LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Southern Baptists have gained “tremendous victories” in Washington in recent months, Richard Land told messengers at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville, Ky., June 23.
Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, cited a recently-adopted measure that gives the Food and Drug Administration oversight of tobacco products and a bill signed into law by President Bush late in his term that enables the government to more aggressively prosecute sex traffickers. Real and lasting change, though, can only come through changed hearts, he said.
“It starts with you and me. It starts with individuals getting their hearts right with God,” Land said. “The future of America is being determined one person, one family, one church, one community at a time all across this nation.”
There is no shortcut, he said.
“We can’t legislate our way to the godly society that we would have for our children and our grandchildren. It can only come through changed hearts. Jesus Christ is the one who is in the heart-changing business,” Land said.
When Southern Baptists exercise their responsibilities to be salt and light as Jesus instructed in Matthew 5, change happens, Land said.
“We are to go out into the world, not of the world, but into the world as salt — as changed men and changed women to seek to stop decay — and we are to penetrate the darkness with the light of the Gospel.”
Land said the ERLC, the SBC’s entity for moral concerns and public policy, has a responsibility to lead Southern Baptists to engage the culture in such a way.
He recalled that in the waning days of the Bush administration, the president signed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. It was a miracle of God that both House and Senate leadership came together to allow passage of the bill, Land said.
The law includes several provisions necessary to aggressively prosecute sex traffickers in the United States and to strengthen the State Department’s efforts to combat slavery and trafficking worldwide.
Passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was another major victory that would not have been possible without Southern Baptists’ involvement, Land said. The bill, signed into law by President Obama June 22, grants authority to the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the marketing, manufacturing, labeling, distribution and sale of tobacco products.
The bill was a long time coming, Land said, noting the SBC passed its first resolution calling for federal regulation of tobacco in the 1930s. Tobacco kills 400,000 people a year, and the measure will blunt cigarette companies’ attempts to reach the youth market with their deadly products, he said.
“They can’t continue to pimp these cancer sticks to our children,” Land said of the tobacco companies.
Southern Baptists’ opposition to a certain form of stem cell research prompted some scientists to pursue ethical alternatives, Land said.
The development of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) is an answer to prayer that never would have happened without Southern Baptists and other people of faith holding the line against human embryonic stem cell research, he said, adding that President Bush hasn’t yet gotten the credit he deserves for his moral courage on the subject.
While these successes in the legislative and cultural arenas are noteworthy, Land said, “In reality we are just treading water until we have a reformation…. A belief in the inerrant and infallible Word of God must be the touchstone for everything we do in Southern Baptist life.”
Land said he was at ground zero of the Conservative Resurgence when he attended a Bible study in Judge Paul Pressler’s home as a 17-year-old before leaving for college. It was during his first week as a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary that he met Paige Patterson, who now is president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Pressler and Patterson played key roles in the conservatives’ efforts to regain control of SBC institutions in the 1980s.
Yet the Conservative Resurgence was always a means to an end, Land said.
“The problems in America are God-sized and need God-sized answers. We do not have the resources, we do not have the wisdom, we do not have the skill to solve what ails us,” Land said. “It must come from God and God alone.
“Whether America is going to have the future that we want America to have doesn’t depend on what the lost people do, it depends on what the saved people do,” Land said. “We’ve got to get right with God.”
The resurgence aimed to establish a solid foundation of the Word of God under the convention’s entities because that is the only way to usher in a Great Commission revival in the United States, he said.
“It was a prerequisite for a revival that we still hope and pray will come,” Land said.
Dwayne Hastings writes for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.