When You Hear Southern Baptist, You Think . . .

Sam Rainer

April 13, 2009

My father, Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, wrote the following post after doing an unscientific Twitter survey. I was fascinated by the results from the Twittersphere concerning my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. The results are posted below. Feel free to add your own comments.

My son, Sam, introduced me to Twitter about eight months ago. Twitter is one of the hottest entries into the world of social media in the past couple of years. The simple concept of Twitter is to make a comment in 140 characters or less, and allow the “twitterverse” to listen and, if they desire, to respond.

I initially thought I would just be a listener in this world. I really wanted to follow Sam’s comments, and perhaps those of a few close associates. But I quickly found myself making comments. I was hooked. Later my co-worker, Ed Stetzer, told his blog followers that I was “tweeting.” I then announced to all of LifeWay Christian Resources employees that they could keep track of me via Twitter. From that early start, I have since become one of the many addicted “tweeple.”

A person who tweets is known by his or her name in the twitterverse that begins with the @ sign. For example, of the three of us just mentioned we are @SamRainer, @ThomRainer, and @EdStetzer. My other sons are @ArtRainer and @JessRainer.

Okay, enough of Twitter lessons. I decided to try a survey to the growing world of Twitter. I knew the process would not be scientific, and that the results would not have great statistical validity. But it would be interesting. I asked a simple question: “What do you think when you hear ‘Southern Baptist’?” Those who are a part of Twitter had to respond in 140 characters or less.

Though I must be cautious in stating percentages, lest they be perceived as statistically accurate, the results were fascinating, if not a bit troubling. About 60% of the respondents gave a negative association. Another 30% were positive, and 10% were neutral or unclear.

Let’s look at the responses. I provide them in the order I received them. I tried to provide the exact responses, but I did edit a few for clarity.

Legalism, Controlling
Fights, Legalists
Hellfire and brimstone, Pharisees
Fried chicken, Don’t drink
Women who can’t wear pants, Disney boycott
Cooperative Program, Banjos
Adrian Rogers, Fundamentalism
Passion, Missions
Conservative, Conservative
Strategic, Bickering
Disney boycott, Pharisees
Piano, organ, and robes, Irrelevant
Boycotts, Vacation Bible School
Legalism, Becoming more Reformed
Narrow-minded, Fond memories, sad memories
Legalistic, Awesome dinners
Suits and dresses, Old school, traditional worship
Not real, Legalism
Behind the times, Extreme conservatism
Crazy people, Restricted missionaries
Very legalistic, Bible-believing
More about what you’re against, Jesus followers
Southerner, Swiss Army Knife, all blades open
Evangelizing, Loving yet legalistic
Biblical, Welcoming only to some
Socially relevant,  Talk, but does not walk missional
Deacon, Legalists
Introduced me to Jesus Christ, Safe
Southern,  Don’t understand spiritual gifts
Slavery, Country
Evangelism, Fundamentalist sect
Missions, Tradition
Strength, Legalism
Potential for maximum impact, Small, rural churches
Potential for complete irrelevancy, Easy believism
Inerrancy, Gospel overshadowed by politics
Inerrancy, Fighting
Uptight, Legalistic
Legalism, Passionate about holiness
Staunch, Stuffy holy rollers
Unwavering, Traditionalists
Fundamentalist, Lost the next generation
Hellfire and damnation, Old traditions
Too limited, Close minded
Self-righteous over grace, Hymns, pipe organs, choir
Antiquated, Don’t let God move
Pharisees, Legalism
Name that needs changing, Fights
Missions, Controlling
Baptist from the South, Younger generation desires reform
Relationship with Christ, Cooperation for missions
Baptisms, Missions
Tradition, Cooperative Program
Love, Contrast of old and new
My grandmother, Fried chicken
Solid doctrine, Worldwide missions
Inerrancy, Sunday school
Tradition, Bible
Disney boycott, More negative than positive
Old people, Conservative
Pipe organs, Biblical
In-fighting, Evangelistic
Tradition, Family connections
Legalism, Blind about miracles
Lottie Moon, No drinking
Rich in past, not in future, Don’t know water turned to wine
Fundamentalists, Fellowships
Legalism, Fried chicken and 3 desserts
Men in suspenders, Controlling
Right doctrine, Don’t trust laity
Missionaries, Business meetings
Other Baptists, Legalistic
Name that needs changing, Inefficient

46 comments on “When You Hear Southern Baptist, You Think . . .”

