A former Southern Baptist Convention official who sits on President-elect Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory board says even he is surprised by the amount of input the group is having in helping to shape the incoming administration.
“I’ve been solicited five times now for personnel recommendations, for resumes,” Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, said Jan. 10 on the Point of View radio program with religious broadcaster Kerby Anderson. “That didn’t happen in the Bush administration.”
Land, who previously served 25 years as head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said previous administrations might listen to input from evangelical leaders, but the Trump transition team is actively seeking their advice in ways he has never seen.
“Some of my conservative friends and I, we have been pinching ourselves,” Land said. “Are we hallucinating, or is this actually happening?”
“I know a good number of people on the transition team and I can tell you right now, about half of them think I’m liberal,” he quipped. “I mean, these are very conservative people.”
Land, once criticized as a “stealth lobbyist” of the Religious Right for his under-the-radar access to the inner circle of the George W. Bush administration, said he has been “pleasantly” and “shockingly” surprised by unprecedented input evangelicals are having into shaping the Trump White House.
“I can’t tell you everything I know here, but I can tell you this,” Land said. “This administration is going to have more conservative Christians — Catholic and evangelical — in it than any administration that I have been associated with or had contact with, and I’ve been doing this since Reagan.”
Land, who retired as the Southern Baptist Convention’s top spokesman for public policy concerns in 2013, is often contrasted to his successor Russell Moore, who has criticized the Religious Right and said younger Southern Baptists don’t want to be tied to a political party.
”The go-along, get-along strategy is dead,” Land famously said in a 1998 New York Times story about frustration in the Religious Right with GOP candidates who failed to deliver on promises to act on issues like abortion, pornography and homosexuality.
“No more engagement,” Land said. “We want a wedding ring. We want a ceremony. We want a consummation of the marriage.”
Recently, Moore has been both denounced and defended for his frequent criticism of Trump and of “professing evangelicals” who were appalled by moral failures of President Bill Clinton but are now “saying character doesn’t matter when it comes to Donald Trump.”
Critics say overwhelming voter support for Trump among white evangelicals suggests Moore is out of touch with the majority of people he is paid to represent. They also worry that his outspoken criticism of Trump during the campaign will hinder his ability to influence the new administration on behalf of the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics.
Last May Trump called Moore “truly a terrible representative of evangelicals” and a “nasty guy with no heart” on Twitter after hearing the Southern Baptist spokesman criticize his candidacy on the CBS news program Face the Nation.
Land commented on another controversy facing Moore. Some Southern Baptists have criticized the ERLC for filing an amicus brief supporting the rights of Muslims in a New Jersey township to construct a mosque.
“I understand why they did that, because we believe that Muslims have the right to have places of worship, just like Christians ought to have the right to places of worship,” Land said in response to a listener calling the show.
“Not necessarily anywhere they want to,” Land continued. “We don’t have that right. I don’t think they should have one in the shadow of the 9/11 Twin Towers, for instance. The Japanese have a right to have Shinto temples in Honolulu, but not one inside the USS Arizona. That’s just not good manners.”
As head of the ERLC Land faced a mosque controversy of his own. In 2010 he joined an interfaith coalition that filed a lawsuit supporting Muslims seeking to build a new Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Land later pulled out of the group, saying his participation was being misinterpreted by some Southern Baptists as promoting Islam.
“Southern Baptists have made it very clear that they believe Muslims have the right to have mosques and that they have the right to petition the government to have mosques,” Land said. “But they don’t want Southern Baptists doing the petitioning for them.”