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World at risk if U.S. allows freedom to dim, Land tells trustees

NASHVILLE (BP)–The United States is in the middle of a crisis that threatens to impact the whole of western civilization, Richard Land told the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s trustees Sept. 16.

The ERLC president said a crisis of conscience has some U.S. citizens backing off the nation’s longstanding willingness to stand up and defend freedom and help expand the blessings of freedom around the world. “They are turning their back on the commitment embodied in the Declaration of Independence that says, ‘We believe that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,'” Land said.

If not for the United States, religious liberty would not be an issue of concern for most countries or the United Nations, Land told the trustees during their annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

“The only reason anybody in the world goes to bed at night with any degree of freedom and dignity is because of the United States of America and its citizens’ willingness to stand up not only for their own rights and liberty but for the lives, dignity and liberty of others,” said Land, who was recently re-appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom by President George W. Bush.

There is an ongoing debate about whether that is an innate human right, Land said, referring to calls by some for America and her allies to abandon Iraq, Afghanistan and the whole of the Middle East. “There are many people who should know better who are arguing that the Arab world doesn’t really want freedom and doesn’t really understand freedom. Our president is saying that is nonsense,” said Land, who assumed the top spot of the ERLC in 1988.

“They said the same thing about the Japanese until the Japanese had the opportunity to have freedom and democracy. They said the same thing about the Germans until the Germans had the opportunity to have freedom and democracy,” Land continued. “It is an universal, inherent longing of the human heart that, given the opportunity, people want freedom and the right to follow their conscience.

“If we lose our will to stand for that, a lot more is at peril than just the freedom of Americans,” he said. Many Americans would rather just live their lives and let world affairs take their natural course, but, he said, because of the providence of God, the United States is what Abraham Lincoln called the last great hope of humankind.

Saying the United States might be in the midst of a “spiritual crisis” as well, Land said that while there are signs the nation may be in the early stages of a great spiritual awakening, he also sees indices that suggest the church at Laodicea may well be at hand. “It is a dramatic picture in the 3rd chapter of Revelation that has Jesus literally standing outside His own church and knocking on the door,” Land said. “Jesus was literally locked out of His own church,” Land said, lamenting that the picture resembles some contemporary mainstream churches in America.

The Christian’s job is to be faithful and to follow Jesus, Land said. “I see both signs of encouragement and reasons for concern. Jesus has commanded us to be salt and light and that is the heart of the ERLC, encouraging Christians to be salt and light. We do not believe in an abstract view of life. Christianity is a concrete individual view of life. We follow an individual; we don’t follow an abstract idea. We follow the Lord Jesus Christ who transforms each one of us individually. He is in the life-changing business, not the abstract idea-changing business,” Land said

There is nothing being done in the Southern Baptist Convention that is more important than what is being done at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Land told the trustees, while acknowledging there are other groups involved in ministry just as important, but none more important.

Trustees marked Land’s 15th anniversary as head of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (formerly the Christian Life Commission) during a luncheon Sept. 16. A video celebrating Land’s tenure as president of the commission featured taped appearances by SBC notables, including Jack Graham, SBC president and pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas; Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Robert E. Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board; and Adrian Rogers, former SBC president and pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, bringing congratulations to Land on his service to Southern Baptists.

Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC’s Executive Committee, and James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources, were in attendance. Letters of congratulations from U.S. President George W. Bush and Tennessee’s U.S. Senators Bill Frist and Lamar Alexander were among those received and read at the gathering.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to be able to serve Southern Baptists these past 15 years at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission,” Land said, noting he was more humbled than anything else about what had been said about him.

“Any success I have had, the primary honor goes to the Lord Jesus Christ,” he continued, saying he believed the greatest years of the Southern Baptist Convention are in the future. “When you are privileged to serve as an SBC entity head, you get to know what a great people of God Southern Baptists are,” Land said.

Trustee chairman Dale Wallace saluted Land for being a “consistent voice in society annunciating biblical truth.” He said in marking Land’s 15th anniversary trustees wanted to honor Land for his work “as one of God’s primary watchman for spiritual values in this country.”

“The board meeting gave trustees an opportunity for trustees to review the ERLC’s outstanding accomplishments of the past year,” Wallace added during an interview after the meeting. “The commission addresses the most important and difficult cultural issues of our day.”

“I am grateful that the ERLC has been called by the Southern Baptist Convention to help bring about the biblically based transformation of families, communities and the nation,” Land said. “I don’t see that happening without active and energetic involvement by Southern Baptists.”

In other business, trustees:

— surprised Land by selecting him to receive the commission’s 2003 Distinguished Service Award, then moved forward in renaming the award for Land himself. Land said it was a “tremendous and humbling honor” to have the award named for him.

— announced the first recipient of Richard D. Land Distinguished Service Award as Claude Witt, a former ERLC trustee and retired executive director of the Kentucky League for Alcohol and Gambling Problems. “I could not be more delighted that the first recipient of the Richard D. Land Distinguished Service Award is Claude Witt,” Land said, noting Witt has “labored tirelessly in the Lord’s vineyard for truth and justice.”

— awarded U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kansas, the ERLC’s John Leland Religious Liberty Award for 2003. Land called Brownback the “poster child for conviction politics” in Washington, D.C., because of his principled stands on public policy issues critical to America’s families.

— signed off on a $3.3 million budget for the ERLC’s 2003-04 fiscal year. While the budget reflects no growth from last year’s budget, the new budget amount is more than 5 percent above estimated actual receipts for the current budget year.

— praised Land and the ERLC for seeking out cooperative agreements with other ministries to work toward the commission’s goals. Commission staffers announced strategic alliances with Church Initiatives, who partnered with the ERLC in developing the new “Chance to Change” video series aimed at helping problem gamblers and their families (www.chancetochange.org); American Tract Society; Tyndale House Publishers, who jointly publish the ERLC’s monthly “Faith & Family” bulletin insert; Parable Group, the backbone of the ERLC’s online bookstore (www.familybookstore.net); and Bsafe Online, an Internet filter provider (www.bsafeonline.com/family). Trustee chairman Wallace encouraged the staff to continue to explore ways to “lock arms” with other ministries in these strategic alliances, saying the partnerships allow the ERLC to distribute more efficiently critical Bible-based content on moral and ethical issues.

— approved the creation of an executive vice president position for the ERLC and tapped Harold Harper, who heads up the ERLC’s broadcast ministry, to fill the EVP slot. Land said Harper will continue to have responsibility for the broadcast area and will foster an important synergy in pursuit of the organization’s vision of an “American society that affirms and practices Judeo-Christian values.” Complimenting Harper for his six years of “ground-breaking” service at the SBC entity, Land said Harper adds an important element as a “strategic thinker” to the entity’s work. He said given Harper’s expertise, the new position would allow the ERLC to broaden its reach and maximize its resources.

— named Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Doug Blount, assistant dean for ethics and philosophical studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as fellows on the ERLC’s Research Institute. The research institute serves to advise and assist the ERLC in equipping Southern Baptists and others in the areas of ethics, morality and public policy.

— re-elected Dale Wallace of Birmingham, Ala., as trustee chairman and Bruce Crawford of Clearwater, Fla., as vice chairman. Jean Hughes of Riceland, Wash., was chosen to serve the board as secretary.

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  • Dwayne Hastings