The recently embattled agency head says while he is retiring from the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, he has no plans of stepping out of the public arena.
By Bob Allen
Richard Land, Southern Baptists’ top public-policy spokesman recently reprimanded for plagiarism and racially insensitive rhetoric on his radio show, announced July 31 that he will retire next year.
Land, 65, plans to step down Oct. 23, 2013, from the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, 25 years to the day after he took over the moral concerns agency formerly known as the Christian Life Commission.
At 42, Land was the first Baby Boomer elected to lead an SBC agency when he came to the CLC in 1988. Previously academic vice president at Criswell College, he was also one of the first agency heads chosen during the “conservative resurgence,” a systematic takeover of the nation’s second-largest faith group that began in 1979.
Land charted a course more conservative than his predecessors — longtime CLC head Foy Valentine and his successor Larry Baker, who left after just 14 months of clashes with conservative trustees — embracing culture war issues like opposition to abortion and homosexual rights.
He also worked to repair Southern Baptists’ checkered reputation with regard to race, joining others to draft a landmark 1995 SBC resolution apologizing to African-Americans for past racism and vowing to eradicate all forms of racial prejudice from Southern Baptist life.
Land’s record on that front received a blemish in March, when he angered black Southern Baptists with comments on his weekly radio show defending George Zimmerman, later charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in an incident widely viewed as racial profiling.
The ERLC trustee executive committee publicly reprimanded Land for “hurtful, irresponsible and racially charged words” and for failing to give proper on-air attribution for remarks read on his program that were written by others.
Land, in a letter published by Baptist Press, said while retiring from denominational work, he is not stepping away from the culture wars.
“I have had numerous inquiries over the years about other places and means of service including public policy and media opportunities as well as ministry and academic pursuits,” Land said. “Until now, I have not felt freedom to consider such opportunities. God has now given me that freedom.”
Land said he is already doing some media and public-policy consulting in Washington and looking into other future possibilities. He said he also intends to work closely with the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.