Richard Land apologizes, but scandal still dragging down Southern Baptist Convention

Richard Land, the public face of the Southern Baptist Convention, has finally remembered the first rule of holes. But it may be too late for either him or the SBC.

The longtime “ethics” spokesman put himself and his entire denomination in a deep hole with his initial rant on the slaying of Trayvon Martin. Then Land defiantly spent the next several weeks digging in deeper.

That rant on the Martin case, made on Land’s radio show, Richard Land Live!, ought to have been his penultimate public statement as an official representative of the SBC, followed only by the announcement of his resignation. If a politician or entertainer had made the statements Land made they would now be in rehab for vague, undisclosed reasons — the standard ritual of public contrition for those who have said or done things that would seem to disqualify them from any future in public life.

You can read Land’s initial rant at Aaron Douglas Weaver’s blog.

Note again that the problem here isn’t with a particular injudicious word or phrase, but with the entire framework. Richard Land’s response to the slaying of Trayvon Martin is shaped by a host of assumptions and mythologies, the ancient and ugly narratives that have long been used to defend racial injustice and that exist only to do so. In the framework Land embraces, racial injustice is simply a given. For Land, that injustice is not a problem to be addressed. The problem, rather, is any black leader who refuses to accept the status quo of racial injustice. Such people are troublemakers, agitators or, in Land’s exact phrase, “race hustlers.”

Richard Land’s commentary reads like a time capsule. Apart from the specific names, it is indistinguishable from the protestations of the white Southern Baptist clergy in Birmingham in 1963 who complained that everything was just fine in Alabama until Martin Luther King Jr. came along to stir up trouble. Or Land’s commentary could be read as an op-ed from the 1930s, when white clergy complained that anti-lynching laws were the work of such troublemakers and “race-hustlers.” Land even included the traditional threat-masked-as-lamentation, warning that such calls for justice will lead to “violence.”

This was ugly stuff, and for that alone Richard Land ought to have been swiftly fired. The fact that he was not — that the possibility of his resignation or termination didn’t even arise — is evidence that the Southern Baptist Convention remains mired in the same defense of pervasive injustice that characterized the denomination in 1963, in 1933, in 1863.

And since that initial rant, Land has only made things worse. He keeps compounding the problem and reinforcing everything that was so awful and hurtful in his radio commentary. He repeatedly defended the substance of his rant, and arrogantly dismissed the reaction of black clergy to his remarks. Asked about one black pastor’s effort to get the SBC to repudiate his remarks, Land said, “I have no doubt, based on the emails I have received, that a vast majority of Southern Baptists agree with me.”

That explicitly ties the entire denomination to Land’s views. It also reveals both what Land regards as important and who Land regards as important. It’s an appeal to power — he and his friends in the SBC’s (white) old boy network have more power than the black pastors who were appalled by his remarks, so Land doesn’t have to care what they think. And since he doesn’t have to, he simply doesn’t care what they think.

So again, Richard Land needs to be fired.

In the weeks since his radio show, Land has defended the presumption that black young people should be viewed with suspicion, claiming that a black man is “statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man.” He has lashed out at a black reporter critical of his comments, saying, “She’s an African-American and she’s racially profiling me.”

On Monday, more than two weeks after this scandal began, Richard Land finally issued an apology. But he didn’t first apologize because of the hurtful, hateful things he said in his diatribe against “race-hustlers.” He apologized for lifting that entire rant uncredited from a right-wing columnist:

Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, issued an apology on Monday for plagiarism during his radio show – Richard Land Live! …

On his March 31 radio program, Land used material about Trayvon Martin, race, the media and President Obama that came from a Washington Times column by Jeffrey Kuhner without attribution.

Baptist blogger and Baylor doctoral student Aaron Weaver spotted the plagiarism and posted a partial transcript of the plagiarized material on his own blog. …

Weaver has since found examples of “More Plagiarism From Head of Southern Baptist Ethics Agency.”

