WASHINGTON (BP)–Just when you think no one is paying attention, out of left field comes this.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s positions on racial reconciliation and the family received an unexpected hearing Nov. 28 on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”
SBC executive Richard Land and Jerry Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., a Southern Baptist church, joined Al Sharpton, a well-known civil rights activist who sought the 2004 Democratic nomination for president, and Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine.
During the program, which focused on religion, politics and moral values, the show’s host, Tim Russert, noted while the four panelists might be interested in finding “common ground,” there are differences in viewpoints and he wanted to see “just how profound they are.”
Then on the screen appeared a carefully excerpted section of the “Article on the Family” from the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs: “… A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband…. She … has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household….”
Russert asked Land if his “vision for America” was families where the wife had to have her husband’s permission to work outside the home.
“It’s my vision for Christian families. I don’t think that the law has anything to do with it,” responded Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
He commented in the interview that Russert seemed to be implying that because of the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement on the family, which Land helped draft, “We were going to try to impose our understanding of the family and our understanding of the biblical teachings about husbands’ and wives’ relationships on the culture.
“This is a theological statement about our understanding of the biblical ideal for the family and for marriage,” Land told Baptist Press the day after his Meet the Press appearance. “We would never seek, nor would we think it appropriate, to have legislation in regard to these issues.”
Land also noted in the quote from the Baptist Faith and Message that was aired, “They left out all the parts about servant leadership of the husband. The ellipsis managed to take away most of the obligations of the husband, which are the dominant force of the article in the confessional statement.”
He also pointed out that in framing the question, Russert focused on a statement Land made in a press conference in response to the query: “Does that mean a woman can’t work outside the home?”
“My response to that questioner, who was opposed to parts on the article of the family was, ‘No, she can work outside the home unless her husband does not wish her to because that would be outside the headship of her husband.’ Then I said, ‘This is a husband who loves his wife in the same manner that Christ loved the Church and is always going to put his wife’s needs before his own.’”
Land told Russert that his own wife, who has a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy, has worked outside the home since the family’s youngest daughter started kindergarten. “That is an individual decision that should be made within families,” Land said. “That was our mutual choice.”
In fact, a few years ago one of Land’s SBC colleagues told Land his wife shouldn’t be working outside the home. He said he told the individual in “Christian love” it was “none of his business.”
He said those who take issue with the article on the family have a beef with the Apostle Paul, not Southern Baptists. “We could have been accused of plagiarizing the Apostle Paul,” Land said, adding, “The statement came straight from Ephesians chapter 5.”
The SBC adopted the article in 1998 because the family is in crisis, Land said, explaining it is common for Baptists to issue confessions of faith when a crisis is at hand.
“It was time for Baptists to remind themselves and tell the world what we believe the Bible says about the family,” he continued. “That’s what we did.”
Earlier in the Meet the Press program, during a contentious discussion over who has the right to impose their morality on others, Sharpton repeatedly told Land that Martin Luther King Jr. had to “fight your convention” for the passage of civil rights laws.
Land agreed that while many Southern Baptists, including the leadership of the then-Christian Life Commission, courageously did support integration and civil rights legislation, far too many Southern Baptists opposed the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
However, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in June 1995 adopted a groundbreaking resolution in which they apologized “for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime.”
That fact didn’t seem to satisfy Sharpton, who told Land he was still “fighting your convention” to keep civil liberties for all people.
“What I wish I had time to say, is that there are three-quarters of a million African American Southern Baptists now,” he said during the BP interview.
In commenting on the program, Land noted that Sharpton was trying to “race bait,” accusing Land and all other Southern Baptists of being opposed to integration and still wanting to strip many Americans of their civil rights.
Yet Land said he was taught at home that racism was not only wrong but also sinful.
“I supported the civil rights movement,” Land told Baptist Press, noting Martin Luther King Jr. is a personal hero. Land said he watched King’s 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial on television when he was 16 years old.
King “took Christian morality into the marketplace,” Land said, explaining he learned from King’s speech that to “philosophically say racism is wrong and sinful is not enough; I have to be proactive in resisting the evil that is segregation.”
Land said it changed his life and directed his ministry — he had surrendered to the ministry just a month earlier. “I have no excuse but to take action” on this and other moral issues, he noted, saying he keeps a copy of King’s famous letter written while he was confined to the Birmingham jail in his study.