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Richard Land rebuked for racial rhetoric

April 16, 2012, 5:23 pm | Posted by Dan Nejfelt

I was kind of shocked last week when Richard Land spoke at the Q Conference about the importance of civility in politics and public debates. Less than two weeks earlier he called leaders protesting the injustice of Trayvon Martin’s killing “race-hustlers” who were ginning up outrage to turn out the black vote, and accused President Obama of “pouring gasoline on the racialist fires” by addressing the controversy. Worse, Land inaccurately alleged that civil-rights leaders don’t protest black-on-black violence.

His comments exemplified many flavors of the cynicism and incivility that plague our discourse: racially coded language; false accusations; impugning other people’s motives; accusing others of divisiveness while engaging in it yourself; plain old name-calling. Perhaps this shouldn’t be that surprising, though, since Land apparently lifted his remarks rather directly from a right-wing columnist (without giving any credit).

Fortunately, Land is facing pushback from fellow Southern Baptist Convention leaders. The AP has the story:

Last year, the denomination for the first time elected a black pastor to its No. 2 position of first vice president, and the Rev. Fred Luter is expected to become the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention at this year’s annual meeting in June.

When asked about the concern that Land’s comments hurt the effort to attract non-white members, Luter said, “It doesn’t help. That’s for sure.”

“I think his (Land’s) statements will reverse any gains from the rightful election of Fred Luter,” said the Rev. Dwight McKissic, a black pastor at the SBC-affiliated Cornerstone Baptist Church is Arlington, Texas.

McKissic said he plans to submit a resolution at the SBC’s annual meeting asking the convention to repudiate Land’s remarks.

“If they don’t, we’re back to where we were 50 years ago,” he said.

Jonathan Merritt, a white Southern Baptist minister whose book, “A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars” is due out this month, said Land’s comments turn off not only minorities, but also many young believers who are “disappointed with culture war Christianity and want to move beyond name-calling.”

Establishing civility across ideological divides is a difficult endeavor. It would be a lot easier if Land didn’t talk out of both sides of his mouth.

H/t Right Wing Watch.

UPDATE: In an interview with USA Today’s Cathy Lynn Grossman late yesterday afternoon, Land attempted to explain his failure to attribute his remarks to the columnist whose work he copied, and offered an apology of sorts for his remarks:

I obviously overestimated the extent of progress that has been made in slaying the racial dragon of our past. I should have remembered that whenever we have a discussion about race, the ghosts of our ancestors are in the room with us. And I underestimated the need to be extremely careful in how you address any controversial issue that involves race as a factor.

I am grieved that anyone would feel my comments have retarded in any way the Southern Baptists’ march toward racial reconciliation, which I have been committed to for the entirety of my ministry, since 1962.

I certainly apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended by my remarks.

While Land deserves some credit for trying to close the wound, his apology is incomplete. Rather than taking responsibility for his mean-spirited name-calling and accusations of ill intent, Land merely regrets being insufficiently sensitive to the feelings of those who are offended. Land wasn’t just tone-deaf though, he was actively accusing others of rank cynicism. But the most important part of an apology is whether it’s backed up with improved behavior. If Land refrains from such ugly rhetoric in the future, our discourse will be better off and he’ll deserve commendation.

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