Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has been accused of plagiarism by a Baptist blogger.
Aaron Weaver, a doctoral student at Baylor University, posted a partial transcript of Land’s March 31 radio show in which Land quoted liberally from a March 29 Washington Times column written by Jeffrey Kuhner without attributing the quotes to him.
Land used Kuhner’s material about Trayvon Martin, the media and racism on his radio show – Richard Land Live! – often quoting entire paragraphs without attribution.
As an example of Land’s plagiarism, Weaver cited from Land’s broadcast an entire paragraph from Kuhner’s column: “The answer is simple: the victim’s skin color. Race-hustlers, such as Mr. Jackson, Mr. Sharpton, [and] Mr. Farrakhan, have made their careers – and lucrative fortunes – by fomenting racial grievances and demonizing the ‘white power structure.’ In their eyes, segregation has never been truly repealed; it has just become invisible. They need the Trayvon Martins to continue perpetuating their central myth: America is a racist and evil nation. For them, it’s always Selma, Ala., circa 1965.”
Land’s segment on Martin drew much attention from prominent African-American Southern Baptist leaders Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and Maxie Miller, an official with the Florida Baptist Convention.
In the segment, Land accused President Obama of “racial demagoguery.”
Miller, an expert in African-American church planting, told the Tennessean that Land’s words embarrassed him.
Because of the controversy, Weaver was planning on blogging about the backlash Land had created with his remarks.
“While I was listening (to Land’s show),” Weaver told EthicsDaily.com, “I was struck by a couple of phrases. Land used the word thereby. How often do you hear the word thereby on a talk radio program? I did a Google search for a couple of phrases and immediately landed on the Jeffrey Kuhner column in the Washington Times.”
Weaver discovered that in Land’s approximately 700-word segment on Trayvon Martin, nearly 400 of the words came verbatim from the Kuhner article. Land did not credit Kuhner or even mention his name or the name of the newspaper.
On the radio show’s website, Land linked to a “show notes” page that includes a link to Kuhner’s column.
At no point in the segment or the radio show was an explanation offered as to the relationship between Kuhner’s column and Land’s segment.
“I’m an author,” Weaver said. “I’m also working on my dissertation. I can’t write a 500-word essay, pull 300 words verbatim or nearly verbatim from someone else and simply include a short footnote at the bottom of the page. That’s not acceptable. That’s still plagiarism. Jeffrey Kuhner as a Washington Times columnist can’t do that either. Nor can any student at the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention. A seminarian who gets caught committing literary theft is disciplined.”
Robert Parham, executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, said the plagiarism actually worsened Land’s predicament.
“Richard Land’s plagiarism of a conservative columnist has triggered questions about his professional integrity and the Southern Baptist Convention’s real attitude toward people of color,” Parham said. “Had he not plagiarized, I believe his radio commentary would have been far less reckless and far more reasoned as a moral theologian. The words of another have created a moral double whammy.”
Land has a historyofusinginflammatoryrhetoric, including references to Nazis to describe his ideological opponents, sometimes apologizing and sometimes not, and even occasionally taking back apologies.
“Perhaps this will provide an opportunity for Southern Baptists to reflect on why their chief ethics spokesman day-in and day-out sounds much more like a GOP strategist than an actual Christian ethicist,” Weaver said.
Weaver said he believes Land should apologize, but suspects that he will not, calling Land a “talented politico who has mastered the art of spin.”
“When confronted with the backlash from prominent African-American Southern Baptist leaders, including the likely future SBC president Fred Luter, Land chose to double-down,” Weaver said. “He told Baptist Press that he stood by his words, which we now know were not originally his.”
In terms of what he thinks will actually happen with Land, Weaver is skeptical of any negative fallout.
“Land has been around a long time,” Weaver said. “He obviously knows his Southern Baptist constituency well. If Southern Baptists are willing to stand behind Land over these racially divisive and offensive comments, I’m sure they’ll find little difficulty justifying plagiarism on a radio program.”
EthicsDaily.com attempted to reach Land via his website for a comment. As of press time, there had been no response.
GregHorton is a freelance writer and adjunct professor of philosophy and humanities. He lives in Oklahoma City.