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.
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.
Last weekend, Faithful America members from the Boston area confronted Chris Matthews at a book signing in Framingham, Massachusetts about his track record of inviting Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on Hardball as a representative of Christian voters. FRC was named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2010 for spreading hateful lies and junk research about the LGBT community — and in part because of an incident in which a senior FRC staffer said on Hardball that there should be “criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior.”
Matthews, who just received Human Rights Campaign’s Ally for Equality award, responded by falsely claiming that Perkins has never “pulled that homophobic stuff on my show,” and insisting that “every time he’s on he’s challenged.”
That’s just not true. After SPLC named FRC a hate group, Matthews invited Perkins on to defend his organization. Perkins took the opportunity to repeat his false accusations that gay men are more likely than heterosexual men to molest children, and said “the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a risk to children.”
Since that November 2010 appearance (which did include SPLC Senior Fellow Mark Potok), Perkins has appeared on Hardball six times — and neither Matthews nor any of his guests have brought up Perkins’ long record of spreading hateful anti-gay lies.
Instead, Matthews has gone out of his way to give credibility to Perkins, calling him an “honest conservative” with “true views” whose conscience he trusts. Viewers who trust Matthews’s judgment and honesty come away with the impression that they should do the same of Perkins.
Asked to stop inviting Perkins on the air, Matthews accused the Faithful America members of “trying to silence people” — a curious charge given that he recently urged his fellow MSNBC anchors to stop booking Franklin Graham because of Graham’s persistent false attacks on the President’s faith.
As you can see in the video, when Faithful America member Jeff Bridges raises the question of legitimizing Perkins’s off-air comments, Matthews has no real response, admitting that “you may be right. I may agree with you, but not right now.”
It’s long past time for Matthews to stop giving Tony Perkins a platform. As Bishop Gene Robinson explained to MSNBC representatives last month highlighting the shockingly high suicide rate among gay teens, the lies people like Perkins tell “are killing us and they’re killing our kids.”
He remarked that such politicians are practicing a certain “schizophrenia between individual and public morality.” Some Catholic politicians, Benedict notes, may claim to practice their religion in the private sphere, but “in public life they follow other paths that don’t correspond to the great values of the Gospel which are necessary for the foundation of a just society.”
Benedict argued that the Church must liberate politics “from false interests and the obscurity imposed by those interests” and work to create a “social doctrine [that] overcome[es] this social division [between rich and poor]—which is truly anti-social.”
“Benedict took a staple of Western pro-life rhetoric, which is the need for coherence between a Catholic’s private beliefs and public positions, and gave it a far broader spin. The need for coherence, the pope suggested, doesn’t end with the culture wars, but also applies to other questions of social justice – including, in the first instance, solidarity with the poor and efforts to overcome glaring inequalities.”
One of the Christian leaders GLAAD included in their Commentator Accountability Project is conservative evangelical Chuck Colson, based on his record of extreme rhetoric about gays and lesbians.
Responding, Colson cries foul and paints himself as unfairly victimized for his faith:
So, yes, I’m surprised I made the list. But sadly, I realize I shouldn’t be. For one thing, this type of intimidation is par for the course for many in the so-called gay-rights movement. Not interested in dialogue, they seem more interested in demonizing and shouting down their opponents.
For another, their definition of “gay-bashing” is skewed. For them, anything short of renouncing the historical Christian teaching on sexuality is akin to hate. If I say that homosexual sex is a sin, they say I’m hateful. Yet I also say that pre-marital sex is a sin, as is drinking too much. Is that hateful, too?
Over the years I have been very careful not to involve in gay-bashing. I can’t think of a single time I have. I seek to honestly discuss the issues. So if any reporter has evidence of gay-bashing on my part, I’d like to hear it. But again, I reject the notion that disagreement — even strong disagreement — is gay-bashing or hateful.
Colson may want his readers to believe GLAAD’s concern is with his theological beliefs, but that’s just not the case. The project is focused on specific rhetoric that is demonstrably false or hatefully inflammatory. Perhaps Colson didn’t look at the list of evidence GLAAD put together, which gives specific examples of Colson making these kinds of statements, such as saying repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will cause soldiers to die and misrepresenting medical research to claim that being gay is a greater health risk than smoking.
If Colson were to admit that repealing DADT has not led to soldiers getting killed and renounce promoting distortions of medical research, he could start to gain back some credibility. But until then, media outlets should be fully informed about the types and quality of arguments he uses.
Just as Faithful America is continuing to make headlines for its rejected ad calling attention to hate group leader Tony Perkins’s frequent appearances on MSNBC, GLAAD has launched a new project on this same topic more broadly.
The Commentator Accountability Project (CAP) is focused on educating members of the media at all levels about the long record of hateful and false statements prominent Religious Right leaders have made over the years.
Given these spokespeople’s habit of code-switching — toning down their statements in mainstream outlets while saving their most vitriolic and extreme rhetoric for presumably friendly audiences — sometimes it really is the case that producers and hosts just don’t know their guests’ hateful histories.
To be clear, GLAAD’s campaign doesn’t call for any particular action on the part of news outlets. It is simply focused on giving them more information about their potential guests. But predictably, the conservative commentators whose records are being exposed are ignoring that fact to claim that they’re being “silenced.”
If these Religious Right leaders find themselves getting booked less often once the truth is out, it won’t necessarily signal any change in media policies. It will just be a sign that these figures have been exploiting news professionals’ unfamiliarity with their records for too long.