By Bob Allen
Three days after defending comments accusing black leaders of politicizing the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, the head of Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission apologized April 16 to anyone who was offended by his remarks.
“I obviously overestimated the extent of progress that has been made in slaying the racial dragon of our past,” Richard Land said in an open letter released through Baptist Press. “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.”
The Southern Baptist Convention news service said Land issued an apology after conversations with SBC President Bryant Wright about how many African-Americans and other Christians were taking offense at his remarks, which included labeling black activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton “race hustlers” and accusing President Obama of using the tragedy to “gin up the black vote” for his re-election.
“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,” Land said. “I certainly apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended by my remarks.”
Land was defending his comments as recently as Saturday’s radio broadcast, when he called one news story about the backlash slanted and accused a black MSBNC correspondent of racial profiling for implying he would have sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. An Associated Press story that appeared in many newspapers over the weekend quoted Land as saying he had no regrets about his remarks and justifying the idea that some people see young black males as threatening because an African-American man is “statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man.”
On the same day Baptist Press released his apology, Land told a radio station in Missouri that there’s a double standard about mixing politics and religion for the religious left and right, in part because the media doesn’t want to criticize blacks.
“If whites criticize blacks – it’s OK for Bill Cosby to say things to the black community that if a white person said them, that’s racist,” Land said on KSGF radio in Springfield, Mo. “It’s unfair, but that’s the reality.”
Land also said in the interview that at first he was troubled by President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiatives because Baptists believe in the separation of church and state and are suspicious of government regulation. He said he changed his mind while attending a summit put together by Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. J.C. Watts where African-American and Hispanic pastors described the program as “an opportunity to get off the liberal plantation, to get out of the liberal barrio.”
“In other words, as one pastor put it, to have people who live in the ZIP code where the problem is get resources to deal with the problem instead of having to go over to a ZIP code on the other side of town and get approval from some liberal who doesn’t understand where we live,” Land said.
“These folks are facing a lifeboat situation,” Land said. “They looked upon this as sort of their 40 acres and a mule and empowering them as opposed to the liberal establishment, which is one reason the liberal establishment opposed the faith-based initiative.”
Land said at the start of his March 31 broadcast segment titled “Trayvon Martin scandal” that what he was about to say would create controversy.
“I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve decided it’s time to talk about this issue,” Land said. “I realize it’s going to be controversial, but so be it.”