  1. I work with several Southern Baptist Churches doing communications audits. My experience parallels the Twitter responses. Most pastors find it easier to drop the name “Baptist” from their signs than to work hard to overcome its ever-growing negative connotation. As you can imagine, a name change can also cause a lot of internal friction as well as branding confusion if all one does is change the sign without changing the product.

    I’m afraid that there’s not an easy answer for this challenge.

  2. kdb1411 says:

    Wow! The world looks at us Southern Baptists and they see more of the Pharisees than they do Christ.

  3. pastoralan says:

    This is good, but disturbing. Wasn’t it Jack Graham who once floated the idea the SBC change her name?

    LifeWay did it and look how it helped. Names convey messages. SBC is not a 21st century name. “International Baptist Convention” is at least a start. “Southern” has to go. And I’m from the South. Baptist could probably go to while we could still be “distinct.” Some Baptist churches have the name and no distinction. What’s the difference?

  4. Fred miller says:

    Could you do this for united Methodists. I would like to see your results. My twitter is progettostudios. If you follow mr I will follow you and we can see what happens. Thanks

  5. Herman Miller says:

    Fascinating. As a life-long Southern Baptist, I am concerned but not surprised. We have been fighting so long that the world knows us by what we are against and whom we are against. And it seems today that we Southern Baptists are more against each other than anything else.

    1. Anonymous says:

      I agree with you 100%! Why can’t the men who are in control of the SBC see this? I think the SBC sets a very poor example of the way Christ loved and accepted the outcasts and sinners. I was raised southern Baptist and am still a southern Baptist at 62 years of age, but I don’t like what I see in our churches and the in the convention. I think some of these leaders should really take a look at Jesus’ life, who He loved and the way He loved and why he was able to have such an effect on so many people. He did not condemn — he convicted by the way he lived His life and the way he loved.

      1. Anonymous says:

        Yeah…i agree with you….

  6. kc says:

    Wow! And I would assume that this is mostly responses from ‘insiders.’ What would a true outside of SBC life response be?

    btw-don’t think a name change will help. as they say… if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck it’s still a duck.

  7. rehunt6 says:

    Lol…totally meant for ‘old school traditional worship’ to be one comment and to be taken as a good thing! I didn’t mean it to come off as old fashioned and out dated….but more of…dude, thats old school and awesome to experience! It’s like when you hear an old favorite song on the radio and become reminded of the fond memories you had when you heard it last. I love a worship band no stage, but there is something about a good traditional choir that I will always hold a part of my heart open to.

  8. The thing that stuck out to me as someone who has been a Southern Baptist for over 40 years is that no one, or at least very few, mentioned that we teach the love of Jesus Christ and Him as our Savior. The sad news is that the majority of Southern Baptists do not know their Bible, why they are a Baptist, and have no desire to learn. Even sadder is that we, as a denomination, know more about the Bible than other groups. We seem to have extremes. We are either apathetic, or we focus on keeping traditions that in some cases are unbiblical. I am a Baptist and believe in what we teach as Baptist, but sometimes we put more emphasis on being a Baptist than on being a disciple of Jesus Christ, and I am not referring to the denomination Disciples of Christ. I believe we are in need of reformation in our churches but more than anything, I believe we need pray 2 Chronicles 7:14 and mean it.

    On a another note, there were a lot of people in Jesus’ day that did not have many good things to say about Him either. We may be in good company. But, He was the friend of Publicans and sinners. One idea is to try imitating Him.

  9. Sam Simmons says:

    When I served up upstate New York, I took a similar poll. The most frequent response- Black charismatics.

  10. Tony Kummer says:

    Dr. Rainer,
    Thanks for posting these results – I made turned them into a wordle and thought you guys might enjoy


  11. Sam Rainer says:

    Tony – thanks for the wordle. Seeing it in visual format adds to the impact of the results.

