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Land tells trustees: revival urgently needed

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Addressing trustees of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Richard Land said the state of the culture reflects the reality that it has influenced the people of God more than the people of God have influenced society.

Land, president of the Southern Baptist moral concerns entity, said the only hope for a reversal of this tide is a “heal the land” kind of blessing from God.

“We went out into the world to change the world and the world changed us,” Land lamented in remarks during the annual ERLC trustee meeting Sept. 16-17 in Nashville, Tenn.

As someone who came to maturity during the 1960s, Land said he could never have imagined that today 45 percent of the population could claim to be born-again Christians and yet the country be in the shape it is.

America is worse off in virtually every moral standard — except in the areas of race relations and society’s view of women — than at any time since 1965, Land said.

When he graduated from high school, Land recounted, he knew of one woman in his church who was divorced. At that time, illegitimacy was rare, he said. “My children can’t even comprehend that kind of world,” he said, noting today 35 percent of all children are born to single mothers and that nearly half of all couples marrying will eventually divorce.

America is practicing “collective child abuse on our nation’s children,” Land stated, calling it “a condemnation of the sinfulness and selfishness of adults.” Much of the poverty in the country could be alleviated by women marrying the fathers of their children, he said.

“We should hang our heads in shame,” Land continued, noting that the United States has legally killed 50 million of its unborn citizens since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. “All of this could not have happened without the acquiescence of people of faith,” he said.

Land said he has been driven back time and time again to the promise God makes in 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” He recalled that the verse was prominently featured on a wall in the fellowship hall in the Baptist church he attended as a child.

“What America must have is heaven-sent, Spirit-filled revival,” Land said, but pointing out: “This is not going to happen without God’s people getting on their knees before God.

“We received a lot of media attention for our iVoteValues.com initiative when it was launched in 2004,” Land said. Yet the press has demonstrated no such interest in the 40/40 Prayer Vigil for Personal Revival and National Renewal recently launched as a cooperative effort of the ERLC and the SBC’s North American Mission Board, he commented.

“We have an opportunity through the 40/40 Prayer Vigil to have far greater impact on our country and far more impact on our country’s future than we ever did with the iVoteValues.com campaign,” Land said. That does not diminish the value of the iVoteValues.com effort, which he said is active again in 2008 in calling Americans of faith to vote their faith-informed values and not a political party or the interests of their pocketbook.

“The change that America needs is not going to start in Washington, D.C.,” Land said, calling government a “lagging indicator.” The government will change when the people change, he said.

“I am more and more convicted with every passing day that our problems are God-sized problems that can only be solved by God,” Land said, adding, “The last great hope for America is Jesus Christ.”

It must start with personal revival that ripens into an awakening that culminates in a reformation, Land said.

I was 150 years ago that such a revival occurred in the United States, Land recounted. A businessmen’s luncheon organized by a layman at a Baptist church in Newark, N.J., in January 1858 sparked a yearlong revival that “spread like wildfire across the entire northern U.S.,” with 1 million people added to church rolls in the North, Land said. Many historians cite the revival as the most significant factor in the “improbable election” of Abraham Lincoln as president, he said.

“What happened is that God’s people got revived and lost people were saved and they applied the truths of Scripture to the moral evil in society,” Land said; most notably, Lincoln’s election ultimately led to the abolition of slavery.

“We have to have revival and I can think of no better way to usher it in than for Christians to participate in the 40/40 Prayer Vigil,” Land said. “In my 20 years at the commission, I can think of nothing which has excited me more and given me more hope for the future than this call to prayer.”

The trustees recognized Land for his two decades of service as head of the SBC’s entity for moral and religious liberty concerns during a dinner Sept. 16. Johnny Hunt, SBC president and pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church of Woodstock, was joined by Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in recapping Land’s accomplishments as ERLC president.

“We need to live what we believe,” Hunt said in his remarks at the dinner. “There could never have been a Great Commission resurgence had there not been a Conservative Resurgence. You have to have a message to take to the nations.”

Hunt recalled the late Adrian Rogers saying that in the 1970s Southern Baptists stood “shoulder to shoulder.”