The plagiarism charges added momentum to the growing criticism of Land’s remarks on the Martin slaying, and for the first time it began to seem like his future as the SBC’s public voice might be in jeopardy.

So late Monday, in an open letter addressed to denominational officials, Land finally apologized for embracing the ugly ideology of the Jeffrey Kuhner column he had presented as his own opinions:

I am writing to express my deep regret for any hurt or misunderstanding my comments about the Trayvon Martin case have generated. It grieves me to hear that any comments of mine have to any degree set back the cause of racial reconciliation in Southern Baptist or American life. …

Clearly, I overestimated the progress that has been made in slaying the ugly racist ghosts of the past in our history. I also clearly underestimated the extent to which we must go out of our way not to be misunderstood when we speak to issues where race is a factor.

Please know that I apologize to any and all who were hurt or offended by my comments. I will certainly recommit myself to seeking to address controversial issues with even more sensitivity in the future.

That’s a bit hard to swallow, coming from the same man who has spent the past two weeks denying any “grief” about the effects of his comments on the denomination and dismissing his critics as either irrelevant annoyances or self-serving troublemakers.

Prior to this apology, Richard Land was the public face of the SBC, making the denomination appear as an angry old white man.

After this apology, Richard Land remains the public face of the SBC, making the denomination appear as an angry-but-apologetic old white man who regrets any misunderstanding of his remarks by oversensitive people.

Previously on this blog:

 

  • Lori

    This:

    After this apology, Richard Land remains the public face of the SBC, making the denomination appear as an angry-but-apologetic old white man who regrets any misunderstanding of his remarks by oversensitive people.

    Should read more along the lines of this:

    After this apology, Richard Land remains the public face of the SBC, revealing that the denomination is an old white man who wants Those People to STFU already.

  • Eamon Knight

     I am writing to express my deep regret for any hurt or misunderstanding….

    Apology my ass. That’s the standard opening for a notpology — it’s all about hurt feelings (with the subtext that y’all should stop being such thin-skinned babies), never “I screwed up and said something false and immoral, and now I understand the problem and I’ll take my deserved lumps.

  • John Magnum


    Clearly, I overestimated the progress that has been made in slaying the ugly racist ghosts of the past in our history.

    Eugh. Eurgh. “Sorry for being TOO NON-RACIST for you people.”

    The whole thing is the worst sort of “I’m sorry you feel that way” non-apology to begin with, but that’s just terrible.

  • flat

    Since I haven’t heard of Richard Land before I am not going to take part in the discussion.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    I will certainly recommit myself to seeking to address controversial issues with even more sensitivity in the future.

    Ah, so “race hustlers” is a somewhat sensitive way to express oneself. Shorter Richard Land: I’m sorry black people can’t handle the truth.

    Given that Land doesn’t actually apologize for the content of his comments, only for how those comments were “misunderstood” by others- without actually clarifying his position to rectify that misunderstanding- I have to wonder what his version of “racial reconciliation” looks like.

  • Navigator

    ” Land said, “I have no doubt, based on the emails I have received, that a vast majority of Southern Baptists agree with me.”” 
    Are we so certain he’s wrong about that?

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Echoing others here, let’s be 100% clear: Richard Land did not apologize for his remarks.  He did not apologize for embracing the ugly ideology of racism.  He did not apologize for the content or implications of his remarks.

    He apologized for ” any hurt or misunderstanding” his comments. He’s not sorry for what he said, he’s sorry that anyone noticed, paid attention, and commented on it. He’s sorry you’re upset, but he’s not even a little sorry for spouting the words of a bigot, or for acting the part of a racist while representing the SBC.

    And until there’s a meaningful dollar-amount of loss associated with his bigotry, he’ll remain in his post, safe and secure.