  12. Marty Duren says:

    Gee whiz, Sam. I almost blew spit onto my computer screen.

  13. Marty Duren says:

    *Sam Simmons* Forgot the multiples here.

  14. “Name that needs changing” — If we are in fact legalists, what good would that do?

  15. Alex says:

    not too much, unless you change the actual contents. a name change without a real change on the inside is pointless. but, a name does convey a lot about you. i think it goes both ways, you have to change both the substance and identity in order for there to be real change.

  16. Ashley says:

    I’m going to have to agree with Alex on this one. You MUST change the ideology before you worry about changing the name. As someone who has a visited a Souther Baptist Church that did not include “Baptist” in the name, I was imediately suspicious. My first thought was “now look, they are trying to pass their legalist doctrine off to unsuspecting victims by hiding their true identity.” And for the most part, I was right, that was exaclty what happened.

    Until you run out the people who are trying to create a theocracy in America, there will always be a largely negative connotation, even down here in the South, where I live.

    My apologies for any typos–I am flying around at work and stopped for a quick second to write this on my lunch break.

    1. Kyle Waddell says:

      Hey Ashley,
      I was interested in your comments on Southern Baptist. Though we may not agree totally on some points I wish you would tell me why you feel Southern Baptist are legalist, or what perception was given that you thought of legalism. I am a Southern Baptist pastor and do not want that title given to me. I am truly saddened when pastors and churches are labeled as a whole. I am even more saddened when people (not necessarily you because I do not know why you feel as you do) call denominations and pastors legalist because they hold true to scriptural integrity rather than following the traditions and opinions of man. God is not interested in our opinions on theology and doctrine. His word is alive and just as relevant today as it was in the day it was written. Please know this response is not written with sarcasm or hurt feelings. I truly want to know why you feel as you do. Thank you and may our Lord bless you always…

  17. Phil Groom says:

    As a complete outsider from the other side of the world, both geographically and denominationally (an Anglican in England), must admit I’m amazed at your willingness and courage to do this. It took me several attempts to send my response because every time I wrote something it was horribly negative: raving fundy narrow minded exclusivists – you get the picture. In the end I backed off and sent in a comment about that Swiss army knife on the cover of your book: all those blades out scaring me away! No idea what that picture is meant to convey but it makes me want to run a mile!

    It’s the protectionism/thought police attitude that bothers me most, I guess. Whether that’s an accurate perception or not is another matter, of course, but this business of warning people off by stickering books you don’t approve of (your Lifeway ‘Read with Discernment’ labels) sticks in my craw: I’ve blogged about it here: Should Christian bookshops be protecting customers or provoking them? Building walls or breaking them down? Surely as Christ’s disciples we’re set free, aren’t we? Can we not trust the Spirit to do his (or her!) thing and “lead us into all truth”?

    But this post shows a different openness to the Swiss army knife: thank you.

  18. Sam Rainer says:

    Phil – thanks for your thoughts (from across the pond). It is my prayer that we are known more for building bridges than building barriers.

  19. Perry says:

    I don’t particularly disagree with many of these thoughts but it sure reads like a lot of Southern Baptists were the ones actually answering the question. A lot of “inside” language.

  20. Leverle O'Neal says:

    I’m sorry the world looks at us like that – – but, I believe we are telling the Gospel – believing the Bible as written and the world (Satan) just does not like that. I’m sorry all those comments above believe that changing our name would make the world happy. Who are we here to serve – the world or God? I think God. May the Southern Baptist should just keep on keeping on, because the devil just don’t like it. Praise The Lord! Leverle O’Neal

  21. Phil Groom says:

    Hey Leverle – one church I belonged to (St Matthew’s, Yiewsley) has a very simple mission statement: Serving God, Supporting the Community. I love it because it’s short and to the point: we serve God in the world. It’s like Jesus said: “Love God, love your neighbour: the rest is commentary.” So surely it’s not as black & white as you seem to be suggesting: how can anyone serve God other than in the world? We’re not talking alternatives here: it’s God’s world, isn’t it?

