Should a Southern Baptist Convention leader resign for using a Yiddish slur against a Jewish senator, or is it “much ado about not much?” That’s the range of reaction to Monday’s EthicsDaily.com story quoting Ethics & Religious Liberty head Richard Land calling New York Senator Chuck Schumer a “schmuck.”
Speaking at Criswell College in January, Land described his favorite moment in the Senate confirmation hearings on Chief Justice John Roberts: “The schmuck from New York, Chuck Schumer, was pontificating and saying, ‘I just want to know Judge Roberts, are you going to be for the little guy?’ And Judge Roberts said, ‘Senator, my client is the Constitution. If the Constitution says the little guy should win, the little guy is going to win. If the Constitution says the big guy should win, the big guy is going to win. I am a judicial umpire.’ That is the role that the courts are supposed to play and have not played for nearly half a century, much to the detriment of our liberty.” (Click here for audio.)
As an aside Land added, “By the way, if President Bush’s opponent had won the last election, they would have been the confirmation hearings of Chief Justice Hillary Rodham Clinton, not Chief Justice Roberts, and Mrs. Clinton would be parking her broom at the Supreme Court for the next 25 years.”
Discussions of the story broke out on blogs including SBC Outpost and a forum on BaptistLife.com. Bruce Prescott at the Mainstream Baptists blog called it an “instance of the linguistic double standard that currently exists within the Southern Baptist Convention,” where leaders are not held accountable “for publicly using racial slurs and gutter slang.”
At the Dallas Morning News religion blog, Jeffrey Weiss said it wasn’t a big deal to him. Calling the line “coarse, but funny,” he took the EthicsDaily.com reporter to task for linking Land’s use of the word–which literally refers to the male sex organ–to a past quote by another Southern Baptist leader comparing the Jewish faith to a “deadly tumor.” (EthicsDaily.com also broke the story about that quote, attributed to seminary president Albert Mohler at an auxiliary meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2003.) “Elevating a relatively harmless insult into an accusation of anti-Semitism devalues real attacks on Jews and Judaism,” Weiss commented.
At the other extreme, noted historian and author Randall Balmer wrote an op-ed piece carried yesterday by EthicsDaily.com calling Land “an embarrassment to the Southern Baptist Convention,” who should resign or be fired for remarks “outrageous and unworthy of anyone who numbers himself among the followers of Jesus.”
EthicsDaily.com listened to an on-line archive of Land’s Jan. 31 lecture after reading about his comment in a Feb. 27 blog by Brian Kaylor. Kaylor, author of For God’s Sake Shut Up!: Lessons for Christians on How to Speak Effectively and When to Remain Silent, called it “derogatory and crude language” that was “inappropriate for a religious leader.”
“A denominational leader should not use such language,” Kaylor said. “Land should apologize for this comment and pledge to watch his words more closely in the future.”
Contacted by EthicsDaily.com, a spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League declined immediate comment but said the group planned to write Land a letter.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro of the One River Foundation in Murfreesboro, Tenn., said Land’s remarks reveal “how wicked religion and religious dialogue have become in this country.”
Shapiro, a regular columnist for EthicsDaily.com, who also appears in a new Baptist Center for Ethics DVD, “Good Will for the Common Good: Nurturing Baptists’ Relationships with Jews,” said Land thought he could get away with using vile Yiddish slang to slur someone but was too afraid to do it in English.
“And to link Senator Clinton to witchcraft is stupid and mean spirited,” Shapiro continued. “For a Christian to do so, given the history of witch burnings and torture that stain Christian history, is evil.”
Shapiro agreed that Land should resign, but beyond that his constituents also “should use this as an opportunity to talk about the shadow side of religion and religious rhetoric, and the evil religious people do in the name of their gods.”
Rabbi Fred Guttman of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C., said the word used by Land isn’t one he “would ever use from the pulpit or in any thoughtful way in describing another person.”
Guttman said Baptists might not understand how offensive such a slur would sound to a Jewish person, not only because of the word itself but also because choosing an eastern European Jewish epithet to apply to a senator who happens to be Jewish implies some sort of connection between Land’s dislike of Schumer’s positions and the senator’s Jewish faith.
Guttman said Land should “make a sincere apology” to Schumer but not lose his job, because “we all make mistakes.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
SBC Leader Uses Obscene Slur to Describe Jewish Senator
Richard Land Must Go
Managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, Allen wrote more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure.