Baptists have a bigger problem than being associated with the South

Published 6:56 pm Friday, November 4, 2011

The Rev. Bryan Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced recently that he has appointed a task force to explore the possibility of changing the name of the organization. It seems that the name “Southern” may soon be gone with the wind. That doesn’t sit well with a number of my Baptist friends, who think this is nothing more than political correctness and a denigration of our beloved South.

The 20-member task force includes eight pastors, two state convention executives, a college president, a group of lay people and two seminary presidents, including the Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Although I don’t have a dog in this theological fight, the inclusion of Albert Mohler is extremely good news. The guy is worth several columns every time his lips move.

For starters, Al isn’t crazy about women preachers. When the First Baptist Church of Decatur appointed the Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell as its senior minister, he was quoted as saying Rev. Pennington-Russell was qualified for the job, “except for the fact that she is a woman.”

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You see, women can run for president of the United States, be a senator or a governor, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or an astronaut, but they can’t be preachers in the SBC churches. At least that seems to be Albert’s opinion. My opinion is that if my daughter or daughter-in-law came across Rev. Al, they would probably thwack him on his sexist noggin with a frying pan, except I don’t think they own a frying pan. Maybe they would chunk their microwaves at him.

And, please, Bible-thumpers, don’t get your knickers in a wad and start quoting the Apostle Paul’s views on women in the pulpit or I will be forced to remind you what Paul said about divorce, which I believe applies to one of your high-profile messengers. Fair is fair.

Weird Al also informed us that yoga isn’t Christian. (“Thou Shalt Not Get in the Lotus Position.”) He says he objects to “the idea that the body is a vehicle for reaching consciousness with the divine.” I have no idea what that means and probably nobody else does either, including Albert. I just know that when I awake in the morning, I am careful to try and not regain consciousness, lest I risk eternal damnation.

Rev. Mohler told the media that the name “Southern” sounds “strange, if not foreign” to people in the Pacific Northwest or in New England, failing to note that he sounds strange, if not foreign, in Bogart and Attapulgus and most of the rest of the English-speaking world.

I have had some experience with naming things. I was part of the group that coined the name “BellSouth” to identify the new regional holding company in the Southeast created at the divestiture of the Bell System in 1984. (For you trivia buffs, if the courts had not approved of our using “Bell” in our name, we would have opened for business as SunLink Corporation. It turned out not to matter because our timid management got themselves taken over by Southwestern Bell, now called the “new AT&T,” so we could have called ourselves “Acme Seed and Feed” for all the good that did.)

Still, I learned back in those days that what you call yourself isn’t as important as how well you do what you do. “CSX” is one of the worst names in the business world, but the company does a pretty good job of running a transportation system and is a major player on the New York Stock Exchange. “Enron” sounded like a neat name and we know what happened to it.

As for geographic bias, I don’t think anyone will cancel their insurance because they perceive that New York Life is full of know-it-alls who talk too loud; or will refuse to fly Southwest Airlines, worried that the company may be operated by bowlegged people with cow poop on their boots. It’s not the name; it is the public’s perception of the service they deliver.

As far as I am concerned, deleting “Southern” from the SBC’s name is like putting socks on a frog. It may attract a lot of attention, but it is still a frog. And as long as the organization has people like the Rev. Albert Mohler shooting off his mouth about the sins of yoga and about women not being qualified to preach, the Baptists have bigger problems than being associated with the South.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.