NASHVILLE — The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics chief was reprimanded Friday and his radio show canceled after he made inflammatory comments about the Trayvon Martin case.
Among other things, Richard Land accused President Barack Obama and other black leaders of shamefully exploiting Martin’s death for political gain. He also said racial profiling was understandable given the crime statistics for black men.
Land’s comments upset many black Southern Baptist leaders, one of whom called for Land’s resignation. The controversy got more intense when a blogger revealed that Land’s commentary was copied nearly verbatim from an editorial in The Washington Times, although Land did not credit the newspaper on the air.
After an investigation, the trustees board of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission reprimanded Land for the comments and the plagiarism. Land, who is the commission’s president, has previously apologized for both.
The commission takes public stands on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. In his position at the commission’s head for nearly 24 years, the outspoken Land has become the Southern Baptist Convention’s most visible spokesman.
But his comments on Martin came as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination is attempting to distance itself from a past that includes support for slavery and segregation. Faced with declining membership, the Nashville-based SBC is trying to broaden its appeal beyond its traditional white, Southern base — a goal that Land supports.
He was one of the chief architects of a 1995 resolution by Southern Baptists apologizing for their role in supporting slavery and racism. Since that resolution, black membership in the SBC has tripled, going from about 350,000 in 1995 to about 1 million today.
African-American pastor Fred Luter Jr. worked on the resolution with Land. Later this month at its annual meeting, the denomination is expected to elect Luter as the first African American president in the SBC’s 167-year history.
The board’s statement, which was released in the Baptist Press, calls Land’s comments about Martin “hurtful, irresponsible, insensitive, and racially charged.” Martin was an unarmed black Florida teenager shot to death in February by a neighborhood watch volunteer who thought he looked suspicious and maintains that he was defending himself from the teen.
“We are particularly disappointed in Dr. Land’s words because they do not accurately reflect the body of his work over a long career at the ERLC toward racial reconciliation in the Southern Baptist Convention and American life,” the statement reads. “We must now redouble our efforts to regain lost ground, to heal re-opened wounds, and to realize the dream of a Southern Baptist Convention that is just as diverse as the population of our great Nation.”
The statement also reprimands Land for his unattributed use of The Washington Times editorial, saying he unwisely accepted practices that occur in the radio industry. The board found no instances of plagiarism in any of his written work.
“As a Christian, a minister of the Gospel of our Lord, and as President of the ERLC, Dr. Land should have conformed to a higher standard,” the statement reads. “We expect all future work of the ERLC to be above reproach in that regard.”
“We have carefully considered the content and purpose of the Richard Land Live! broadcast,” the statement said. “We find that they are not congruent with the mission of the ERLC.”
Land declined to be interviewed for this story, although he issued a statement to the Baptist Press expressing support for the oversight and governance of the trustees. He also expressed a desire to work with them “to continue to minister the Gospel of our Savior across our great land.”
On the call-in show, Land discusses the news of the day, including politics. The board says the show will be cancelled as soon as possible within the bounds of their contract with the Salem Radio Network.