NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The debate within the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ executive board over the merits and demerits of a proposal that would significantly trim the state’s giving through the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program turned personal as the board prepared to vote Sept. 26.
And it was Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission — an SBC agency that would be completely dropped from Texas giving under the proposed funding formula — who was in the crosshairs.
According to a Baptist Press report, Charles Wade, executive director of the BGCT, said the reallocation of Texas Cooperative Program funds was justified because “Texas Baptists have been slandered” by SBC leaders. He said the ERLC was not being funded because of the agency’s “overt politicization.”
Wade went on to say the promoters of the reallocation “would rather promote Christian ethics in the way we do ethics here in Texas.” He added that Land, who is a native Texan, “didn’t learn his ethics from Texas.”
Land reacted to the press report with shock, saying, “It certainly sounds as if Charles Wade is ‘slandering’ the ERLC in general and me in particular.” Land said Wade may be the executive director of the BGCT, but “no one has given him the papal authority to determine what ‘Texas ethics’ are and are not.”
Land said Wade’s comments were “to put it simply, inaccurate. We do not engage in partisan politics.” Land said he even refrains from endorsing candidates as a private citizen to avoid any misunderstanding, adding “that means no political signs in my yard and no bumper stickers on my car.”
Land said the ERLC was given more of a presence in Washington, D.C., when the SBC cut its relationship with the Baptist Joint Committee of Public Affairs and gave that role to the ERLC.
He called Wade’s references to the “old” Christian Life Commission “instructive,” noting the ERLC hasn’t invited politicians such as George McGovern or Ted Kennedy to speak at commission-sponsored meetings as happened prior to Land’s coming to the agency.
“When we have invited political speakers, we have been scrupulously balanced, as when we invited both Al Gore and Trent Lott to address a breakfast at a commission seminar in Washington, D.C.,” Land explained, noting a commission event in Louisville featured both former Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, a Democrat, and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican.
“During my watch at the commission, we have given our Distinguished Service Award to Democrat and Republican officeholders alike.”
Citing an article he wrote that was first published in the National Right to Life News just before the 1992 general elections, Land noted he has consistently said that Christians should vote their values, not their party or their pocketbook.
“Don’t vote your geographic origins. Don’t vote your denominational affiliation. Don’t vote your pocketbook. Don’t vote your party. Vote your values. Vote your convictions. Vote your beliefs. If candidates want your vote, let them get it the old-fashioned way; let them earn it. Let them make commitments, and then cast your vote based on your beliefs and convictions,” Land wrote in the article, which he said refutes BGCT President Clyde Glazener’s accusation that the ERLC is “a political action committee.”
Responding to Wade’s charge that the ELRC was guilty of “overt politicization,” Land said while the agency is restricted at times from achieving complete nonpartisanship, politics is not the issue. He said the commission’s trustee board policy does not allow the ERLC to provide a platform to someone who is not pro-life.
“If being pro-life is partisan, then so we are, as are most Southern Baptists,” Land added.
Land said those who seek to malign his ministry would not see him relax his efforts to encourage Christians to actively engage the culture. “Christ’s commands are clear. His followers are to be preserving as salt and illuminating as light. Obedient discipleship requires nothing less than active, principled involvement with society, including informed participation in our nation’s public policy process.”
Land saved his sharpest retort for Wade’s comments about his ethics: “I learned my ethics from two of the greatest Texas Baptists I know, my mother and father. I am wondering where Dr. Wade learned his.” Land noted he grew up in a home where candidates from both parties were supported. “My father usually supported the Democrat candidate and my mother the Republican opponent.”
Land said he was “led to the Lord, nurtured in the faith and called to preach under the ministry of godly Texas Baptist pastors in churches where my parents were active and tithe-giving members.” He said it was from them that he first learned of “our great Southern Baptist heritage and our glorious Cooperative Program.”
“They taught me a vision that started with Texas but was global in scope,” he continued.
“The headquarters of the Texas Baptist convention and the Southern Baptist Convention remain the local Baptist churches,” Land concluded. “I’ll leave it to them to discern whose ethics should be called into question.”