    Hate to have to say this, but Jesus didn’t found the Southern Baptists any more than he founded the Church of England…

  22. ron says:

    I don,t believe it’s being a Southern Baptist or any other religious entity that is the problem. We all hear and often study the bible. We pretty much know the essence of Gods word, or the substance of it anyway.The bottom line is we fail to apply it.We skew it to suit our needs.We “Christians” are masters at interpreting the Bible in a way that makes us feel comfortable.We need to be reminded of Mathew 5:18,Mathew 24:35 and Luke 16:17 in essence until the heavens and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.God’s word is really very simple and fairly easy to understand; why is it we have so much trouble applying it to our lives and in relationships with other people? An exercise bike is a great cardiovascular machine, but if I only hang my clothes on it it’s of no value to my heart.Likewise to confess,profess and give lip service to God is useless unless you submit and let The Holy Spirit reign in your heart.Gods’ work is not about denominations it’s about letting the Spirit of Jesus Christ rule your life.

  23. Something that needs to be brought into perspective is that these terms are relative. To someone who believes that following God’s commands doesn’t matter as much as having warm, fuzzy feelings toward God, whoever he is, we are indeed Pharisaical for saying that loving god means wanting to do what he says. To those who say that we’re all going to hell unless women wear long dresses and men wear long pants, then we are a bit liberal.

    At that, it’s more important that we strive to be biblical than we strive to appear friendly; for it’s God we need to please and not man.

  24. Craig Beeman says:

    I am not surprised. We should be known for our love, not for our legalism. I ache when I hear people speak ill of us. Why can’t we be what we say we are? We get so tripped up with pointing out bad, we don’t point out the good anywhere. We should be the ones holding up the flag of love and waving it around. We should embody the love of Christ in our actions and in our words. When will we do this?

  25. Craig Beeman says:

    Glad you asked the question.

  26. Kyle Waddell says:

    WOW!! As I read all of the above responses several different responses to you all came to mind. I am a young SBC pastor in the South. I see many churches from every denomination including SBC churches leaning toward the teachings of man instead of following scriptural truths. Many of the people in my congregation who are serving in leadership positions hold very strong to beliefs that were taught to them by man that in no way can be filtered through the scriptures and be held up as “Truth”. I believe that all theology and doctrine that can not be upheld by and through scripture is man made and therefore hieratical. What bothers me is that I am being labeled as a legalist for doing so. Please don’t get me wrong here, I will not loose any sleep for being identified as a Bible believer. I would rather say to those who have asked, the scripture is not clear on a topic so I choose to stay clear of it myself than to say the scripture is not clear on this topic so I will form my own opinion and call it ok. Jesus loved EVERYONE He encountered, but He never missed an opportunity to call right right and wrong wrong. If I am wrong because of my standing up for what the scripture says is right and wrong then I am wrong because of the example the scriptures tell me I am to follow and that is Jesus. Anybody from any denomination want to say He was wrong on any matter? Please do not feel that I am speaking for every SBC church, I am ONLY speaking for myself.

    1. Dave Wilson says:

      As a Southern Baptist “insider”…Well at least I’ve been a Southern Baptist for many years, the problem I see with many of our churches is that the Pastor often becomes an “employee” of the church or even worse of the personnel committee and thus spends much of his time and effort trying to keep his members satisfied and pleased with the job he’s doing instead of truly seeking and doing God’s will. We are forever complaining about our Pastors not doing things the way we think they should. After leaving a “traditional” Baptist Church I see things much clearer now. While I think we do some things very well such as foreign missions, we don’t do nearly as well at home. When someone goes on the mission field they don’t have the restraints placed on them that our local Pastor’s do and I believe that’s why they do so much better. Here in the South where I live there are too many churches that have been “family owned and operated” since forever. When a new Pastor is voted in and hired he’d better find out whom he needs to please in order to keep his job. We’ve become way too fond of the past, trying to hold on to the way we’ve always done it. Those ways might not work any more and in hindsight I’m not sure all of them we’re such good ideas to begin with. Just please remember it’s not about committees, meetings, programs or socializing. It’s about Jesus and lifting him up to the lost and hurting. It’s not about exclusion but rather about inclusion. Borrowing a phrase from my own Pastor; “The chuch is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.”

      1. Tammy says:

        bravo! very well said. I ditto your response.

