Out Land Ish or, Who Gets to Parse an Apology?

I read with interest the April 5 piece from The Tennessean titled, Richard Land’s rant on Trayvon Martin case stings some Southern Baptists. I could not help but think of conversations John and I had while sharing a room in San Cristobal Verapaz. John insisted on the need for better stories in light of the way the media seemed to be reporting on the death of Trayvon Marin. Sadly this is not one of those stories.

Little did we know that while we were flying home after teaching pastors how to parse the Scriptures in the context of teaching Reading the Bible for All Its Worth, Dr. Land was on air offering his ethical expertise to the Trayvon Martin case. But was he offering his ethical expertise or demonstrating something of an ethical lapse? Aaron Weaver raised the issue with his nagging suspicion that nobody uses “thereby” doing talk radio. In the Greg Horton’s piece for Ethics Daily, Weaver noted,

“While I was listening (to Land’s show),” Weaver told EthicsDaily.com, “I was struck by a couple of phrases. Land used the word thereby. How often do you hear the word thereby on a talk radio program? I did a Google search for a couple of phrases and immediately landed on the Jeffrey Kuhner column in the Washington Times.”

Drat those Google searches. Someone needs to really think ethically about the intrusive nature of Google searches. Aaron offers two updates to his original piece. It seems he discovered more than one oversight. What is that maxim? Fool me once shame on thee, fool me twice shame on me.

Most students, even those Land would have taught at the Criswell College all those years ago, would have suffered greatly for plagiarizing another’s work. Land stood by his words in an April 10 piece from Baptists Press. And stood by them he did. He seems to suggest the need to stand in the face of political correctness,

In comments provided to Baptist Press April 10, Land stood by his radio remarks.

“Some have said that I, by criticizing this rush to judgment, have set back the cause of racial reconciliation. Real racial reconciliation, to which I have been committed for my entire ministry, involves treating people as equals,” Land wrote.

“Among other things, it means speaking the truth in love and not being called a racist when you are the bearer of uncomfortable truths. True racial reconciliation means you can criticize black leaders when you believe they have been wrong without being labeled as a racist. True racial reconciliation means that you do not bow to the false god of political correctness,” Land wrote.

Notice the vocabulary used to deflect criticism. As a pastor I cannot tell you how many times those wishing to justify their candor reference, “speaking the truth in love.” Maybe we should stop and consider the context of Ephesians 4 rather than pull-quote to make any objection appear to be an argument with the Scriptures, and thereby God. The best thing that can be said were we applying the context is that Land believes Jackson and Sharpton to be brothers in Christ. Even if he offered less than flattering descriptions in love.

However, Land was not speaking the truth to Sharpton, Jackson, or any other fitting of his particular descriptors who differ with his personal opinion on the matter. He was speaking to the faithful audience he has worked to establish since 2002. So, unless he wishes in the aftermath of an apology to self-edit, he does not appear to be speaking the truth to those not interested in uncomfortable truths.  Instead, he speaks truth to his base. How prophetic. I guess someone could pull quote that he may be speaking to an audience with itching ears. Land simply gives them what they want, something to fear.

Now, six days after standing by his words, Land offers an apology. Who gets to parse his apology? Already people are lining up to suggest apology’s require forgiveness. Again, a particular vocabulary is invoked to limit questions about for what exactly was Land apologizing. Dave Miller writes,

But the facts, as they stand, are uncontroverted.

1. Land apologized for issuing remarks that have inflamed racial tensions within the SBC in a time in which racial reconciliation seemed to be progressing rapidly.

2. Land apologized for speaking words he took from other conservative authors and spoke them as if they were his own.

The Baptist Press piece containing the full text of Land’s apology begins,

I am writing to express my deep regret for any hurt or misunderstanding my comments about the Trayvon Martin case have generated.

and ends with,

Please know that I apologize to any and all who were hurt or offended by my comments. I will certainly recommit myself to seeking to address controversial issues with even more sensitivity in the future.

Land apologizes for those who may have been hurt or those who misunderstood him. He apologized for those hurt or offended. Land commits himself to greater sensitivity. I read the explanation on Land’s website how it happened that he uttered words verbatim but offered no attribution except for links in show notes. Again, Weaver aptly describes and questions this practice. Surely Aaron jests when wondering if there is a different category for using someone else’s words as your own when doing live talk radio.

Maybe Miller is right about his two stated uncontroverted facts. But, like Dave, I have my own musings. Of the 340 words land used to demonstrate his receptivity to making an apology, 57 pertain to the apology. The remaining words serve as an apologetic to critics outside the fold and as polemic for those inside the SBC. A friend and I were talking about this current event yesterday. He noted that in the text of the apology Land spends more time talking about himself and his record. In an apology when the majority of what you have to say is about yourself, it may reveal how much you believe you are the center of your universe.

Tacky. Picky. I think not. When we teach our children the proper practice of an apology we do not suggest they invite the wounded to consider what a great record they have. It tends to detract from a sense of sincerity. We do not teach them to offer anything that may be construed as an, “I am sorry. But, . . ..” Why parse an apology? Who should? We should. When a person assumes the role of chief ethicist for the Southern Baptist Convention, we do not want to be put in position of explaining the parts of the apology that do more to say, “You should have overlooked this and not been offended because I have done such a good job. Why, if I had not worked so hard for racial reconciliation in the Southern Baptist Convention, just think where we would be?”

That Dr. Land apologized for hurt, offensiveness, and a lack of sensitivity is noteworthy. It is also important to ask, just what about the content of what was said was in need of re-statement, if not retraction?

For this pastor, father, and now grandpa, I will offer a different vision of apology if it is all the same to the leading ethicist among we Southern Baptists. There will be better stories to tell in the aftermath of the Good News of Jesus. This, however, is not one of them.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.