A Southern Baptist leader credited with rejecting the demonization of Islam has a track record of promoting and offering derogatory statements about Muslims. Although Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has been praised for avoiding hateful attacks on Muslims that other Southern Baptists have offered, he has at times refused to repudiate such remarks and has offered his own problematic comments about Islam.
The authors of Who Speaks for Islam? pointed to Land as a positive example of an evangelical who “condemned” anti-Muslim statements by Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell. The authors complained that Land’s comment, which he made during panel discussion sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, did not get much media attention. However, Land on other occasions has refused to condemn Southern Baptist leaders who demonized Islam, and even promoted such attacks and offered his own degrading remarks.
Pressed during a 2005 panel discussion at Vanderbilt University about anti-Islam comments by Graham and Falwell, Land refused to condemn the remarks. Instead, he offered: “They’re big boys. They can answer for themselves. I said at the time that I disagreed with them, and I still disagree with them.”
On another occasion, Land defended Graham against criticism from Muslims by arguing that Christians should not worry about what Muslims think of them since Muslims were trying to kill Christians and would be offended by anything Christians say.
During the 2002 SBC annual meeting, former SBC president Jerry Vines attacked Muhammad as “a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, and his last one was a 9-year-old girl.”
After the remark attracted media attention, the Council on American-Islam Relations asked for an apology from SBC leaders. Land refused and declared, “We don’t get our instructions from [them].”
In another interview, Land said he would have used different words but did not criticize the remark by Vines. “I agree with Dr. Vines,” he added. “There is no way to salvation except through Jesus Christ.”
Land later attacked NBC for running a story critical of Vines. Offering no criticism of Vines, Land instead claimed NBC was “irresponsible in the extreme” and acted in a way that “contributes substantially to the climate for violence they purport to fear.”
A group of Southern Baptist missionaries in predominately Muslim nations took a different approach from Land as they labeled such hateful rhetoric as “degrading.” They added that comments that “malign Islam and Muhammad” are reported in Muslim nations, which “can further the already heightened animosity toward Christians” and interfere with sharing “the message of the gospel.”
After the controversy erupted, Vines pointed to Unveiling Islam, a book by two Southern Baptist brothers who had converted from Islam, as the source for his controversial comment. Land, who wrote the foreword for the book, had previously taught authors Ergun and Emir Caner at Criswell College.
Land argued in his foreword that there could not be “a more timely and critically important book.” He added that the book should “inform, challenge and inspire Christians everywhere.”
Land has continued to promote the writings and arguments of the Caner brothers. Since 2006, Ergun Caner was a guest seven times on the ERLC’s radio program “For Faith & Family,” which is hosted by Land. Emir Caner joined his brother for one of those episodes.
A prominent argument made by the Caners during these broadcasts is that Islamic terrorism is not the distortion of Islam but the natural reading of the Qu’ran. During the Aug. 28, 2007 broadcast of the radio program, Ergun Caner argued that the tactic of terrorists “is not hijacking of Islam” but an accurate reading of the Qu’ran. He added during a Jan. 14, 2008, episode that those who committed the attacks on 9/11 are “not terrorists, they’re devout.”
During the Sept. 12, 2006, episode, Ergun Caner claimed that Islam is not an Abrahamic faith and is inherently violent. Caner also claimed that all Muslims “hold [bin Laden] up.”
Land argued during the Aug. 28, 2007, episode that “modern Christians have rejected coercion in matters of faith and have rejected coercion in matters of conscience, and Islam has not. In many ways, Islam is still medieval in its mindset.”
During the Sept. 12, 2006, show, the Caners and Land critiqued Christians who seek to befriend and dialogue with Muslims. Instead, they argued that Christians should “confront” Muslims, even to the point of arguing and yelling.
The Caners also accused the Baptist World Alliance of containing “the worst anti-Semitism in [the] evangelical world” because the organization supposedly wants “to abandon Israel [and] embrace Islam” as a result of being “run by Western Europeans.” Land offered his agreement with the attack.
On other programs without the Caners, Land has offered derogatory remarks about Muslims. During the Aug. 16, 2006 broadcast of “For Faith & Family,” Land mockingly referred to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as “Abba-dabba-doo.” He also repeatedly used the controversial label “Islamic fascists.”
On another occasion, Land even suggested that there were no “peaceful Muslims” since he did not believe there were any Muslims protesting terrorism. He argued that until he saw moderate Muslims speaking out against terrorism, he would not “take Islam as a peaceful religion seriously.” Despite Land’s claims, American Muslims leaders have often offered their strong condemnation of terrorist attacks.
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.
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Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.