NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Comments by Richard Land about the Trayvon Martin killing “have angered many and opened wounds from the past,” the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s executive committee said in a statement released April 18.
The executive committee also noted concern that Land, the ERLC’s president, had used sources from other media without proper attribution during his weekly radio call-in show.
An ad hoc committee will “investigate the allegations of plagiarism and recommend appropriate action,” the ERLC executive committee said.
“The [ERLC] Executive Committee is very saddened that this controversy has erupted, and is very concerned about how these events may damage the work of the ERLC in support of Southern Baptists and in furtherance of the Kingdom of our Lord,” the six-member committee said.
Land, in a statement after the executive committee released its concerns, said: “I serve at the will of the trustees. I believe fervently in the trustee system of oversight. I am under their authority. That is why I initiated the conference call that led to this statement. I look forward to continuing to work with and under the oversight of my trustees, who have been elected by the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Land issued an open letter of apology the evening of April 16 for comments he voiced on his “Richard Land Live!” radio broadcast March 31 about the infusion of politics into the Trayvon Martin case. Earlier on April 16, Land issued an apology for material he failed to attribute on the radio show to a Washington Times columnist.
The ERLC trustee statement included expressions of regret alongside reminders of the race relations work of Land and the Southern Baptist entity he has led since 1988.
The executive committee stated its regret for “any harm that may have been done to race relations within the Southern Baptist Convention. The ERLC has worked very hard over many years to heal the wounds and scars of racism in our country and to realize the dream of complete equality among all races in the Southern Baptist Convention and in our nation.”
“It should be noted that Dr. Land himself has contributed materially to progress in the area of racial equality,” the ERLC executive committee continued. The statement said the trustees “repudiate any suggestion that Dr. Land, the ERLC, or the Southern Baptist Convention harbors racism in any form. We recognize that there is more work to do before the members of Southern Baptist congregations are as diverse as the citizens of our great nation. We and Dr. Land remain dedicated to that cause.”
Regarding the charge of plagiarism that circulated through the media in mid-April, the ERLC executive committee stated, “We expect Dr. Land and the ERLC to embody the highest moral and ethical standards, as befitting a group of people devoted to following Jesus Christ. Though the source citation standards prevailing among talk radio shows are different from those applicable to journalistic work or to scholarly work in the academic setting, we nevertheless agree with Dr. Land that he could, and should, do a better job in this area.”
In addition to trustee chairman Stephen Faith of Indiana, other members of the ERLC executive committee are Richard D. Piles, an Arkansas pastor; Donald L. Mason, a Georgia layman; Stephen W. Long, a director of missions in Ohio; Christopher L. Slaughter, a West Virginia layman; and Stephen G. Veteto, a Colorado seminary educator.
During his call-in show on March 31, Land said President Obama and black leaders such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson should not have been so quick to jump into the shooting death case of Martin, a 17-year-old African American, killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, a Hispanic, in Florida in February.
Land called Sharpton and Jackson “racial ambulance chasers” and accused Obama capitalizing on the case for political gain.
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.”
Land said Sharpton, Jackson and Louis Farrakhan have made careers from fomenting racial divides.
“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.”
The nation needs leaders “who calm us rather than inflame volatile situations,” Land added.
Maxie 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 said.
Still, Miller said he was “not disappointed and embarrassed about the convention. I’m disappointed and embarrassed about the comments one man made.”
New Orleans pastor Fred Luter, an African American who will be nominated for SBC president when the convention meets in June, responded to the Associated Press regarding Land’s comments, “It doesn’t help. That’s for sure.”
Several days later, following Land’s apology, Luter commended him.
“Our convention has made a lot of progress in the area of racial reconciliation and we want to continue this effort,” Luter told Baptist Press. “Dr. Land’s letter of apology will hopefully keep us on track. I accept his apology and will look forward to working with him and others within this convention to tear down the walls of racism in our great country.”
Land’s comments follow years of his advocating for racial progress within and without the denomination, Craig Mitchell, ethics professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press.
Mitchell, who is black, 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….”
“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.
The full text of Land’s April 16 apology for his Trayvon Martin comments follows:
Dr. Bryant Wright
Southern Baptist Convention
955 Johnson Ferry Road
Marietta, GA 30068
I am writing to express my deep regret for any hurt or misunderstanding my comments about the Trayvon Martin case have generated. It grieves me to hear that any comments of mine have to any degree set back the cause of racial reconciliation in Southern Baptist or American life. I have been committed to the cause of racial reconciliation my entire ministry. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister has been a personal hero of mine since I surrendered to the ministry in 1962.
When I was elected president of the then Christian Life Commission in 1988, I made it clear to the search committee and board of trustees that I was going to make racial reconciliation a top priority. I assumed office in October of 1988 and the first conference held under my administration was a racial reconciliation conference in January of 1989. As you know I was one of the progenitors of the racial reconciliation resolution our convention passed at our sesquicentennial in 1995.
I have rejoiced in the tremendous progress that has been made in racial reconciliation both in our convention and in American life. I rejoice in the prospect that one of our most admired leaders and pastors, Dr. Fred Luter, will in all likelihood be elected president of our convention in June.
I look forward to the day when our convention membership reflects the ethnic and demographic diversity of the general population, with no difference between Southern Baptists and the nation.
Clearly, I overestimated the progress that has been made in slaying the ugly racist ghosts of the past in our history. I also clearly underestimated the extent to which we must go out of our way not to be misunderstood when we speak to issues where race is a factor.
Please know that I apologize to any and all who were hurt or offended by my comments. I will certainly recommit myself to seeking to address controversial issues with even more sensitivity in the future.
Yours in his service,