NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Richard Land announced January 21 he had listened to Southern Baptists and as a result was withdrawing his name from a diverse coalition established to monitor “mosque discrimination” in the U.S.
“While many Southern Baptists share my deep commitment to religious freedom and the right of Muslims to have places of worship, they also feel that a Southern Baptist denominational leader filing suit to allow individual mosques to be built is ‘a bridge too far,'” wrote Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in a letter to the Anti-Defamation League, which established the coalition. The ADL, founded in 1913, seeks to quell anti-Semitism through its programs and services.
Land said that after much prayer and thoughtful consideration he determined it was best that he resign from the ADL’s Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, explaining that his position with the SBC had both prophetic and representative elements. “Sometimes it is difficult to balance those two roles,” he said.
The coalition, comprised of prominent individuals from different faith traditions — Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Muslim and Jewish — was formed in September 2010 to assist those Muslim communities confronting opposition to the legal building, expansion or relocation of their places of worship.
Land stressed that while he is stepping aside from the ADL panel, he is not stepping aside from his commitment to religious liberty for all Americans.
“As Baptists, we believe in religious freedom, that is the right of people to the free exercise of their faith without interference from government authorities,” he said.
“Baptists have been victimized by such religious discrimination in the past. We should always remember that if we allow the government to discriminate against one religion today, they can discriminate against any or all religions tomorrow.”
Admitting he was surprised at some of the reaction from fellow Southern Baptists, he explained most of the negative responses at a minimum affirmed “everyone’s right to worship,” but drew the line at “denominational leaders filing suit in court to protect those rights when Muslims are the aggrieved party.”
Land said his involvement with the interfaith coalition was perceived by many as “crossing the line from defense of religious freedom to advocacy of, or promotion of, Islam itself.”
While Land said he disagreed with that perception, he added, “Southern Baptists have the oft-expressed right to form their own perceptions as well as the right to expect their denominational servant to be cognizant of them and to respect them.”
In the past, he said, he had been frustrated with Southern Baptist leaders who were not responsive to the will of their constituencies, saying he did not want to be counted among that number. “I serve Southern Baptists,” he said.
Dwayne Hastings is a vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.