Following the announcement of “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant,” several Southern Baptist leaders offered their criticism of the planned gathering and argued that Baptists do not have an image problem.
Perhaps the SBC leader whose comments were the most off target was Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Speaking with a number of secular media outlets about the “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant,” Land repeatedly proved he just does not understand what is going on as he inaccurately attacked the leaders and the purpose of the 2008 meeting.
Land feigned ignorance as to why he was not invited to the gathering. He claimed: “I am puzzled as to why I wasn’t invited. … For 18 years, I have been doing what they are trying to do, and my organization has as well.”
Really?! Does he really not get the fact that he is part of Baptist image problem these leaders are attempting to fix? He has attacked public schools, used violent and hateful rhetoric against homosexuals, supported the Disney boycott and married himself to one political party. The work he and his organization have been doing is counter to the aims of the new network.
Additionally, Land should not have been surprised that he was not invited to the meeting, because it was held in conjunction with meeting of the North American Baptist Fellowship, the regional body of the Baptist World Alliance. Since the SBC left the BWA in 2004, and since Land has publicly attacked the BWA, he should not have been surprised that he was not invited.
Another mistake Land made came as he accused former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter of “unfairly characterizing” Southern Baptists. However, he apparently was not listening very well. After all, Carter explained at the announcement, “There are a number of folks here who are Southern Baptist. … I don’t want this to be the source of a fight. I’d be thrilled to have them come to this meeting.” What is so unfair about that?
Land also attacked the political records of the former presidents, apparently believing that undermined the purpose of the gathering. He argued: “Most Southern Baptists, 90 percent or more, are pro-life [when it comes to abortion]. Clearly Carter and Clinton are pro-choice … This might be the ‘Pro-choice Baptist Convention.’ And whenever you disagree with Mr. Carter, you are narrow-minded.”
Once again Land completely missed the point of the announcement. One primary purpose of the “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant” is to demonstrate that Baptists can come together even if they do not hold the same positions. Such an idea of inclusiveness is likely quite foreign to Land. After all, he and other SBC leaders continue to isolate themselves from their fellow Baptists.
The other problem with Land’s “pro-choice” attack is that Carter is not actually pro-choice. One would expect that the SBC’s top public policy individual would be aware of this fact. Apparently, however, Land is either not paying adequate attention or is purposefully twisting the facts.
This is not the first time Land has attacked his two Baptist brothers. Land’s statements about the two have often been extremely harsh and un-Christ-like. He called Carter a “syncretizer” and “compromiser” and placed him in opposition to God and the Apostle Paul. On one occasion he even claimed to have “more in common with Pope John Paul II than … with Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton.” Such a statement suggests that politics are more important to Land than theology, since only in partisan terms could he make such a remark.
Another statement Land made about the 2008 meeting was partially correct, but still showed that he does not quite understand the situation. Land argued: “It’s easy to write a covenant and sign it and easy to hold a meeting. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating thereof. We’ll see who represents Baptist views. I know I represent the views of overwhelming numbers of Southern Baptists.”
He is quite correct that the “Celebration for a New Baptist Covenant” has yet to prove itself. However, he is wrong to assume that he will get to be the judge of who actually represents true and historic Baptist views.
Land may not even represent the views of as many Southern Baptists as he believes. After all, influential Southern Baptist blogger Wade Burleson offered his thoughts on how Southern Baptists should respond to the new group: “encourage them publicly, and pray from them privately.” That is some good advice that Land should consider following.
Richard Land seems quite upset and pessimistic about this new gathering of Baptists. Perhaps he is worried that the SBC’s monopoly on the Baptist image will be threatened. Or perhaps he is worried that Baptists may start focusing more on working together for spiritual goals instead of merely supporting the Republican Party. Regardless of the reason, Land’s recent statements prove that he just doesn’t get it.
Brian Kaylor is communications specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.