Longtime religious leader Richard Land ended his nearly 25 years of service as the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) by hitting partisan notes at the SBC’s annual meeting in Houston.
Land’s partisan farewell came as new ERLC President Russell Moore used a more civil tone and spoke of hoping to work with moderate Baptists and others.
During his remarks urging Christians to be thermostats – not thermometers – and change society, Land suggested that Christians should be willing to die to preserve the legacies of their forefathers and God.
He attacked former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat who for decades served as a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher before parting with the denomination.
Land did, however, also defend the ERLC’s efforts to work with other groups to push for comprehensive immigration reform. Land’s work on the topic puts him at odds with some of the more conservative Republicans in Congress.
The only two questions for Land at the end of his presentation came from messengers upset at the ERLC’s advocacy for immigration reform. Land and Moore tag-teamed as they defended their advocacy on the issue.
Following Land’s remarks, the nearly 5,000 messengers watched a video honoring him. In addition to clips of Land giving speeches and media interviews, the video also included interviews from various people praising Land.
Joining Southern Baptist leaders like Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler, Southwestern Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson and former SBC First Vice President Paul Pressler, several conservative political activists appeared in the video.
All of the non-SBC leaders interviewed were highly partisan conservatives with a history of promoting Republican candidates and causes. No moderate/independent or liberal/Democratic figures appeared in the video tribute.
Ralph Reed, who formerly led the Christian Coalition and served in various Republican political positions before starting his own conservative religious-political group, praised Land for pushing for conservative values.
Gary Bauer, former Republican presidential candidate and longtime conservative religious-political activist, lauded Land for bringing a belief in the Bible to “every public policy issue that he and I have discussed and worked on over the years.”
Jay Sekulow, who heads Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice and endorsed Mitt Romney for president, praised Land’s political service and impact as “significant.”
Adding to the partisan tone, the video noted Land’s work for a Texas governor (a Republican) and featured a clip of Land bragging about campaigning in Houston for Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater during the 1964 campaign against President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat from Texas.
Some of the praise in the video noted Land’s aggressive manner and tone.
“Richard’s always been aggressive, loud, out front, open to anything, attacking everything that disagrees with his understanding of Scripture,” stated former LifeWay Christian Resources President Jimmy Draper.
After the video tribute to Land, Moore delivered his first SBC address as the president of the ERLC. Declaring that the church must not become “a political action committee,” Moore urged Southern Baptists to focus on church ministry
Moore promised that the ERLC and Southern Baptists “will stand with conviction” but “will do so with a tone shaped by the gospel of Jesus Christ with a convictional kindness that recognizes that our enemies are not persons of flesh and blood, our enemies are invisible principalities and powers – the Scripture says – in the air around us.”
“We oppose demons, we don’t demonize opponents,” Moore added. “We follow a Christ who did not come into the world to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved. And even our harshest critic is a person that we are seeking to see reconciled to God by the blood of Christ.”
“We’re not here simply to register our outrage and to protest,” Moore continued. “Satan is undisturbed by all of that bluster. Satan isn’t afraid of culture warriors or values voters, Satan is afraid of a crucified Galilean who has a great deal of trouble staying dead for very long. And because that’s true, we can’t fight like the devil and please the Lord.”
Moore added later that he would be willing to work with other Baptist groups like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The partisan exit for Land, who will start July 1 as the president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., provided a fitting close to his leadership style while serving the ERLC.
“The go-along, get-along strategy is dead,” Land declared in 1998 as he explained his hope for the Republican Party and evangelicals to unite. “No more engagement. We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage.”
He joined a behind-closed-doors effort to launch the presidential campaign of Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry and joined a summit to plot how to defeat Romney in the Republican primaries and Obama in the general election.
In the 2012 presidential campaign, Land broke his promise of not officially endorsing candidates to urge voters to support Republican Mitt Romney.
Many of these attacks came on his radio program “Richard Land Live!,” which is the same forum on which he made his controversial and plagiarized comments about the Trayvon Martin case.
When the ERLC trustees announced they would cancel the radio program, they explained they had determined it was “not congruent with the mission of the ERLC.”
As Land retreats from ERLC leadership to head a non-Baptist school, it remains to be seen if the newly installed Moore will emerge from Land’s shadow to carve out a new tone and image for the ERLC.
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.