June 2012 Church & State | People & Events

Richard Land, head of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, came under fire in April after repeating racially charged comments without attribution to the original source.

Land, speaking on his radio show, weighed in on the case of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American youth who was shot to death in Sanford, Fla., Feb. 26 after he was confronted by George Zimmerman, who was patrolling the neighborhood. Zimmerman was not immediately charged with a crime, although he since has been.

The incident captured headlines around the nation, and marches were held in several cities on behalf of Martin’s family.

Land blasted activists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who spoke out on the matter. He described them as “racial ambulance chasers” who fostered a “mob mentality.”

Added Land, “This situation is getting out of hand. There is going to be violence. When there is violence, it’s going to be Jesse Jackson’s fault. It’s going to be Al Sharpton’s fault. It’s going to be Louis Farrakhan’s fault, and to a certain degree it’s going to be President Obama’s fault.”

The SBC official went on to say, “They need Trayvon Martins to continue perpetuating their central myth: America is a racist and an evil nation. For them it’s always Selma, Ala., circa 1965.”

Land’s problems began after a Baptist blogger named Aaron Weaver noted that Land had lifted portions of his commentary from a Washington Times column by Jeffrey Kuhner. Weaver discovered that Land had taken other material from Investor’s Business Daily and a Washington Examiner editorial. Land had not attributed any of this material.

Land apologized for the plagiarism, explaining that he pulls material from many sources for his program and that the articles he draws from are posted on his website.

In all of the controversy over Land lifting material, the racially charged overtones of what he said tended to get overlooked. But critics soon scored Land for that as well, and he was forced to issue another apology.

Land was criticized by the Rev. Fred Luter, a pastor in New Orleans who is expected to become the SBC’s first elected black president this month. Luter called Land’s rant “unhelpful.”

In response, Land issued an open letter of apology stating, “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.” 

In other Religious Right news:

• Religious Right leader Charles W. Colson, who played a major role in pushing evangelical Christians toward right-wing politics, died April 21 at age 80.

Although never as prominent nationally as TV preachers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, Colson played a key role in the emergence of the Religious Right as a political force. He also worked doggedly to forge ties between the mostly Protestant Religious Right and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.

Colson told a Southern Baptist pastors conference in June 2007 that Christians’ purpose must be “to take command and dominion over every aspect of life, whether it’s music, science, law, politics, communities, families – to bring Christianity to bear in every single area of life.”

• Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia and a business associate of TV preacher Pat Robertson, was found guilty of crimes against humanity April 26 for his involvement in a civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone during the 1990s.

Taylor was convicted by a United Nations-backed special court on 11 counts of aiding murder, rape, terror and conscription of child soldiers and sex slaves. He was accused of supporting vicious rebels in Sierra Leone during that country’s 1991-2002 civil war, in return receiving a payoff in diamonds.

Robertson’s relationship with Taylor goes back to 1999 when the Christian Coalition founder’s for-profit Freedom Gold Ltd. sought rights to mine for gold in Liberia. If any gold was found, 10 percent would go to the Liberian government, a policy that in effect would have put it into Taylor’s pocket.

Robertson’s name came up during the trial. Under questioning, Taylor said Robertson promised to advocate for the Liberian government with officials in Washington, and he claimed the TV preacher personally intervened with then-President George W. Bush.