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Facts Don’t Back Up SBC Leader’s Non-Partisan Claim

A Southern Baptist spokesman who once asked the Republican Party for a “wedding ring” for the Religious Right accused a recent North American gathering of Baptists of being too partisan.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, criticized the New Baptist Covenant Celebration’s planners for claiming the gathering wasn’t political on his radio program Feb. 2.

“Almost all the speakers, virtually all the keynote speakers and almost all the speakers, are Democrats,” Land said. If planners really wanted the confab to be non-political, he said, “They would have made more effort to get more Republican speakers to speak.”

“For instance, when we have a conference, we do our very best, and normally succeed, in getting both,” Land said. “If we’re going to have a Democratic Party speaker, we have a Republican Party speaker. If we have two Democrat Party speakers we have two Republican Party speakers to avoid the appearance of being partisan and to try to avoid the appearance of engaging in partisan politics.”

An analysis of annual seminars conducted by Land revealed scant evidence to support his claim. In national gatherings between his1988 election to lead the agency then known as the Christian Life Commission and when the event was canceled in 1999, Republican politician speakers outnumbered Democrats 6-1.

Land’s first national seminar, on the sanctity of life in Kansas City, Mo., in 1989, featured speakers including Gary Bauer, a former Ronald Reagan administration official who resigned as president of the Family Research Council to run for the Republican nomination for president in 1999.

William Bennett, who served as Reagan’s secretary of education from 1985 to 1989 and as drug czar under President George H.W. Bush, spoke in the 1992 seminar on Christian citizenship. Bennett spoke again in 1994, when media described him as a likely Republican presidential candidate in 1996.

Charles Colson, chief counsel for President Richard Nixon who served seven months in prison in 1974 after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in a Watergate-related case, was a speaker at the 1995 CLC seminar in Wake Forest, N.C.

The 1998 seminar in Charleston, S.C., featured South Carolina Gov. David Beasley, a one-term Republican.

Speakers at the 1999 seminar in Austin, Texas, included Tony Perkins, at the time a first-term Republican member of the Louisiana House of Representatives who went on the head the Family Research Council.

The lone Democrat at Land’s seminars was Robert Casey, the former governor of Pennsylvania noted for leading his party’s anti-abortion wing.

Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor and state convention president, spoke as Arkansas lieutenant governor at the CLC conference in Del City, Okla. in 1994 and again after his election as governor at the 50th anniversary CLC seminary in 1997 in Louisville, Ky.

Huckabee was also invited to speak at the Jan. 30-Feb. 1 New Baptist Covenant Celebration but withdrew in the midst of a political campaign over critical comments about President George W. Bush by meeting planner and former President Jimmy Carter.

Carter was a keynote speaker at the Atlanta meeting, joined by fellow Democrats former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore. Republican senator Chuck Grassley also spoke. Another Republican, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, was scheduled to speak but canceled on short notice because he was busy campaigning for presidential candidate John McCain.

”The go-along, get-along strategy is dead,” Land told the New York Times discussing the GOP in 1998. ”No more engagement,” he said. “We want a wedding ring. We want a ceremony. We want a consummation of the marriage.”

Land said the NBC meeting was “about promoting a Democratic Party agenda and trying to get Democrats elected to the House, the Senate and the White House.” He said he was bothered by the planners’ hypocrisy. “If there’s going to be a political agenda you ought to own up to it and not deny it,” he said.

Land also said he objected because, “Their assumption that we’re too stupid or too naïve to figure this out.”

Land also objected to “the underlying impression” of the NBC gathering that Southern Baptists, the largest and one of the most conservative Baptist denominations, are not concerned about social issues like fighting poverty.

“Almost 73 percent–between 72 and 73 percent–of the entire budget of the Southern Baptist Convention goes to the International Mission Board in Richmond and the North American Mission Board in Atlanta, who have as a significant part of their ministry alleviating hunger at home and abroad, and alleviating suffering in disaster relief, at home and abroad, and with agricultural missionaries and all manner of missionaries, medical missionaries, that are alleviating the suffering of the poor,” Land said. “Basically, 75 cents out of every dollar that Southern Baptists give to the denomination goes to alleviating suffering.”

While 72.79 percent of the current Cooperative Program budget–the name for the SBC’s unified giving plan–does go to world mission ministries, just $8 million of nearly $290 million received by the International Mission Board in 2006-2007 was designated for hunger and relief. The North American Mission Board spent $1.2 million on disaster relief out of a budget of $125 million.

More than 62 percent of the more than a half-billion dollars that local churches give to the Southern Baptist denomination each year stays at the state-convention level.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.