what really needs to change is the content of the brand, not the packaging. And I’m not referring to things at the corporate level, either; the political stuff can be left to the politicians. I’m talking about heart-level stuff right in the average Baptist’s backyard.

First of all, let’s ditch the apathy, huh? If we’re going to tell people that we exist to share the Good News of Jesus, it would help if that Good News didn’t come across as the emotional/spiritual equivalent of a prostate exam. Too many of us are too tight around the heart and humor. We need to learn what Piper called, “Christian Hedonism” – to delight in God, and thereby delight in everything else.

Second of all, let’s quit fighting over music/worship experience, okay? I know the Worship Wars have long since passed (supposedly), but there are still plenty of times when the choice of song seems to deflate one half of the room or the other. Listen, I don’t care for some styles of music, but that doesn’t mean I want those styles banned, and if someone else gets a modicum of enjoyment out of a style of music I find deplorable (cough**moderncountrymusic**cough), then I should focus on the other person’s enjoyment over my own disappointment.

I mean, didn’t Jesus call us to a life of self-denial? Surely that includes giving up your auditory tastes for just a couple of minutes on a given Sunday, right?

Third, I think we can improve the quality of the Baptist brand if we’d back the heck away from the public eye for a little while, sort of go underground and concentrate on the whole “live for Jesus” thing. I know that we live in a media-saturated culture, but that doesn’t mean we have to be involved in every aspect of the media. We don’t have to have our own TV channels, movies, and radio stations (not that there’s anything wrong with that). And we sure as heck don’t have to be the first people interviewed on TV whenever the local news outlet needs someone to denounce something. The more we stand up and wrestle for the media’s bully pulpit, and then voice nothing but outrage over something, the more we resemble the Pharisee over the Publican. So let’s just chillax and love on some people.

And that’s my final point: let’s try loving people. I know, we live in a morally confused society where so much is seen as acceptable – homosexuality, cohabitation, recreational sex, drug use, alcohol abuse, Dane Cook – and we feel our moral obligation to take a stand and let people know that there is a standard. There are lines we should not cross for the sake of our own souls. But you know what? Getting people to understand those boundaries, those truths, is a lot simpler when you’re not calling people “faggots” or “fornicators” or “worthless sacks of sinful crap” in full public view. It seems to work a lot better when the morality you’re professing drives a life that is loving face-to-face in the real world.

So let’s quit quibbling over the name change, SBCers. Let the higher-ups debate the value/cost efficiency/blahblahblah of the denomination relaunching as Metta World Peace (wait, that’s already taken?).

The rest of us need to get back to what we are supposed to be doing in the first place: bringing glory to the name of Christ and His Kingdom.