  • Magic_Cracker

    There’s just no getting through to you huckster race hustling reverse racist race-baiters, is there? The facts: Dick Land never personally owned African slaves, never personally lynched a black man, and didn’t personally shoot Trayvon Martin, and even if he did any of those things, it wouldn’t have been because of race, and even if it was because of race, that’s just the world we live in! And I apologize in advance if you’re stupid enough to be offended my by comments. [/post-racial white guy]

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    He apologized for getting caught.

    “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am standing before you here to express my apologies. I am sorry. I am sorry that a witness noted my getaway car parked outside of that bank. I am sorry that the police divers were able to find the gun I used in the robbery. I am even sorrier still that my worthless loser accomplice turned me in for a pissy little $50,000 reward. I am truly, deeply, sincerely sorry that I got caught.”

  • rizzo

     “Richard Land’s commentary reads like a time capsule.”
    Yeah right…Land’s commentary reads exactly like what a whole bunch of people are thinking right now. 

  • wendy

    “…any hurt or misunderstanding my comments have generated…”

    His comments haven’t generated any misunderstanding. That’s where the hurt comes from, because we understood him perfectly. 

    Hey, how’s that GOP outreach to minority voters going? Anybody think this’ll be the year they crack double digits? It’s an ongoing puzzlement why all those family values, anti-abortion, churchy black people still just keep voting Democrat. 

    /sarc

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    It reminds me of an article in Slate yesterday about how Obama still has a comfortable lead over Romney among women voters.

    Because women still remember this, and this, and this, and this, and even  this. The Democrats have a lot of problem, but the recent, open barrage of hostility against women that Romney and his party have displayed just in the recent months has created a chasm that Romney simply hasn’t done enough to heal. A lot of it isn’t directly his fault but it still should give us pause since he has made no real attempts to reject any of it or to even imply that he won’t be as big of a misogynistic tyrant as Santorum if elected.

  • Vermic

    I will certainly recommit myself to seeking to address controversial issues with even more sensitivity in the future.

    Whoa now!  Don’t strain a sensitivity muscle there, tiger; we know what hard work this is for you.
     
     

  • LL

    What’s amusing (well, OK, mostly tiresome, but still kinda funny) about many white Christian Americans is how they shit a giant  brick of outrage in response to anything that offends them, whether the thing that offends them is meant to offend or not (for example, same-sex marriage). They whine and moan about how hurt and offended and insulted they are that someone said/did something mean/offensive and how it’s evidence of awful religious oppression of them in a nation dominated by white Christians. But when they say/do something appalling that is meant to cause offense, everybody who speaks up about being offended by it is too “sensitive” and needs to stop trying to “silence” the offending speaker/writer. 

    They don’t appear to understand the concept of “free speech.” 

  • LL

    I do have to agree with Land on one thing: I believe a majority of Southern Baptists do agree with him. That’s why he hasn’t been fired. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    No, they understand free speech just fine. I am free to say anything I want. You have to be careful of others’ feelings. They  just offend people every time they speak.

  • BC

    Well, in a discussion of the recent shootings in Tulsa on NPR Morning Edition today, a commentator did say that Oklahoma has always been “conservative” about racism.  I’m beginning to understand that conservative = racist now.

  • Loquat

    I find it plausible that large numbers of racists would send Land supportive emails, especially once black people started publicly condemning him; to what extent they represent Southern Baptists as a whole I can’t say.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    No way to know; the sample size is self-selected.

    I would not be surprised if he got more emails that say “I’m SB and I support you” than “I’m SB and I don’t”. I’m sure there are also a lot of simple “I don’t”s, and that he completely discounted all of them. Those would likely include a lot of the white Protestant Southerners like my grandparents who chose their churches primarily because they weren’t Southern Baptist.

    But it’s basically “the lurkers support me in email” which along with “I’m sorry you’re upset (but not sorry I upset you)” marks him as a classic troll.

  • Lori

     

    Are we so certain he’s wrong about that?  

    No. The fact that he hasn’t been fired and no congregations have announced their intention to leave the SBC over his continued employment tends to provide evidence that he is not wrong.

