Editor’s Note: Also read Brian Kaylor’s previous coverage of the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference: Religious Conservatives Cheer Trump at Conference and Huntsman Avoids “Faith” Questions at Evangelical Event.
At a conservative Christian conference designed to flex political muscle, a top Southern Baptist leader joined other conservative Christian activists in claiming that U.S. evangelical Christians are the main victims of religious bigotry.
Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, spoke on a panel at the second annual conference of the Faith & Freedom Coalition (FFC). The FFC is a conservative Christian political organization founded by former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed.
Joining Land on the panel titled “Fighting Religious Bigotry” were Tim Goeglein (a vice president at Focus on the Family Action, a political offshoot of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family) and Colby May (a lawyer at the American Center for Law & Justice, which was founded by Pat Robertson).
The bulk of Land’s remarks involved telling a single story. Land recalled a conference in Canada at which a fellow speaker noted statistics showing American evangelicals were more likely to drive SUVs, own handguns and have households where the father is considered the head of the family.
“So he said,” Land recalled the individual joking after noting the statistics, “‘the picture you have is of a husband, of a father who holds a gun on his family, forces them to get into the SUV and go to church on Sunday.'”
Land then recounted that he then got up, admitted he owned firearms, attacked the individual for displaying “blatant bigotry” and criticized the audience for laughing when they would not allow similar things to be said “about any other group, other than perhaps Roman Catholics.”
“Guess what, your prejudices are showing and it’s my job to point them out to you,” Land said he added as he scolded the Canadian audience.
Land ended his remarks at that conference by urging those in the audience to stand up and critique people when they make bigoted remarks about evangelicals and other Christians.
Goeglein of Focus on the Family Action spoke after Land. Goeglein, who served as a special assistant for President George W. Bush, spoke as Bush’s representative to multiple Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings.
He resigned his White House post after being caught for plagiarizing in nearly two dozen different columns he had written.
Goeglein claimed that at many college campuses, Christians are afraid to “speak openly and publicly” about their faith because of the “implications” of admitting to being a Christian.
“I think we all know in this room that that is the case, it is just the case,” Goeglein added.
Goeglein, who mostly spoke about Christian influence in American history and life, argued that bigotry against Christians is “literally common in American life today.”
“I think all of us – left, right, center – would admit … this is just a fact of life,” he added.
The third panelist, May of the American Center for Law and Justice, primarily talked about various court cases where he believed Christian beliefs and practices were under attack.
At one point, May moved from attacking those he claimed were trying to remove Christianity from the public square to attacking some for bringing their Christian beliefs into public policy decisions.
He mocked the efforts of the interdenominational Christian effort “Circle of Protection,” which is an attempt to protect the priorities of the poor during congressional budget debates over which programs to cut.
May did not reconcile his criticism of Christians he disagreed with politically with his claim that Christians should be allowed to bring their faith into the public square.
Some of the panelists struggled to maintain their attention as the session continued. Moderator Steve Martin, a Republican state senator in Virginia, at one point buried his face in his hands. Similarly, Land on several occasions appeared to nod off.
A couple of questions were asked of panelists after presentations were over. One attendee asked panelists if they really thought conservative Christians were the main victims of religious bigotry in America, especially in light of other religious groups claiming they are the true victims.
“Well, one difference is we’re the majority!” Land said to laughter. “And it seems like everyone has special rights except the majority.”
“The only people who don’t think that evangelical Christians are discriminated against are people who aren’t evangelical Christians,” Land added.
Land said the problem was that a small minority of “secular elites are trying to discriminate against and to suppress the rights of what is the majority.” As an example, he said most Americans want prayer in school, yet it is not allowed because of “secular elites.”
Land’s remarks – and those of Goeglein and May – fit with Land’s spotty record on issues involving the religious liberty rights of minority groups.
Earlier this year, Land quit a group created by the Anti-Defamation League to defend the religious rights of Muslims and joined the efforts to stop the construction of an Islamic cultural center in New York City.
Last year, Land was appointed to another term on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The commission, which monitors religious freedom rights in other countries, is facing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed by a Muslim who alleges the commission discriminates against Muslims.
After the panel, Land spoke during a plenary session of the FFC event, along with nearly every single Republican presidential hopeful: Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
Rather than looking persecuted, the audience acted quite triumphantly as candidates showed up as if on a pilgrimage. Perhaps Land’s declaration at the close of the panel – “We’re the majority!” – resonated with audience members as they assessed the presidential hopefuls.
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.