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Newspaper Denies Misquoting SBC Leader

The Wall Street Journal stands by quotes attributed to a Southern Baptist leader and challenged Monday in Baptist Press.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, claimed an Aug. 13 story quoting him conveyed an “erroneous impression” that his agency’s new voter-registration effort favors Republicans.

Discussing Land’s iVoteValues.com initiative, reporter Elizabeth Bernstein quoted Land as saying, “The Democrats may not like it, but we’re serious as a heart attack.”

Baptist Press said Land remembers the quote, from a July interview, differently.

“I am almost positive that I said ‘liberals,’ not ‘Democrats,’ and I am certain that the quote was in an entirely different context than the iVoteValues.com campaign,” he said.

Land described Bernstein’s story on religious involvement in public-policy issues as “mostly superb.” He said he believed the reporter was “trying really hard to get things right,” but “mistakes happen.”

A spokesman for the Wall Street Journal’s parent company, however, said Bernstein ran the quotes by Land before publication, and he suggested no change.

“We stand behind Ms. Bernstein’s reporting that she accurately quoted Mr. Land for the story,” Bob Christie, senior public relations manager for Dow Jones & Company, said in a statement to EthicsDaily.com.

It is the second time in recent months Land has claimed he was misunderstood in the national media.

Land gained media attention in April for telling a PBS “Frontline” documentary that the day George W. Bush was inaugurated for a second term as the governor of Texas in 1999 he told Land and others meeting with him at the governor’s mansion, “I believe that God wants me to be president.”

Land claimed the program’s producers edited the statement in a way that “distorted the meaning and the whole ethos behind the quote.”

“What the president said was, ‘I believe that God wants me to be president, but if that doesn’t happen, that’s OK. I am loved at home, and that’s more important,” Land said April 29 on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” program and quoted by Baptist Press.

It also isn’t the first time Land has defended the first-ever Southern Baptist Convention voter-registration campaign as being non-partisan. NPR in May included statements implying that the SBC was sending a message to vote Republican.

As a tax-exempt entity under IRS Code 501(c)(3), the ERLC “does not endorse or oppose any political party or candidate,” Land said in a letter to NPR. “It does not take sides as to candidates or parties in any federal, state or local election. The ERLC does not instruct individuals as to the candidates or political parties for which they should vote.”

Land describes the iVoteValues.com initiative–which includes a nationwide tour by a red, white and blue tractor-trailer rig–as a way to “aid voters in the importance of voting on Election Day and the necessity of considering biblical truths when entering the voting booth.”

Land is a former aide to two-term Texas Gov. William Clements, and he currently serves in his second term on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. He was appointed to the post by President George W. Bush.

In a 1998 story about religious conservatives and the Republican Party, Land told the New York Times: “The go-along, get-along strategy is dead…. No more engagement. We want a wedding ring. We want a ceremony. We want a consummation of the marriage.”

Land later denied he was saying the SBC ought to be married to the Republican Party.

“That’s not what I said,” Land told SBC messengers in 1999. “I said if the Republican Party wants the support of people who believe in God and who believe in the sanctity of all human life from conception onward and believe in the traditional family and believe that homosexuality is deviant and immoral behavior and shouldn’t be approved and affirmed by the president of the United States, then they need to come and endorse our values and our beliefs and our understanding of the truth.”

A transcript of Land’s telephone interview with the Times obtained by EthicsDaily.com shows the quote attributed to Land was accurate.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.