Dear Southern Baptist Convention leaders,
Please pardon my intrusion into your affairs, but I wonder if it might not be time for some adult supervision of your representative in Washington, D.C.
When we last looked in on Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, he used an obscene Yiddish epithet to refer to the senior Democratic senator from New York and suggested that Hillary Rodham Clinton was a witch.
A religious official in any other denomination would have lost his job over insults like that, but it appears that Southern Baptist officials are as spineless as Land is shameless.
Pressure from outside the Convention – including (so I’m told) my column in EthicsDaily.com – finally forced Land to apologize for such defamatory remarks. Well, sort of. Land issued what I call a passive–voice apology, one that places the blame on the offended rather than the offender.
It’s a classic inside-the-Beltway ploy. A passive-voice apology is like a convicted hit-and-run driver saying, “I’m sorry if someone was hit by my speeding car,” rather than, “I sincerely apologize for my reckless and irresponsible driving.”
If memory serves, Land even managed in the wake of his anti-Semitic comments to attack those who suggested he was anti-Semitic for his use of anti-Semitic comments. Neat trick!
Now the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has set his sights on the president. On his radio program on July 16, Land charged that President Obama was “living like a playboy.”
“His White House is more expensive than any other White House,” Land said. “He’s traveled more on Air Force One than any president in history in the comparable time period. And his wife’s White House staff has been increased by tenfold. She has tenfold more people working for her than any other first lady in history. And all these czars that he’s appointed, the White House administrative budget is higher than it’s been under any other president.”
Problem is, the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission had his facts wrong. Way wrong.
According to independent sources, Michelle Obama’s office is no larger than Laura Bush’s. As for the “czars,” George W. Bush appointed more than Obama has, and Obama has traveled about a third less in his first two years in office.
The way it looks from here, well outside the Beltway, the president hasn’t had a day off in months. Aside from trying to reverse the devastating Bush Recession, he’s been busy dispatching Osama bin Laden, repairing America’s image in the eyes of the world and fixing the health-care mess.
Most recently, he’s spent an inordinate amount of time trying to dissuade congressional Republicans from detonating the economy.
That makes him a playboy?
Where did Land get his misinformation?
He didn’t say, but one wonders if the source was Glenn Beck, the former television host who was considered too irresponsible even for Fox News.
Politifact.com, which won a Pulitzer Prize for fact-checking, gave Beck’s claims its lowest rating: Pants on Fire.
But that didn’t deter Land from making his reckless charges.
Let’s see if I got this right. The SBC is now outsourcing its, well, sources to a discredited Mormon who is widely perceived as perhaps just a tad wacky.
Whether or not Mr. Land apologizes this time around – a true apology or a Beltway apology – a larger question lies at your feet, dear leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention.
We all understand that Land is a Religious Right messenger. That’s how he got his job, after all, and nothing short of a true evangelical conversion to Baptist principles (see Messrs. Clarke, Williams, Backus, Leland, Truett, Shurden, Dunn, Walker, et al.) will change that.
The real question is whether the SBC should continue to subsidize Land’s naked partisanship. Even if you set aside First Amendment considerations – and the First Amendment is hardly inconsiderable, especially to Baptists! – is it fair to ask the Southern Baptist faithful to continue subsidizing Land’s hit-and-run rants?
I suppose you might respond, “Well, yes, of course he’s a political agent, but he’s our political agent.”
True enough. But I suspect I’m not alone in believing that the reputation of the entire SBC – not to mention the integrity of the faith itself – has suffered from its association with Land.
And let’s pause here for a moment to consider the name of the agency headed by Land: the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. How is Land’s serial misbehavior consistent with Baptist – or anyone’s – ethical standards?
Do any of you, dear SBC leaders, seriously believe that Land has anything to teach any of us about ethics? Can I see a show of hands on that one?
Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest, is professor of American Religious History at Barnard College, Columbia University, and the author of “The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond.”