A Southern Baptist Convention official who usually attacks Muslims and makes derogatory remarks about Islam recently offered his support for a report urging greater dialogue with the adherents of the world’s second largest religion. The following day, however, he returned to his approach of rejecting dialogue as he attacked Christians attempting to increase understanding between the faiths.
Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, frequently offers contradictory approaches about how to engage Muslims. At times he calls for more dialogue and attempts to understand Muslims, while on other occasions he attacks the idea of dialogue and makes inaccurate statements about Muslims.
On Sept. 24, Land was among those on the U.S.-Muslim Engagement Project that released a report calling for greater interaction between Muslims and Americans in order to increase understanding of each other and reduce conflict.
The following day, however, Land spoke at a rally protesting a dinner hosted by Christian groups that sought to increase understanding between Muslims and Christians and to reduce conflict.
The U.S.-Muslim Engagement Project released its report entitled “Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World.” Land joined former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Harvard psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, former U.S. Special Middle East Envoy and Negotiator Dennis Ross, and others in drafting the statement as part of an 18-month effort. Land offered his support for the report.
“Polls show there is a huge lack of understanding of Americans in the Muslim world. We need to broaden and deepen the understanding on both sides,” stated Land. “The U.S.-Muslim Engagement Project will galvanize every aspect of American society to engage the Muslim society.”
“This initiative is a serious, comprehensive, bipartisan effort that seeks to address a critical problem: The world Muslim community misunderstands Americans and Americans misunderstand them,” added Land. “This initiative lays out a detailed and comprehensive plan to vastly decrease that misunderstanding through a multi-faceted approach that will build constructive bridges of mutual understanding between Americans and the Muslim world.”
The report offers four primary goals: using “diplomacy as the primary tool for resolving conflicts involving Muslim countries”; promoting “civic participation in Muslim countries”; assisting with “job-creating growth in Muslim countries”; and increasing “mutual respect and understanding between Americans and Muslims around the world.”
The report also calls on U.S. leaders to “prohibit all forms of torture” and to engage in dialogue “with Iran to explore the potential for agreements that could increase regional security.”
Land, a strong proponent of the U.S. military action in Iraq, emphasized the diplomatic focus of the report.
“By changing our approach, we will also help reverse the widespread perception of Muslims around the world that the U.S. is engaged in a ‘war on Islam,'” added Land.
The following day, however, Land publicly condemned diplomatic efforts designed to increase understanding between Americans and Muslims and to reduce the likelihood of further conflict with Muslim nations. He offered his remarks as part of an opposition to a dialogue being held with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Land spoke at a rally protesting the dinner and dialogue sponsored by Christian groups and including Christian, Jewish and Muslim speakers. The dialogue event was sponsored American Friends Service Committee, Mennonite Central Committee, Quaker United Nations Office, Religions for Peace, and World Council of Churches.
Land called the event a “disgraceful meeting” and attacked the Christians involved for “channeling the spirit of Neville Chamberlain” by engaging in appeasement efforts.
“I am appalled at the moral obtuseness of people,” added Land. “We condemn those useful idiots who help his [Ahmadinejad’s] evil causes by their witless complicity in meeting with him.”
On the Sept. 27, 2008, broadcast of his radio program, “Richard Land Live!,” Land continued to attack the dialogue. He inaccurately claimed that Ahmadinejad was “the guest of honor” at the event. He also reiterated his attack on the event as appeasement. Later in the broadcast, Land attacked the Christians who hosted the event as “a bunch of pinheads.”
Land’s comments on Sept. 24 and 27 are not the only contradictions in his record concerning engagement on Iran. On previous occasions, he both urged and opposed efforts to dialogue with Muslims.
In his book The Divided States of America, Land attempted to depict himself as a voice of moderation between extreme liberals and conservatives. In the book he adopted a tone toward Muslims that more closely resembled the approach urged in the report by U.S.-Muslim Engagement Project than that which Land offered in his protest speech.
On radio programs and in other public statements, Land has more frequently embodied an approach to Muslim engagement that stands at odds with the new report he helped draft.
After controversial remarks about Muslims were made by evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham and Jerry Vines, Land on a couple of occasions said he disagreed with the comments but refused to condemn them. He even rebuffed efforts by the Council on American-Islam Relations in seeking an apology.
Land has made derogatory comments on his radio programs and mockingly referred to Ahmadinejad as “Abba-dabba-doo.”
Land argued during the Aug. 28, 2007, episode of “Richard Land Live” that “modern Christians have rejected coercion in matters of faith and have rejected coercion in matters of conscience, and Islam has not. In many ways, Islam is still medieval in its mindset.”
Land even suggested that there were no “peaceful Muslims” since he did not believe there were any Muslims protesting terrorism. He argued that until he saw moderate Muslims speaking out against terrorism, he would not “take Islam as a peaceful religion seriously.” Despite Land’s claims, American Muslims leaders have often offered their strong condemnation of terrorist attacks.
Land’s comments about Muslims stand in stark contrast to the approach advocated in the U.S.-Muslim Engagement Project report that Land helped draft. In particular, the report identifies the false perception among many Americans that a majority of Muslims support terrorism.
“There is a critical need for us to learn about our many common values, to overcome stereotypes and misperceptions, and to discuss areas of difference and disagreement with respect,” reads the report.
The report also called on “denominational leaders” to engage in “interfaith dialogue and action to promote mutual respect among the Abrahamic faiths.”
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com.
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Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.