  • MaryKaye

    I know this is thin-skinnedness of my own, but it is driving me *crazy* that the original author of the plagiarized column shares my (rather uncommon) last name, so every time I read about this I’m seeing my name attached to these awful views.

    We are not related at any close degree, but it’s still unpleasant.

  • Barry_D

     “I have to wonder what his version of “racial reconciliation” looks like.”

    A picture forms in my mind, of certain happy people playing the banjo and singing and dancing after supper, on the old (large rural country farm estate), taking pleasures in the simpler things in life, and not fretting about things concerning their [REDACTED] other people.

  • Barry_D

     “I have to wonder what his version of “racial reconciliation” looks like.”

    A picture forms in my mind, of certain happy people playing the banjo and singing and dancing after supper, on the old (large rural country farm estate), taking pleasures in the simpler things in life, and not fretting about things concerning their [REDACTED] other people.

  • Barry_D

     “I have to wonder what his version of “racial reconciliation” looks like.”

    A picture forms in my mind, of certain happy people playing the banjo and singing and dancing after supper, on the old (large rural country farm estate), taking pleasures in the simpler things in life, and not fretting about things concerning their [REDACTED] other people.

  • AnonymousSam

    You mean his compelling stories about living off Daddy’s wealth weren’t enough to convince you that he really does understand what it’s like to be considered less than human? But he had to think really really hard about whether or not he could afford a new private jet! And island! And the one he ended up buying didn’t even have its own slave natives to refill his drinks — just regular old butlers!

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira


    If a politician or entertainer had made the statements Land made they would now be in rehab for vague, undisclosed reasons

    Wait… what? No, not likely. 

    “I have to wonder what his version of “racial reconciliation” looks like.”

    Him being able to do whatever he wants to black people, and them not being able to do anything about it.

  • Lori

    A picture forms in my mind, of certain happy people playing the banjo and singing and dancing after supper, on the old (large rural country farm estate), taking pleasures in the simpler things in life, and not
    fretting about things concerning their [REDACTED] other people. 

    IOW, Song of the South. Sounds about right.

  • Lori

     

    Wait… what? No, not likely.   

    Depends on the star. Ted Nugent, no.(Although this week he and Rush Limbaugh both sound like they ought to be in rehab for real.)  However, if it’s someone who has or wants to have a mainstream career then yes. See for example: Washington, Isaiah.

  • gocart mozart

    I would expect a very close relative of his to make this very denial. ;)

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Or the opening scenes of Birth of a Nation.

  • Mary Kaye

    It dawns on me that I am feeling the same impotent rage over the fact that this guy is a Kuhner that many of you are feeling over the fact that Land is a Baptist/Evangelical/Christian.

    Names.  A fantasy writer once speculated that Adam’s real sin was *naming* things–that was the ultimate loss of innocence.  It’d be a metaphysical way at looking at the cost of language, our greatest evolutionary innovation but certainly not without its dark side.

    On a different tack, Roger Shuy has written a lot of good stuff about apologies and what distinguishes real ones from fake ones–it’s worth checking out.  I think the apology section is in _The Language of Confession, Interrogation and Deception_ but even if it isn’t, the book is worth reading.  He also has some Language Log posts about the topic.  I think it’s important not to be suckered by fauxpologies (and I totally agree that this was one).

  • PollyAmory


    Clearly, I overestimated the progress that has been made in slaying the ugly racist ghosts of the past in our history.”

    Indeed. He’s still alive isn’t he?

  • PollyAmory

    Of course it’s likely. Whenever celebs make asses of themselves, the rehab is the next natural step. I give Sheen, Charlie; Gibson, Mel.

  • Dhurd88

    Land is wrong, very wrong. No doubt about it. I venture to say that I fall in the Southern Baptist category, as I attend one of their seminaries, so what he says reflects what I am a part of. That’s hard to stomach. What disturbs me just as much as Land’s comments are the comments made about the article. It is stunning to me how blatantly foolish these comments are about other foolish comments. If Slacktivist cares about holding fast to what is good, I would urge them to address these absurdly biased comments which seem to be stemming from a majority of their readership. I certainly have my biases, no doubt. But I can disagree with someone in a way that does not demean the fact that they too are made in the image of God. 

