The Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land has landed himself in hot water for “racially insensitive” comments relating to the Trayvon Martin case, the teenager shot dead by a neighborhood watch volunteer in February. Land is the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, a post he has held since 1988. Land is a prominent spokesman for conservative Christian causes and hosted a couple of radio shows (“For Faith & Family” and “Richard Land LIVE!”), both of which he has now lost as a result of his indiscretion.
So, what did he actually say?
During an edition of his call-in program, he said that President Obama and other black leaders were exploiting the Trayvon Martin shooting “to gin up the black vote.” Land accused Obama and black civil rights activists of using the shooting to foment racial strife and boost the president’s re-election chances. He went on to accuse the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton of fomenting a “mob mentality.” In a delicious twist, a blogger pointed out that most of his remarks were in fact lifted from an editorial in the Washington Times, an editorial ‘mistake” he has also been reprimanded for.
His remarks were swiftly condemned by church leaders as well as commission trustees, who released the following statement:
We reprimand Dr. Land for his hurtful, irresponsible, insensitive, and racially charged words on March 31, 2012 regarding the Trayvon Martin tragedy. It was appropriate for Dr. Land to issue the apology he made on May 9, 2012 and we are pleased he did so. We also convey our own deepest sympathies to the family of Trayvon Martin for the loss they have suffered. We, too, express our sorrow, regret, and apologies to them for Dr. Land’s remarks. We are particularly disappointed in Dr. Land’s words because they do not accurately reflect the body of his work over a long career at the ERLC toward racial reconciliation in the Southern Baptist Convention and American life. We must now redouble our efforts to regain lost ground, to heal re-opened wounds, and to realize the dream of a Southern Baptist Convention that is just as diverse as the population of our great Nation.
Seeking to downplay the controversy, Land thanked the commission for their investigation and for allowing him to continue his work.
The Commission’s investigation has been conducted in a Christian manner by Christian gentlemen. I look forward to working with the trustees to minister the Gospel of our Saviour across our great land.
Despite calls from several Baptist ministers for Land to step down, he has not lost the post which would seem most inappropriate to retain — his job as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It remains to be seen if his comments have caused irreparable damage within the Southern Baptist community. Land enjoys immense standing within the corridors of power; leaders and friends describe him as a Southern Baptist Church institution. It is those friends in high places that have probably kept him in his job.