Land praying for seamless ERLC transition

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Addressing trustees of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission during their yearly meeting in Nashville, Tenn., retiring ERLC President Richard D. Land said he is praying for “as seamless a transition as possible” as trustees seek his replacement.

The Houston native announced last summer his plans to retire in October 2013 after what will have been 25 years leading the SBC ethics and social concerns agency.

“I have already begun to pray daily for the search committee. I know you are going to be open to the Holy Spirit’s leadership,” Land told the board members gathered at the SBC Executive Committee building, which houses the ERLC’s Nashville office, on Sept. 11.

Before addressing trustees, Land paused for prayer for the families of 9/11 victims on the 11th anniversary of the attacks in New York and Washington D.C.

Search committee chairman Barry Creamer of Dallas told the TEXAN after the meeting that the committee has held two teleconferences in addition to its meeting during the trustee gathering in Nashville and would have a website linked to beginning in October that would include updates in the search process.

Creamer said he couldn’t give details of the meetings except to say that the two teleconferences were more than an hour long.

“We’ve been pretty active in defining how we are going to come at the process. We’re optimistic and confident in God. It’s very positive,” he said.

The search committee met in executive session with the full board on Sept. 12.

He told trustees that he senses the Lord’s release from his assignment to the ERLC, noting a difference between the calling to a ministry assignment and the call to the gospel ministry—the latter being a lifelong assignment, he said.

He began preaching at age 16 and will soon be 66, he said.

“I’ve been at the ERLC half my entire ministry … and it has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime to serve the Lord and his people called Southern Baptists through the ERLC,” Land told the trustees.

He recounted being one of three candidates for the then-Christian Life Commission presidency in 1988 and being doubtful of his chances, telling trustees that he had it on good authority that he was initially the third choice of the search committee. An offer to go to work in the George H.W. Bush administration was on the table—provided Bush was elected later that year in his run against Democrat nominee Michael Dukakis. Land had earlier taken leave from Criswell College to serve Texas Gov. Bill Clements for more than a year.

“I think they are going to select one of the other candidates and I think we are going to Washington,” Land recalled telling his wife, Becky.

When that CLC search committee, meeting at a Dallas hotel, called Land to see if he and Becky Land could meet them for dinner, a surprised Land scrambled for a babysitter and found a willing one in Paige Patterson, then Criswell College president.

When the search committee told him of their desire to nominate him for the job, “I was stunned. My wife was stunned. I took it as providential and we came,” Land recalled.

He took over a Christian Life Commission that had been a key player in the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, much against the grain of rank-and-file Southern Baptists.

Despite differences with Valentine’s views on many issues, Land recalled his enthusiasm for the agency growing up as a teenager in early 1960s Houston, as Valentine led the CLC to be “on the right side of the race issue when too much of Southern Baptist life and too much of American life was on the wrong side.”

Land said Valentine, who died in 2008, should be commended for his work on race relations.
“And I’m grateful for the role that God has allowed us to play in perpetuating that, to the racial reconciliation resolution in 1995, which was a step in a long journey.”

“We’ve now made another step. And I rejoice that Dr. Fred Luter has been elected president of our Southern Baptist Convention,” Land said. “That a convention that was born in slavery, one that endorsed, by and large, segregation, becomes a place where God could change our hearts to a place that we are now the most ethnically diverse denomination in the country, and [that] we have now elected our first African American president is a trophy of God’s grace, a monument to the fact that God does change hearts. But we haven’t arrived, That’s another step in the process.”

Land said the denomination must strive to reflect the demographic makeup of America and he said he believes Luter will help the SBC do that.

Racial reconciliation will be a significant focus of the ERLC’s work in 2013, Land added.

In briefing trustees on the past year’s activities, Land said the agency had engaged more than 70 different cultural and political issues through, sent 122 unique letters to government leaders on varied topics, addressed 51 bills and legislative actions, and worked with 32 distinct coalitions to support biblical values.

Before the 112th Congress, the ERLC staff has spoken on a range of social issues dealing with bioethics, the environment, government debt, religious liberty and human rights.

Among them: taxpayer-funded abortions, federal funding of the United Nations Population Fund, which supports China’s one-child policy, freedom of conscience for healthcare workers in the new healthcare mandate, repeal of the healthcare law, and traditional marriage.