  • P J Evans

    If Slacktivist cares about holding fast to what is good, I would urge
    them to address these absurdly biased comments which seem to be stemming
    from a majority of their readership.

    Do you think we’re responsible for the Southern Baptists, or do you think we’re not sufficiently racist to be talking about somebody like Land?

  • Patrick Spens

     How about being a little more specific. Who, specifically, have you found foolish? What specific comments have you found as troubling as Land’s remarks about “race hustlers” ?

  • Turcano

    Every election season you get a similar trend in pundits trying to analyze relatively low support for the GOP in the Latino community.  Everyone either is a moron or is dancing around the issue, but the explanation is a very simple one: there is a large contingent (perhaps even a majority) of the Republican Party that doesn’t like Mexicans very much, and isn’t shy about it either.

  • JonathanPelikan

    How about people who don’t believe Richard Land was made in the image of God, either because of their opinion of Land or the existence of God the way you believe? (I’m in the latter category, btw.)

    Also, his demeaning the reaction to an anti-American act of terrorism and murder gets to you just as much as some comments online that are mean to him? I don’t believe that because I’m feeling charitable. We’ll call it an exaggeration in the service of making your point, something I’m familiar with.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Er, no. Ted Nugent and Rush Limbaugh are two examples of celebrities who make their careers out of this stuff. Yeah, I know, they aren’t mainstream. Neither is the Southern Baptist Church. Land is playing to the same crowd.

    (Also, Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson are still gigantic assholes who haven’t changed in any way whatsoever.)

  • Dhurd88

    I would say neither, but thanks for the sarcasm..it’s appreciated. My point is that our focus in speaking against someone like Richard Land should not be comprised of Ad Hominem attacks. I’ll go on the record in saying many of these comments feature the lambasting of Land as a person, not his horrible statements. His position should be attacked, not his very person. I don’t think I need to cite anything specific, it’s pretty obvious that some on here just despise the guy (not that he hasn’t given them good reason, but that reason doesn’t make it right does it?) Isn’t this stereotyping and prejudice exactly why we are  here in the first place?? Human nature has the tendency to fire back with the same sins they were so angry at in the first place. Where is the line in how far our miniature commentary on a situation ends up perpetuating the very thing we are against?

  • Dhurd88

    Patrick,

      Thanks for the question! First off, I haven’t said anyone in particular is foolish…that was in reference to the comments above. I have no clue who anyone on here is, we all lead very different, complex lives. So don’t put me on the record as calling anyone foolish, only some of their remarks. Please read my reply above to P J Evans and then please go back and read through the comments above. Not every comment is ad hominem, but a good amount are, and hopefully you’ll see my point. As I asked above, “Where is the line in how far our miniature commentary on a situation ends up perpetuating the very thing we are against?”

  • Dhurd88

    We could slide way off point if I answered your first question…for brevity’s sake I would say that if humans aren’t made in God’s image then we’re on an equal level as animals, so we should either stop caring about murdering one another or start putting lions in jail for eating zebra’s. Take your pick? Maybe if you believe we have a soul, then things would change, but then would that soul not have relation to God? anyway…

    My point is that these ‘mean’ comments are severely lacking in the helpfulness department. As stated in a reply above, I don’t see how it is beneficial to perpetuate the exact thing that we’re against. Isn’t it wrong to think that because WE are RIGHT, we are now justified in ripping someone apart online in a place they will never even see?

  • JonathanPelikan

    I’ll say it again: Not everyone here is Christian, either. In fact, a big chunk of this community, because of its progressive orientation, consists of all sorts of other folks, like, say, me, an atheist. Speaking personally, I’m under absolutely zero proscription to love my enemy or turn the other cheek when a man whose job is to be professionally wrong and morally offensive demeans the legitimate reaction to a modern lynching.