“We knew the enemy; we faced him,” Hunt commented. “Today we are eyeball to eyeball. Until we are again shoulder to shoulder and realize God has placed us here with a message that we seem to have so much confidence in and begin to declare it with that same confidence — the world will yet to be won.”

The Southern Baptist Convention “stands in need as much for the touch of the hand of God as it has needed in a long time,” Hunt said.

Hunt said he is praying every morning for revival in his own life. He thanked Land for the 40/40 Prayer Vigil campaign, indicating his church would be participating in the effort.

Patterson saluted Land by describing Land as a “man of contradictions” — a “man of powerful convictions held in the crucible of an understanding of the necessity of religious liberty.”

“He has been the voice in the SBC for public affairs and for the cause of taking the ethical and moral claims of Scripture to the churches,” Patterson said. “God must have carved him out in heaven,” he said, noting that Land came to the then-Christian Life Commission at a time when the entity was “drifting badly left.”

“God knew we had to have a theologian who enjoyed the political arena,” Patterson said, acknowledging that these two attributes normally are antithetical.

“God made Dr. Land a theologian, church historian and a strict observer of public policy and a philosopher — all four in one person” who had “done the impossible” over the course of 20 years, Patterson said.

Patterson unveiled an artist’s rendering of the proposed building that will house the Richard Land Center for Culture Engagement and other offices on Southwestern’s campus.

The center will have two primary segments: one focused on apologetics, which is directed by William Dembski, and a section that “furthers a public policy perspective that is consummate with Holy Scripture and the truths of God.”

During last year’s meeting, ERLC trustees approved $32,000 in the 2007-08 ERLC budget to be designated as seed money for the establishment of the center where “students could be trained to become ethics leaders and teachers.”

“I have been honored and humbled to have had the privilege of serving the Lord and Southern Baptists through the ERLC for two decades,” Land told Baptist Press. “It has been a blessing beyond measure. I covet the prayers of Southern Baptists and all people of faith as together we seek to serve His Kingdom in the days ahead,” he said.

Trustees also expressed thanks to Hal Lane for his leadership in a unanimous show of support at the close of their meeting. Lane, who served as trustee chairman the last two years, concludes his current term as a trustee from South Carolina this year.

Lane said it had been a “tremendous privilege” to serve Southern Baptists as an ERLC trustee. Having previously served as a trustee from 1986-93, Lane recalled he was in the minority as a “conservative trustee” on the then-Christian Life Commission.

In fact, Lane was given permission by SBC messengers to the 1987 Southern Baptist Convention to give a minority report during the entity’s time to report to the convention.

“It was a very difficult time for the commission,” Lane said. He expressed appreciation to the current trustees for the “privilege of seeing a wonderfully harmonious productive board.” Lane said that over the last 30 years in the ministry he spent half of those years as a trustee for the ERLC or CLC.

“You are the fruit of the seeds we planted,” Lane told the trustees.

In other business, trustees:

— elected Jim Brown of Olive Branch, Miss., as trustee chairman; Ronnie Wilburn of Jackson, Tenn., as vice chairman; and Floyd Paris of Ashland, Ky., as secretary.

— posthumously bestowed on Russ Bush the ERLC’s John Leland Religious Liberty Award. Bush was professor of philosophy and academic dean at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as director of the school’s L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture until his death in January 2008, and he was a founding fellow of ERLC’s Research Institute.

— selected Dan Ireland as the recipient of the Richard D. Land Distinguished Service Award for 2008. Ireland, who retired in May after 30 years of service as president of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, is known both in Alabama and across the country as a champion for pro-family values.

— voted to recommend David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and William Dembski, research professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, as fellows of the ERLC’s Research Institute.

— approved a $3.458 million budget for the ERLC’s 2008-09 fiscal year, a 1.9 percent decrease from the previous year’s budget. Land said the ERLC, as the most Cooperative Program-dependent SBC entity, used conservative projections in building the budget, given the somewhat sluggish U.S. economy and its effect on CP growth.
Dwayne Hastings is a vice president with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

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