Richard Land is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the second-largest Christian body in the United States. Land is a prominent American Christian who has authored several books, and made many mainstream media appearances. Land, supposedly the top ethicist for the SBC, was recently embroiled in a plagiarism scandal, but that’s another story. Since this is The Wild Hunt, we’re going to talk about Paganism, something that was very much on minds of Land and the National Organization for Marriage’s Jennifer Roback Morse on this past weekend’s Richard Land Live show.
Morse: What we learned in California in the marriage fight is that the secularist thrust, I don’t even know what to properly call it, Richard, maybe you have a good name for it, but the secularists, the sexual nihilists.
Land: It’s a secular theocracy is what it is.
Morse: Yes, that’s exactly—
Land: It’s a secular theocracy driven be a full-blown pagan understanding of human sexuality. It’s just pagan.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, when they say “paganism” they don’t mean ancient or modern polytheism, they don’t mean it in a religious sense, they’re using the term as a synonym for hedonism. In fact, Jennifer Roback Morse (working to “make marriage cool”), seeks further clarification from Land on the term, just so everyone’s clear by what they mean.
Morse: When you say pagan, what do you mean by pagan? I can imagine what you mean.
Land: I mean totally focused on self, anything that feels good do it, just like the Greco-Roman orgies of the 1st Century and 2nd Century AD; same thing that our early Christian forefathers faced.
Morse: That’s very true, the hedonism, the hedonistic aspect of the culture. What I wondered you were going to say is full-on paganism I would think of as somehow worshiping sex, as sex taking on a kind of sacramental role.
Land: As you know many of the Roman religions, the idolatrous religions were sexual, and the priests were homosexuals and they worshiped in Corinth they had homosexual priests had these temples that were pre-Christian paganism.
See, they were trying to just say they meant secular hedonism, but Land just couldn’t resist bringing up “Roman religions” and “the idolatrous religions” that were “sexual” (oh no!) . Like many evangelicals, and other socially conservative Christians, Land has an itch that can only be scratched by connecting modern culture-war issues to ancient pre-Christian religions. This is especially true whenever the subject of same-sex marriage or LGBT legal protections are brought up, causing the indiscriminate dropping of the “p-word” with no fear of any real controversy.
The history of same-sex relationships in pre-Christian societies is complex, and more nuanced than the slurs thrown around by people like Land and Morse, but they are partially correct in that modern Pagans today are largely supportive of marriage equality and embracing love in all its forms. Further, the fight for the equal rights and treatment of same-sex couples ultimately benefits the religions that support those rights, and destabilizes the ones that don’t. So it’s little wonder that opposition to same-sex marriage is regularly portrayed as a struggle against “paganism.”
“It’s pretty simple: marriage is between a man and a woman. This is a historic doctrine driven deep into the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and it’s a perfect example of what I mean by the rise of paganism. The effort to create alternatives to marriage between a man and a woman are perfectly natural pagan behaviors, but they are a fundamental violation of our civilization.” – Former Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich
What Land (and other hateful ideologues) doesn’t realize is that by branding LGBT people and same-sex marriage as “pagan” he’s helping to make Christianity unpalatable to a growing number of individuals who are sick of seeing friends, colleagues, and loved ones demonized by petty demagogues looking to score political points in a culture war. As I noted yesterday, membership in Christian churches is dropping in many areas of the country, with a growing number staying home rather than endure yet another sermon that dehumanizes a loved one. The rise of “nones” isn’t some fluke, people don’t like the growing political polarization of the pews, and are instead seeking spirituality on a personal basis. If “paganism” and homosexuality is causing the downfall of civilization, it’s more to do with people like Land making hateful invocations than actual Pagans or LGBT people simply trying to live their lives and asking for equal treatment.