The main political spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention officially endorsed Republican Mitt Romney for president on Friday, despite insisting for years that he would not endorse candidates because of his SBC leadership position.
Richard Land, who heads the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), offered his endorsement of Romney in a Christian Post column. Although he insisted it was merely a personal endorsement – and not representative of the SBC or the ERLC – it further colors his clearly partisan track record at the ERLC.
“I am personally breaking a 24-year tradition of not exercising my right as a private citizen to endorse a candidate,” Land wrote. “I am endorsing Gov. Romney because he endorses my values and convictions on the issues discussed in this column. Yes, this election is that important.”
In his column, Land first turns to the issue of abortion to make the case of Romney over Obama. He makes this argument by quoting from the party platforms – and not the candidates – on the issue.
Land does not mention that Romney disagrees with the Republican platform on the issue of abortion.
After discussing abortion, Land then addresses same-sex marriage by again quoting the party platforms and not the candidates.
Land contends the differences on abortion and same-sex marriage should make the election choice clear.
“Thus, on the issues of the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage versus same-sex marriage, the contradiction could not be more stark and revealing,” Land wrote. “For Christians of traditional religious faith there cannot be more fundamental issues than the protection of the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death and the defense of marriage as a divinely-ordained institution between one man and one woman.”
While Land attempts to frame the election around these two social issues, Romney’s campaign consistently downplays the issues – especially distancing itself from controversial comments about abortion and rape made by Republican senatorial hopefuls Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana.
After a reporter questioned Romney’s wife, Ann, on the campaign trail about social issues like birth control and same-sex marriage, she criticized the focus on “hot-button issues that distract from what the real voting issue is going to be at this election.”
“Again, you’re asking me questions that are not about what this election is going to be about,” she added. “This election is going to be about the economy and jobs.”
Land briefly turned to the issue of the national debt in his column before returning to the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage to close his column.
In his Christian Post column, Land reiterated a claim he previously made that this election was the most important since 1860.
Land does not explain how the election to defeat the nation’s first African-American president ranks next to the one that led to the end of slavery, or how it surpasses recent elections where the same basic issues dominated the political debates.
“It is perhaps the most important election since one that occurred on Nov. 6, 1860, when in the providence of God Abraham Lincoln was elected president, preserved the Union, and expunged the evil of slavery from our land,” Land wrote. “The stakes could not be higher morally, socially, or economically. When one turns to the platforms of the two parties, one finds radical differences on issues that deeply divide American society.”
By endorsing Romney, Land broke his repeated promise not to endorse a candidate in this or other campaigns.
Speaking before messengers of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention in 2007, Land promised not to endorse candidates.
“I do not endorse candidates,” Land stated. “I don’t. I won’t.”
After a Wall Street Journal article in 2011 suggested Land was supporting the presidential hopes of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Land issued a statement denying his official support and stressing that a future endorsement for any candidate would not be forthcoming in this campaign.
“I made it categorically clear … that I do not endorse candidates, and I have not and will not endorse Gov. Perry or any other candidate for that matter,” Land insisted.
After Romney invoked Land’s name at a campaign event last fall, Land again issued a statement denying he had endorsed Romney or that he would endorse a candidate in this campaign.
“Neither defense nor assessment should be confused with endorsement,” Land argued. “As a matter of policy, I have not endorsed, do not endorse and will not endorse candidates.”
With Land’s promise not to endorse now broken and his partisan leaning more clearly identified, previous thinly veiled statements of support for his favored candidates appear more obvious.
Although Land in the past called himself nonpartisan, his record and rhetoric belie this claim. An EthicsDaily.com analysis of ERLC events shows a clear Republican bias.
EthicsDaily.com broke the story of a behind-closed-doors meeting of Land and other politically active Christian leaders hoping to defeat Obama. The group met with Perry as the Texas politician plotted his presidential run.
Later, Land even joined a similar effort to rally Christians to defeat Romney in the Republican presidential primaries. Land participated in these anti-Obama and anti-Romney gatherings over the past two years even as he attempted to hide his own political involvement.
During the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, Land clearly favored the candidacy of former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee.
This obvious support even brought criticism of Land by presidential hopeful and fellow Southern Baptist Mike Huckabee.
In the 2008 general election, Land clearly supported the ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin, although he withheld an official endorsement as he had during both presidential campaigns when his favored candidate George W. Bush won.
As Land’s endorsement of Romney solidifies his Republican support, it also demonstrates his increasing opposition to Obama as Land heads into his last campaign as head of the ERLC.
Earlier this year, Land sparked controversy for racially controversial – and plagiarized – remarks he made regarding the shooting of an unarmed teenage African-American in Florida.
After public criticism, ERLC trustees reprimanded Land for his “hurtful, irresponsible, insensitive and racially charged words” and canceled his radio program “Richard Land Live!”
Shortly thereafter, Land announced his intention to retire from the ERLC next year.
Land used the Florida shooting to criticize Obama for supposedly using “racial demagoguery.”
At other times, Land’s criticisms of Obama have also included racial undertones. For instance, Land last year used debunked and exaggerated claims to condemn Obama for allegedly “living like a playboy.”
Over the past couple of years, Land emerged as a strident and consistent critic of Obama on other occasions, including attacking Obama – and defending BP – for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and comparing Obamacare to the Nazis. Land even went so far as to label Obama “very dangerous.”
Land’s break with his tradition of thinly veiling his endorsements to officially endorsing Romney appears to fit with his antagonism toward Obama more than his admiration for Romney, especially as his endorsement focuses on the Republican platform and not Romney’s positions.
Whatever the reason for Land breaking his promise not to endorse, his last election as head of the ERLC will remain notable as he ends his tenure under the cloud of a racially charged ethical scandal and a firm partisan reputation.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.