By Alan Bean
Stories can bring us together, and they can drive us apart. Unfortunately, narratives related to racial justice almost always reveal a yawning gulf between white and minority perception. I have never seen a single narrative separate America into polarized camps like the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman affair.
Richard Land, the head of the ethics division of the Southern Baptist convention, recently apologized for remarks about the Martin-Zimmerman case that have enraged Black Southern Baptist leaders. The Rev. Dwight McKissic, the Arlington, Texas pastor calling for Land’s ouster, isn’t buying what he calls a “non-apology-apology“.
- Land hasn’t apologized for calling Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson “race hustlers” and “ambulance chasers” because they responded to requests for help from Trayvon Martin’s parents.
- Land hasn’t apologized for accusing President Barack Obama of ginning up support in the black electorate by commenting on the Martin case.
- Land hasn’t apologized for suggesting that black males deserve to be racially profiled because black men are statistically more likely to engage in acts of violence.
According to Rev. McKissic, Richard Land has merely expressed regret that his comments offended anyone. This may be the most explosive paragraph in McKissic’s lengthy dissection of Land’s non-apology:
What was even more troubling to me than Land’s remarks, was his assertion that the vast majority of Southern Baptists agree with his racial views. If he is accurate in his assessment, it confirms the suspicion that many Black Baptists have held for years regarding Southern Baptists; and that is many Southern Baptists, if not the majority, inherently and instinctively don’t honestly respect, relate to or view Blacks with a mindset of mutual respect, equality and understanding. Blacks are primarily viewed as mission projects, not as mission partners. Inadvertently, Dr. Land opened to us the window of his heart and showed us this painful reality (Mark 7:20-23). The question now is, did Richard Land show us the heart of the entirety of the SBC?
Do most Southern Baptists agree with Richard Land’s take on racial profiling? If so, McKissic says, he won’t be attending any more SBC functions for fear of being profiled. If all African-American males are fair game, why take the risk?
Meanwhile, Aaron Douglas Weaver, a doctoral student at Baylor University and a champion of religious liberty, is amping up his allegation that Richard Land plagiarized the radio-rant that sparked the racial divide within the SBC. Weaver now asserts that Land routinely passes off commentary gleaned from conservative columnists as his own.
You have to feel sorry for Richard Land. The man genuinely wants to open his denomination to African-Americans, yet he regards his Black brothers with undisguised suspicion. Moreover, he believes his prejudices are widely shared within the Southern Baptist Convention.
How is a Black Baptist like Dwight McKissic supposed to process this information?
McKissic is conservative socially, politically and theologically. He endorsed Rick Perry’s “Response” event. He disagrees with his president on many issues, although he is proud to see a Black man sitting in the oval office.
Rev. McKissic isn’t asking Richard Land to change his religion, his politics or his social philosophy; the Arlington pastor just wants to know if he is really welcome, if he is regarded as an equal.
Do men like Richard Land want to bury the hatchet with their Black co-religionists primarily because, as white southerners, they are tired of being associated with racial bigotry. Having once derided Martin Luther King Jr. as a communist and an agitator, Southern Baptist leaders now embrace King’s dream “that [his] four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
But if Dr. Land (and the majority of white Southern Baptists) really believe that all Black men should be regarded with suspicion because of their skin color, we’ve got a problem.
Is this a teachable moment for white America in general, and for white Southern Baptists in particular? If it isn’t, we should prepare for the mass exodus of Black Baptists from the SBC.
How much racial progress have we really made in the past half century? Richard Land thinks we’ve come a long way, baby; Dwight McKissic is wondering if we’ve budged an inch.