  27. Kenny says:

    What do I think when I see the name “Southern Baptist”. I think:

    1. What a wonderful way for a large number of people to work together to reach the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    2. What a wonderful group of people who have nurtured me and loved and provided a way for me to attend the largest seminary in the world (SWBTS) where magnificent professors invested their lives in my life to help me be all that God wants me to be in ministry to people around the world.

  28. Bill says:

    As a former Army Chaplain Assistant, I served under many SBC Army Chaplains. Most of them were jack asses. I only liked the Catholic Priest, the liberal Disciples of Christ guy, the female Presbyterian USA woman and Episcopalian.

  29. I have been hearing about this for years and agreed with changing the name when I still lived in the South. I’ve been doing church planting in Boston for the past 5 years and I’ve done missions in nearly a dozen countries. I have spoken with Southern Baptists in Chicago, Seattle, California, the Midwest and New England and I can tell you “Southern Baptist” means mud. A name change won’t solve all our problems but it would get those of us in emerging regions to a point where we can actually identify with the name. Our influence alone on a relational and incarnational level could go a long way in restoring our “reputation with outsiders.” As long as people have the perception that we are a bunch of Southerners who drink sweet tea and eat fried chicken and boycott fun amusement parks we will never make a difference.

    I just wrote a post that gives reasons we MUST change our name, the positive things that will happen if we DO change our name, and a suggestion for a new name. I would love your thoughts to my post: http://churchethos.com/2009/06/19/giving-the-sbc-a-new-name/

  30. Anonymous says:

    I agree I think of legalistic, narrow-minded. I am from Episcopal faith and now attend a nondenominational church. SBC seem more concerned with rules than serving Christ.

  31. T. Keim says:

    As Pastor of a rural SBC Church, It is difficult to drag the church into the present day. But after 2 years I am Seeing Progress. Give the Lord Praise and Glory.

  32. no southernbelle says:

    I live in the south and work with all Southern Baptist.. about 40 from different southern Baptist churches.. Most of them are men and I am the first female to work in a male dominated field. I found that most, not all (well all but maybe 1 or 2) judged me for all the different ways I was different from them. Lifestyle being a big one.. And most of those judgements came from nothing but speculations. It took 3 years for a few of the men to even talk to me. I don’t know if religion has a part in this as much as the whole southern culture in itself that to me, doesn’t seem to like change, even though they sure will complain about things not changing.

  33. Sherri says:

    Most love God so that is good but just as many are in a Baptist church as well as many demoninations because they fear going to hell more than they really love God and seek true relationship with him. They really have never been taught anything but salvation. They don’t really understand their identity in Christ and the Father’s love for them. They mention the Holy Spirit because it is in the Bible but they don’t think he does anything and surely they don’t communicate with him. They only believe the preach the gospel part in the great commission in Mark 16 and would kick you out of their church if you laid hands on the sick, cast out demons, and God forbid spoke in tongues. The word revelation and prophecy are only words they read in the Bible but don’t believe they exist. And as many dominations they only think ideas are from God if it is their ideas. They follow the doctrines of men and not Christ , which Christ states makes his word of none effect. They don’t believe in miracles and think God is random. They don’t see miracles because they don’t believe in them. Most prayers are fruitless because they beg God to do things he has already commanded the believer to do. They don’t see signs and wonders because they would rather believe their own doctrines or religion than to believe God . They strive in effortsto do good deeds but yet lack love and grace for one another. They hold others to high standards of do’s and don’ts but yet still lack love and mercy for one another.
    2 Timothy 3:5-7King James Version (KJV)
    5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
    7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
    They want to know God so we must not condemn yet they fall in a snare set by the enemy. The blame God for the good and bad instead of believing that God is always good and that there is a devil who is devouring them , stealing , killing , and destroying lives. You hold to doctrines taught in seminaries and have degrees but what would have if you let go of the doctrines you hold so tightly and just believe! If you want a miracle or need healing you can’t beg God , believe that he is who he said he is and he has done what he said he did! Greater is he who is in you than in the world. Will you let it out? Will you believe? What if you are wrong ? And God is right and his word will do what it says? If you Don’t believe me believe Christ!

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