As Richard Land, embattled head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), faced Southern Baptist messengers yesterday for the first time since his controversial and plagiarized racial remarks, he quickly glossed over the issue.
Land’s refusal to engage the issue came even as some messengers urged the SBC to further repudiate Land’s remarks.
In March, Land made headlines across the country after he made controversial racial remarks regarding the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager in Florida.
The following month, Land again found himself criticized in news outlets across the nation after Baptist blogger Aaron Weaver discovered Land plagiarized much of his remarks on the Martin case.
Earlier this month, the ERLC trustees concluded their investigation by issuing two “reprimands” of Land and cancelling his weekly radio program “Richard Land Live!”
As Land spoke during the ERLC’s report on Tuesday at the SBC annual meeting, Land briefly mentioned his controversial remarks.
However, he focused his remarks on the process of the investigation into his actions rather than the content of what he said.
“Let me just speak briefly about another elephant in the room – the charges of plagiarism and racially insensitive and inadvertent remarks by me,” Land said. “I’ve said on many occasions I believe in trustee oversight and governance. I am under the authority of the trustees elected by you, the Southern Baptist Convention. I’m tremendously appreciative of this whole process and that it was conducted in a Christian manner by Christian gentlemen with the best interests of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention and its ministry foremost in all of our hearts.”
After addressing the process of the investigation, Land quickly changed the subject to discuss the election of the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Earlier on Tuesday, New Orleans pastor Fred Luter was elected to the post without opposition.
“Through all of this, it has been my prayer that nothing I have said or done would detract from the historic election of our convention’s first African-American president,” Land said. “Today was as truly a historic moment as Southern Baptist life will ever experience.”
After discussing the ERLC’s efforts toward racial reconciliation, Land presented Luter with the ERLC’s Distinguished Service Award.
Although Land treated his comments as an issue already settled, not all messengers appeared to agree.
Todd Littleton, pastor of Snow Hill Baptist Church in Tuttle, Okla., made a motion to have the SBC officially repudiate Land’s remarks and affirm the ERLC’s reprimands.
“I move the Southern Baptist Convention publicly agree with Dr. Richard Land when on May 9, 2012, he acknowledged his words regarding the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman incident were harmful, thereby repudiating the notion Dr. Land initially expressed when he suggested most Southern Baptists feel the same way,” Littleton’s motion read. “And, further, that the Southern Baptist Convention publicly affirm the reprimands issued by the trustees of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in their review of the issues, thereby publicly exhibiting our willingness to own our mistakes and re-establish our public commitment to racial reconciliation.”
Littleton’s motion was not dealt with on Tuesday, and it remains unclear if messengers will discuss and vote on the matter Wednesday.
Land’s remarks at the annual meeting were not the first time he glossed over his recent reprimand by ERLC trustees.
On June 2 – the day after the ERLC trustee report – Land signed off his radio program for the last time. However, Land sidestepped the reason why he would no longer host the program.
“Now it is time for me to tell you that due to a variety of circumstances this will be my last appearance on ‘Richard Land Live!,'” Land said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my more than decade-long relationship with and conversation with you. I still believe America needs and must have a spiritual revival followed by a spiritual awakening culminating in a spiritual reformation.”
As SBC leaders celebrate the election of the convention’s first African-American president, the continuing controversy concerning Land’s racial remarks hangs over the convention, threatening to undermine the symbolism of racial progress.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.