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Southern Baptist Convention leader Richard Land claims he didn’t know he was using a word that some consider crude or obscene when he called Sen. Charles Schumer a “schmuck.”

“I apologize for my ignorance of that fact,” the head of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said in a statement published Wednesday on a Dallas Morning News religion blog. “If I had known that, I would never have used the word.”

Land said he chose the word only because it alliterated with the Jewish senator’s name to describe his perception of Schumer’s behavior during the confirmation hearings for Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. During the same Jan. 31 lecture at Criswell College Land also said if Hillary Clinton had become chief justice instead of Roberts, Schumer’s fellow New York senator “would be parking her broom at the Supreme Court for the next 25 years.” (Click here for audio)

Land said he was “deeply offended” that anyone would interpret his remark as anti-Semitic. “My entire Christian life I have been taught, and believe, that the Jews are God’s chosen people,” he said. “I have said on dozens of occasions in public that anti-Semitism is the most irrational of prejudices for a Christian, since Jesus our Savior was Himself a Jew. My entire public ministry I have denounced anti-Semitism, and I have sought to combat it wherever and whenever I have encountered it. Anyone who knows me knows this to be true.”

Land called criticism of his remark, which included calls for his resignation, “trivialization” of the real problem of anti-Semitism.

“Claiming ignorance neither absolves Richard of the way he spat out the offensive phrase nor how he has offended members of the faith community,” said Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “Claiming ignorance and then claiming to be the offended party is pure political misdirection, as if he is a victim of misunderstanding.”

Land is chief spokesman on social and moral concerns for the SBC, which has in the past been criticized for singling out Jews for evangelism in 1996 and praying for their conversion during the Jewish High Holy Days in 1999. Individual Baptist leaders accused of insensitivity toward Jews include former SBC president Bailey Smith, who said in 1980 that “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew,” and seminary president Albert Mohler, who compared the Jewish faith to a deadly tumor in 2003.

“Where’s the beef for what he has done to combat anti-Jewish attitudes and actions in the SBC?” Parham asked. “It sounds like all hat and no cattle. Where is his criticism of Bailey Smith or Al Mohler or the targeting of Jews during the High Holy Days?”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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