NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land, who played a key role in the Southern Baptist Convention’s 1995 repentance of the “racism of which we have been guilty,” has caught media attention over what he views as the infusion of politics into the Trayvon Martin killing.
[[email protected]@180=‘The rule of law is being assaulted by racial demagogues.’ — Richard Land]Land, on his radio show “Richard Land Live!” March 31, said President Obama and black leaders such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson should not have been so quick to jump into the case.
Land’s comments were reported nationally by Religion News Service, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times and other media.
“Instead of letting the legal process take its independent course, race mongers are anointing themselves judge, jury and executioners,” Land said. “The rule of law is being assaulted by racial demagogues, and it’s disgusting, and it should stop.”
Land said leaders such as Sharpton, Jackson and Louis Farrakhan have fostered ethnic resentment following the shooting of the 17-year-old Martin, an African American, by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, a Hispanic, in Florida in February.
“This is being done to try to gin up the black vote for an African American president who is in deep, deep, deep trouble for reelection and who knows that he cannot win reelection without getting the 95 percent of blacks who voted for him in 2008 to come back out and show that they’re going to vote for him again,” Land said. (The full broadcast can be accessed at www.richardlandlive.com at the archives tab.)
A front-page story in The Tennessean in Nashville on April 5 included comments from an African American staff member of the Florida Baptist Convention, Maxie Miller Jr., who had been quoted in a March 28 Baptist Press story.
Miller, team strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention’s African American church planting team, told Baptist Press April 5 he was disappointed by Land’s comments “and what they imply to non-Christians and to non-Southern Baptists.”
“They imply that we [the SBC] have leaders that represent us that may not have turned the corner when dealing with people of other ethnic groups. And I use the word ‘may not have.’ I have no knowledge of Land other than his position,” Miller told Baptist Press.
In comments provided to Baptist Press April 10, Land stood by his radio remarks.
“Some have said that I, by criticizing this rush to judgment, have set back the cause of racial reconciliation. Real racial reconciliation, to which I have been committed for my entire ministry, involves treating people as equals,” Land wrote.
“Among other things, it means speaking the truth in love and not being called a racist when you are the bearer of uncomfortable truths. True racial reconciliation means you can criticize black leaders when you believe they have been wrong without being labeled as a racist. True racial reconciliation means that you do not bow to the false god of political correctness,” Land wrote.
On his radio show, Land said “race hustlers” such as Sharpton, Jackson and Farrakhan “have made their careers and lucrative fortunes by fomenting racial grievances and demonizing the ‘white power structure.’
“In their eyes, segregation has never been truly repealed. It has just become invisible,” Land said. “They need the Trayvon Martins to continue their central myth: America is a racist and an evil nation. For them, it’s always Selma, Ala., circa 1965. They haven’t noticed that the nation has changed.”
If Zimmerman is guilty, he should be held fully accountable, Land said, but “this mob mentality rush to judgment from the president on down is disgraceful, and the way in which the media has been largely silent about it and has aided and abetted it is also disgraceful.”
The nation needs leaders “who calm us rather than inflame volatile situations,” Land said.
Miller, in his comments to Baptist Press, said African Americans, culturally, have successfully used the religious pulpit to address social ills.
“Land fails to realize religious leaders in our culture and the church as a whole has always been a platform, a voice for our culture, whether you agree with [what the preacher says] or not,” Miller said. “In much of a positive way, it has helped us to overcome some injustices. That is an acceptable norm in our culture.”
Craig Mitchell, an African American who is associate director of the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, noted that Land “has been at the center of Southern Baptist efforts as far as racial reconciliation is concerned.”
In 1995, Land convened a Racial Reconciliation Consultation with 14 Baptist leaders, both blacks and whites, which led to the SBC resolution on racial reconciliation that year. In the resolution, Southern Baptists denounced racism, apologized to African Americans for “individual and systemic racism in our lifetime” and repented of racism “of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
“Our ultimate goal,” Land said in 1995, “should be … a convention that reflects the multiethnic and multiracial makeup of our society.”
“If we are able to wrestle this cancer of racism to the ground and throttle it, then … we will see a Southern Baptist Convention that ethnically reflects our society,” Land said at the time.
When Mitchell was a doctoral candidate at Southwestern more than a decade ago, he met Land and soon learned of his deep concern for racial reconciliation.
“Unfortunately, you have these people that he has called race baiters,” Mitchell, chair of the ethics department at Southwestern, told Baptist Press. “What else do you call Jesse Jackson, what else do you call Al Sharpton? They have not acted responsibly. They have taken a bad situation and made it worse, and if their primary concern was for justice, then they would have at least waited until the facts were in.”
Mitchell said the Trayvon Martin case is “a tragedy because of the loss of life, but it’s just made worse by people rushing to judgment….”
Miller, who works to plant SBC churches among African Americans in Florida, voiced concern that Land’s comments could foster a negative and false picture of the SBC.
“His comments are not the view of the Southern Baptist Convention. I know Frank Page personally,” Miller said, referring to Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee. “That’s not his mindset. It’s not the convention’s mindset. … It’s unfortunate that Land’s comments came during a period when Frank Page is trying to work toward ethnic diversity.”
The SBC is at a pivotal point nearing its 2012 annual meeting, when the convention is expected to elect for the first time an African American president.
“The convention is far beyond the comments that Land made. People who don’t know the convention and hear Land’s statement would think the convention is where Land is,” Miller said. “I’m not disappointed and embarrassed about the convention. I’m disappointed and embarrassed about the comments one man made.”
Miller has encouraged dialogue in churches regarding race relations in light of the Martin case but does not recommend evangelicals debate the legal aspects of the case.
Land’s comments won’t alter how Miller goes about his mission of planting churches in Florida, he said, but may cause him to have to defend the convention to naysayers.
“I would inform them that we have more predominantly African American churches in the SBC than we’ve had in the last 15 or 20 years,” Miller said. “There are a lot of African American churches in Southern Baptist life and … we’re not going anywhere.”
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press and Diana Chandler is BP’s staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).