    Being angry at a racist piece of human garbage for saying racist things does not mean that we’re all going to end up just as prejudicial and stereotyping as he is. For one thing, we aren’t pre-judging him or stereotyping him just because da da da da at all; we’re judging him based on, you know, what he’s said and done. 

    As a matter of fact, your commentary sounds an awful lot like you’re suggesting that this moral outrage to Land could lead to, in the end, among other things, say… violence. Hm. Interesting association my mind just made there. Where have we heard such warnings?

  • JonathanPelikan

    You aren’t going to convince me to convert to your religion any more than Helena is going to convince Fred to abandon Christianity with her incredibly thoughtful and incisive commentary, and for a few similar reasons.

    Your logic presupposes the existence of the Christian God specifically. Unless we share this as the basis for our reasoning, we will never reach the same conclusion about this. Never. It’s 1+1 = 3 to me.

    Okay, let’s put this as clearly as possible because I admit you may not know how incredibly offensive you’re being right now: Your suggestion that because I am an atheist I want to brutally murder my family

    IS
    NOT
    FUCKING
    WELCOME
    HERE

    I’m not saying get out, but certainly put that bullshit out of the door right now. It will not help you.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Despising someone for their actions is not “stereotyping and prejudice.” Please try to learn what words actually mean before claiming other people are guilty of them.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira


    I would say that if humans aren’t made in God’s image then we’re on an equal level as animals, so we should either stop caring about murdering one another or start putting lions in jail for eating zebra’s.

    No. Human beings are different from any other animal. No other animal has a complex legal system and social structure and the ability to consciously choose to make and break laws. (As far as we know.) You may think these things come from the particular god you have chosen to believe in. I don’t. Your particular god is not a necessary hypothesis for humans being human.

    If you want to believe in your particular god, I have no problem with that. Until you claim that your particular god is the only thing that could possibly make us human, and that I must follow your interpretation of what other people wrote hundreds and thousands of years ago about what they thought your particular god wanted. 

    As stated in a reply above, I don’t see how it is beneficial to perpetuate the exact thing that we’re against. 

    Who is this “we” you speak of? I’m not against righteous anger based in reality. I’m not against calling out jerks. I’m fully for those things. I don’t turn the other cheek or forgive my enemies because I don’t think those things work. I’m not Christian.

  • Dejlah

     My father was a Baptist minister until he died at 62 ten years ago. He first found his faith with the General Baptists, then when he felt he was called to be a minister, he went to the Louisville Kentucky Southern Baptist Seminary. One of things he was most proud of was that — and I don’t remember the year, forgive me — that the students of the seminary presented the professors with a petition which requested that the school integrate since “segregation was anti-Christian”. He joined the American Baptist Convention after that, and I was raised American Baptist.

    He turned down an invitation to join a country club because they didn’t accept Jews and African-Americans.

    Sadly — because I loved my father dearly — I could never be a Southern Baptist, because I cannot in good conscience worship with people whose idea of Christianity is so far from mine. I pray for them. I hope they find their way back to God — recognizing that Christ himself was born a Jew.  And now I can no longer be an American Baptist, with the changes in their values.

    The only group I can find who includes instead of excludes people is the Episcopal Church of America — and that is where I stand.

  • Lori

    Er, no. Ted Nugent and Rush Limbaugh are two examples of celebrities who make their careers out of this stuff. Yeah, I know, they aren’t
    mainstream. Neither is the Southern Baptist Church. Land is playing to the same crowd. 

    Yes. Which is why I used them as examples of people who would not try to go the rehab route.

    (Also, Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson are still gigantic assholes who haven’t changed in any way whatsoever.)  

     

    No, they haven’t. Going to rehab after you get caught saying something racist is not about change. That’s not even remotely the goal. The goal is image management.

  • Tricksterson

    Has it ever occured to you that humanity is as flawed and imperfect as it is because it was made in God’s image?


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