By Alan Bean
Update: Richard Land has issued an apology for the remarks referenced in this post.
Southern Baptist leader Richard Land says he is the victim of a media mugging. First the Nashville Tennessean characterized Land’s incendiary comments on his own radio show as a “rant”. Now a Baylor-based blogger claims that the Baptist ethicist’s rant was plagiarized.
Many of the words that he uttered during his radio show were taken VERBATIM – yes, WORD-FOR-WORD – from a Washington Times column penned by conservative commentator Jeffrey Kuhner. Kuhner’s column titled “Obama foments racial division” was published on March 29.
Land has apologized for failing to give proper attribution, but continues to lash out at the liberal media. This brief excerpt from an article in the Nashville Tennessean will tell you what the Southern Baptist spokesman is so upset about.
Some consider statements made Saturday by the convention’s top policy representative on his national radio show a setback. On Richard Land Live!,Land accused black religious leaders — whom he called “race hustlers” — and President Barack Obama of using the shooting death of an African-American teen in Florida for election-year gains.
“This will be vetted in court, not in a mob mentality that’s been juiced up by Al Sharpton, who is a provocateur and a racial ambulance chaser of the first order, and aided and abetted by Jesse Jackson,” Land said on the show.
And, on Obama’s statement that, if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old victim, Land said: “The president’s aides claim he was showing compassion for the victim’s family. In reality, he poured gasoline on the racialist fires.”
The Rev. Maxie Miller, a Florida Baptist Convention expert in African-American church planting, was incredulous when he heard about the comments.
“At no time have I been embarrassed of being a Southern Baptist or a black Southern Baptist,” Miller said. “But I’m embarrassed because of the words that man has stated.”
Richard Land claims he should be immune from charges of racial insensitivity because he had a large hand in drafting the SBC’s official apology for slavery and Jim Crow. According to the Associated Baptist Press, the 1995 statement read in part:
“We apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27).”
Further, (the statement) sought “forgiveness from our African-American brothers and sisters” and pledged to “commit ourselves to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry.”
Land also says he was “racially profiled” at the conclusion of an interview on MSNBC. According to the Associated Baptist Press:
Land said, after he closed an interview on the Jansing & Co.television news program with a comment, “I think this is the most important election for the future of the United States since 1860,” MSBNC contributor Karen Hunter, who is black, remarked: “Did he say 1860? I wonder which side of the equation he was on then.”
“She’s an African-American and she’s racially profiling me,” Land said. “Because I work for the Southern Baptist Convention she is openly questioning whether I would have supported the pro-slavery candidates or the Confederacy in 1860 as opposed to Abraham Lincoln. Well, Karen, I have a bust of Abraham Lincoln in my office. Is that a clue to who I was for in 1860? I have said repeatedly on this broadcast and in others that Abraham Lincoln is the greatest president in the history of the United States, and however many presidents we have in the future he will always be the greatest president in the history of the United States and we were God-blessed to have him at that critical time of our history. So, Karen, you ought to be ashamed of yourself for implying motives and assuming things you shouldn’t assume. You were prejudiced. You racially profiled. Shame on you.”
Land says he isn’t worried about Arlington, Texas pastor Rev. Dwight McKissic’s promise to introduce a resolution at the SBC’s June convention censuring Land for claiming that African Americans are statistically more likely to commit acts of violence than white people. “I have no doubt, based on the e-mails I have received,” he told Bob Allen of the ABP, “that a vast majority of Southern Baptists agree with me.”
No doubt they do. That’s just the problem. Land is slowly sinking into the fault line between black and white Baptists in the South. Most white Southern Baptists vote Republican and, like Land, are highly suspicious of America’s first black president. Forty years ago, Southern Baptists passed vague resolutions favoring racial harmony, but little of that goodwill filtered down to the congregational level. The Southern Baptist Convention, as a practical matter, stood foursquare for segregation and the Southern way of life. Although that stance has become an anochronism, commitment to racial reconciliation remains weak. Black Baptists who ignore America’s racial history are embraced and sometimes celebrated. The SBC is poised to elect its first African American president in a couple of months.
But there’s a quid pro quo at work here. Just as Black Southern Baptist leaders are expected to play down the injustice of the past, white Baptist leaders must eschew inflammatory, racially-tinged rhetoric. Land is being condemned by black Baptists because he failed to hold up his end.
While the number of black Southern Baptists has tripled since the 1995 apology for slavery, it should be noted that few black churches in the South give their primary allegiance to the white-dominated SBC. Most are dually alligned with the (black) National Baptist Convention or some other historically black Baptist group.
Richard Land thinks Jim Crow segregation was a bad idea. He thinks Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, was America’s greatest president. But you can’t take potshots at Barack Obama, you can’t castigate prominent black preachers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and you certainly can’t reinforce the curse of racial profiling and expect black Baptists to remain silent. Land wants to stay on good terms with his denomination’s small but growing African American constituency; but his primary role in the SBC is nurturing the hand-in-glove relationship between the SBC and the social conservative wing of the Republican Party.
The Trayvon Martin case made it impossible for Dr. Land to keep Baptists on both sides of the race line happy. When the story became too big to ignore, he revealed his true feelings. Immediately, his standing with white Southern Baptists soared, while black Baptists recoiled in horror.
If Southern Baptists want informed, thoughful commentary on the significance of the Trayvon Martin story, they should ask black Baptist clergy to comment. Unfortunately, even politically, socially and theologically conservative black leaders know too much to toe the party line on racial justice.