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Southern Baptist Leader Criticized for Comment About Pope

A Southern Baptist opponent of ecumenical dialogue has criticized a denominational leader for contradictory statements against joining one ecumenical group while telling a national magazine that he has more in common with the Catholic pope than with fellow Baptists who are liberal Democrats.

<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told Agape Press in November that it would be unwise for Southern Baptists to join a new ecumenical group, Christian Churches Together in the USA, being spearheaded by the National Council of Churches.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
“The reason we have different denominations is we have different understandings of what our faith is,” Land said, “And if you’re involved in these kinds of things organizationally, you can end up giving people a false impression that you have the same faith.”
 
While Southern Baptists work with others on social issues like abortion, pornography and gay marriage, Land said, “When it comes to faith issues, when it comes to theology and doctrine, we feel it’s best to make it very clear where we stand–and to not stand in organic relationship with others that would give people the idea that we have similar or the same faith.”
 
Jerry Moser, a Louisiana pastor who has spearheaded efforts over the last decade to weed out “ecumenism” in the SBC, said he agreed with Land’s statement. He added that he found it surprising given that Land’s signature in the past appeared on two ecumenical documents from a group called Evangelicals and Catholics Together.
 
Moser told readers of his online newsletter that he had planned to affirm Land’s comments in an earlier edition, until he saw another quote attributed to the Southern Baptist leader in The Atlantic Monthly.
 
“I’ve got more in common with Pope John Paul II than I do with Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton,” Land said, explaining that agreeing with the pontiff on abortion, marriage and homosexuality “is just more relevant than whether I’m Catholic or Protestant.”
 
Moser said he wrote Land asking if he had been misquoted or taken out of context, but Land didn’t reply.
 
“Now, far be it from me to defend Jimmy Carter’s fatally skewed theology or Bill Clinton’s gross immorality,” Moser wrote, “but Dr. Land says he has more in common with Pope John Paul II? What an outrageous and misleading comparison!”
 
Moser said the pope advocates “sacramental faith” as opposed to salvation by grace and is responsible for pedophile priests under his authority.
 
“Notwithstanding JPII’s sweet-old-man appearance or what he says he believes about moral issues, the long list of moral offenses by so many under his authority, at the very least, ought to disqualify him from being held up by Dr. Land as an example of moral affinity,” Moser said.
 
Moser said the Atlantic Monthly article raised questions about whether Land believes a person who trusts in “sacramental faith” can be a genuine Christian. Evangelicals, he said, have long held that belief in sacraments and the biblical gospel of salvation by grace through faith are not the same.
 
“If you take opposing positions, don’t be surprised if people can’t figure out where you stand,” Moser observed.
 
The solution, Moser said, would be for Land to publicly admit he was wrong in 1994 to endorse “Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,” a document produced by an ad hoc group of scholars outlining areas of agreement and disagreement between the two faith traditions.
 
Moser was a leading critic of the document, citing theological compromise behind statements describing Catholics and evangelicals as brothers and sisters in Christ and viewing conversion as being understood either as new birth or administered through the sacraments.
 
Land and another SBC leader eventually withdrew their signatures but said they were doing so only to prevent misunderstanding and not because they disagreed with the statement in principle.
 
“The truth is that until Dr. Land clearly and publicly repents of his endorsement of the heretical ECT, he continually presents a conflicting and confusing position regarding the gospel,” Moser said. “He gives a false impression that he shares the same faith with Roman Catholic leaders who openly promote sacramental faith.”
 
Moser, who describes himself as a biblical conservative, said Land has only himself to blame. “Dr. Land has made his own mistake, and his refusal to acknowledge and correct that mistake simply ensures a continued fallout,” he said.
 
“It is his responsibility to correct what he’s done in such a way that ensures others will stop using his name to advance the cause of ecumenical heresy. Withdrawing his name from the document while stating that he continues to support it–ignoring the issue of the heresy it contains–this just doesn’t do it. Who of us would get away with such a charade?”
 
Moser said the issue is not whether it is appropriate for various groups to cooperate regarding cultural or moral issues, but whether Southern Baptists lend the impression that they hold the same faith as Roman Catholics. “To give a false impression regarding the gospel, regarding how one obtains eternal life, this is a very serious matter,” he said.
 
When Baptist Press reported on the Atlantic Monthly interview in January, an Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission writer didn’t include Land’s reference to the pope. The article quoted Land indirectly as telling the magazine “that when it comes to values, it could be said he has more in common with many in the Catholic faith than he does with Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton, two men who previously have identified themselves as Southern Baptists.”
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.