A Washington Post animated editorial cartoon titled “Pelvic Politics” featured last week the voice of Southern Baptist politico Richard Land on the topic of contraception and religious liberty.
Although there is little actual sexual content in Land’s comment in the “Pelvic Politics” cartoon, Land has used sexual metaphor to talk about politics – including the use of sexual situations that contradict Land’s espoused sexual ethics.
Land, the embattled head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), is facing an internal investigation into plagiarism charges that arose amid controversial racial comments he made regarding the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenage African-American in Florida.
During his tenure as the top ethicist for the SBC, Land has emerged as a primary spokesman for Southern Baptists and for conservative Christians in general.
In particular, Land is now one of the most quoted conservative Christian activists on political issues and campaigns.
Land, whose wife is a psychotherapist, has on several occasions employed sexual metaphor to color his political analysis.
In a 1998 New York Times article about the “Religious Right” and its effort to impact the direction of the Republican Party, Land invoked a sexual metaphor to express clearly his partisan leaning despite claims he is nonpartisan.
“The go-along, get-along strategy is dead,” Land proclaimed. “No more engagement. We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage.”
In 2007, Land promoted the presidential prospects of actor Fred Thompson, who had previously served as a Republican U.S. senator from Tennessee.
As Land touted Thompson, he repeatedly compared Thompson to Ronald Reagan, claimed Thompson would be a strong campaigner, and said Thompson was “a very regular [church] attender.”
Land used a dating metaphor to describe his excitement about Thompson, whom Land claimed would spark a “ground swell” among Southern Baptists.
Thompson instead finished poorly in early states because he was unable to overcome the conservative evangelical support for former Southern Baptist pastor Mike Huckabee.
“I think a lot of conservatives, they’ve been sitting by the phone waiting for Sen. Thompson to call and they’re ready to go on a date and see if it works out,” Land claimed.
In January 2012, Land again turned to a sexual metaphor to describe his feeling about a Republican presidential race.
As former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appeared to be the frontrunner for the nomination, Land and other conservative evangelicals looked for an alternative candidate.
Land even joined a private meeting of more than 150 conservative evangelical leaders in mid-January at the Texas ranch of former SBC First Vice President Paul Pressler.
At the end of the gathering, the group voted to endorse Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator, for president.
Just days before the Texas gathering, Land explained to NPR why he and other conservatives were still looking for an alternative to Romney.
Comparing Romney to the “guy next door,” Land urged conservative evangelicals to have a “fling” with someone else before settling down for marriage.
“Before we marry the guy next door,” Land stated, “don’t you think we ought to have a fling with a tall dark stranger and see if he can support us in the manner to which we’d like to be accustomed? And if he can’t, we can always marry the steady beau who lives next door.”
Land’s unusual metaphor, which seemed to encourage conservative evangelicals to act in ways contrary to Land’s espoused sexual morals, quickly garnered mocking criticism from various media personalities, including Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews and Comedy Central comedian Stephen Colbert.
In addition to using sexual metaphors to describe his political leanings, Land also uses sexual references to criticize politicians with whom he disagrees.
At times, these statements also include racially or ethnically charged comments, much as his controversial remarks on the Martin case did.
In January 2008, Land used an obscene Yiddish slur to mock the name of U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Land used the obscene word that that refers to male genitalia to criticize Schumer, who is Jewish, while speaking at Criswell College.
In July 2011, Land used inaccurate and debunked information to attack President Barack Obama for “living like a playboy.”
Many of these attacks came on his radio program “Richard Land Live!,” which is the same forum on which he made his controversial and plagiarized comments about the Martin case.
ERLC trustees are expected to announce the report of their investigation into Land’s plagiarism this week.
Over the past two months, numerous Southern Baptist leaders have called for Land’s tenure at the ERLC to come to an end.
By this Friday, Southern Baptists will learn if Land can navigate internal ERLC politics any better than national politics.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.