The ERLC, Land said, is also on record supporting laws denying entry into the country of Chinese government officials or those guilty of human rights abuses, and opposing patent reform that would allow the potential patenting of human genes.

Between Land, Barrett Duke, vice president for research and public policy, and other staff members, the agency gave 351 news interviews with a potential audience of 4.5 billion people, Land told trustees.

Also, the agency will be promoting the “Million Man Porn-Free Campaign,” led by Florida pastor Jay Dennis with materials published by the WMU. The materials and a website should be available in time for churches to use by fall 2013 with plans to showcase the campaign at the SBC annual meeting next June in Houston.

Pornography is a scourge “as lethal a threat to the family, as lethal a threat to the country as anything that we face, and it is probably destroying more lives every day even than abortion,” Land said.

He told trustee the average age for American boys to first view hard-core pornography has dropped from about age 16 a decade ago to around age 11.  

“Now it wouldn’t do anybody in this room any good to be exposed to hard-core pornography, but it would do none of us as much damage as it would an 11-year-old boy. We cannot afford to not talk about this in our churches. We’re being bombarded with it through the Internet,” Land related.

“Personally, I believe the devil has figured out that the most powerful weapon in his arsenal to destroy Christians’ lives and Christian families is pornography—Internet pornography.”

Land said Dennis has included age-appropriate materials for boys and teenagers as well as girls, men and women.

“I’ve seen this material, I’ve been thought it. I can tell you it’s great material, biblically based, and is age appropriate,” Land said.

Also reporting to trustees, Duke, the Washington-based vice president for public policy and research, said a party platform comparison guide pulled directly from both major party platforms would soon be available at the ERLC’s website. Duke said the document would include only those issues that both parties have addressed.

The ERLC, through its Psalm 139 Project and in cooperation with the Louisiana Baptist Convention, has been able to place an ultrasound machine in New Orleans. Donors gave $17,000 toward it. The project is being promoted on the Web through and its Facebook page. In addition to New Orleans, the Psalm 139 Project has been able to place sonogram machines at Riverside Pregnancy Center in Highland, Calif., Choices for Women Resource Center in New Albany, Ind., Central Texas Life Care in San Marcos, Texas, and Florida Baptist Children’s Homes in Lakeland, Fla.

In their business session, the trustees:

  • approved a 2012-13 operating budget of $3,259,487, a slight increase over the $3,108,170 in the last fiscal year. Annually, The ERLC receives 1.65 percent of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program budget, the lowest percentage of any SBC entity.
  • named three men with Texas ties as fellows at the ERLC’s Research Institute. They are ERLC trustee Barry Creamer, vice president of academic affairs and professor of humanities at Criswell College in Dallas; Trey Dimsdale, research associate at the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement; and Evan Lenow, assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern Seminary.
  • voted to grant Land, upon his retirement, the title “president emeritus.” The title carries no voting authority or monetary compensation.
  • approved from surplus funds a $250,000 grant to the Land Center for Cultural Engagement upon Land’s retirement next year. The center will be housed at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. The gift is given in honor of Land’s 25 years of service at the ERLC and includes approximately $100,000 previously designated for the center by the trustees. Established in 2007, the center encourages the study and research of ethics, public policy and other cultural issues.
  • named Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, recipients of the John Leland Religious Liberty Award for 2012. Nadarkhani spent more than 1,000 days in prison for his Christian faith and refused to renounce Jesus Christ in the face of threatened execution. He was freed Sept. 8. Dolan was prominent in opposing the federal healthcare law’s requirement that religious institutions provide insurance coverage for things that conflict with their religious convictions.
  • named Southern Baptist and Louisiana native Tony Perkins, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, as 2012 recipient of the Richard D. Land Distinguished Service Award. Perkins has been an outspoken advocate for traditional values.
  • elected new board officers. The new trustee chairman is Richard Piles, pastor of First Baptist Church of Camden, Ark. Stephen Long of the Northwest Baptist Association in Toledo, Ohio, was elected vice chairman, and Lynn Fruechting, a physician from Newton, Kan., was elected secretary.
TEXAN Correspondent
Jerry Pierce
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