Differentiation requires attentiveness. Sometimes clarity helps. Yesterday a concerned interlocutor appraised my Out Land Ish post as an attack on a brother. The truth of the matter is I really did, and do, wish to suggest there is a better way to apologize. And, that when we offer more than “sorry” we flip the script and suggest to the wounded they really are wounded by their own lack of intelligence, sensitivity, or graciousness.

On a much deeper level what some are considering a non-apology betrays a systemic malady. How one reports to handle the Scriptures and how one actually expresses life under the authority of Scripture reveals a great deal. One more time I would pound the table imploring my Southern Baptist friends and leaders to pick up a copy of David Fitch’s, The End of Evangelicalism. We are beset with practices that betray our beliefs rendering our message empty as it revolves around a non-existent center. Or, in Fitch’s idiom, we celebrate an empty ideology as though there is substance at its core giving us the illusion that we stand for something we regularly betray.

Dr. Land’s intelligence need not be defended. Many should think twice before debating him on any number of topics. (Full disclosure: I took the class “The American Religious Experience” with Dr. Land in 1986 while at Criswell College.) That is not to say I agree with all of Dr. Land’s positions. But, if a person thinks they will simply be able to render Dr. Land mute based on haphazard argumentation, he or she should not venture an exchange. That Dr. Land easily holds his own does not mean the substance of his argument withstands needed scrutiny.

The Southern Baptist Convention creates the environment for Dr. Land. A line from the ERLC statement exposes how reticent anyone is to question Dr. Land,

We would be remiss if we did not recognize the invaluable contributions Dr. Land has made in the areas of religious freedom, theological scholarship, ministry, Southern Baptist denominational leadership, engaging the culture and our political leaders on matters of religious conviction, and in being a force for the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, our seminaries, and what is now the ERLC. Dr. Land is uniquely and richly gifted for the many roles he has occupied. He has been steadfast in his dedication to the ERLC and to Southern Baptists. These things must also weigh in the balance. (Bold highlight added.)

That Dr. Land has been and continues to be a good soldier in the battle against Liberalism and for a particular vision of the SBC reaps reward. There are plenty who fit this category. Jonathan Merritt, no stranger to SBC Life, noted in his Huffington Post piece, on the issue of race and the SBC, raised the implications of this pattern,

One must add to these examples the palpable silence from ordinarily outspoken SBC leaders in response to Land’s comments. Had Land’s comments smacked of theological liberalism, prominent white Southern Baptist leaders would have surely spoken out. So why was there no such response here? One can only conclude that racial unity still isn’t enough of a priority among these leaders to warrant a public rejoinder.

Like some other conservatives, Land seems to believe that racism is a myth or at least a problem of the past. On his radio show he said, “the nation has changed,” and that Americans have entered “a new era” and “a new age.” If Land’s comments are any indication, however, this new era looks a lot like the old one. And that is something Southern Baptists’ cannot afford.

Dr. Land gets a pass from many because of his battle scars. We Southern Baptists like our warring imagery.

Ed Stetzer emits a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dull response from our white SBC leaders. Thoughtfully Ed helps his readers to think through common statistical information to mine what is being said and what is not being said. I have heard Ed offer self-deprecating remarks about how statisticians handle their data. Here he demonstrates a way to talk about this divisive issue with greater care. Ed gets to a very important point when he writes,

A second reason this comment is unhelpful is that the Southern Baptist Convention itself has not yet gained the moral authority to speak with full credibility on issues of race— as evidenced by the recent response both outside the denomination and from African American leaders inside. The SBC rightfully apologized nearly two decades ago for our slavery-tinged beginning, and since then we have purposefully and successfully reached out to minority leaders and communities in ways that bridge racial divides. (Bold highlights added.)

There are two important takeaways, for me, from this quote. First, the SBC should exercise a greater measure of humility in the public square rather than immediately rush to is normal triumphalism in all things theological/political/sociological/economic/anthropological. Second, the justification of the SBC apology for its poor history on race and justice is born out more in local churches than magisterially declared. This is why those among our tribe who share the biggest profiles should both be leading the way in racial reconciliation and critiquing these egregious miscues. And, to be true we must forget the notion that ethics is not theology.

When there is an absence of those high profile white pastors stepping out to critique and lead the way, I am glad the SBC still has Dwight McKissic. I met Dwight six or eight years ago. He is no stranger to convictional stands. Dwight has stood against the inequities in the SBC system not only in matters of race but also of gender. He took up his keyboard on this matter and produced a pamphlet worthy piece suggesting the SBC needs to repudiate Land’s remarks. Dr. McKissic is not contending to repudiate Dr. Land. He is however, contending that the SBC needs to repudiate the assumptions and theology that is likely more prevalent than any care to admit. Maybe even in our own church.

Dwight begins to unfold his convictions and feelings in the aftermath of this affair coming to light. He writes,

To read Land’s initial comments and his apology is painful, shameful and heartbreaking for many of us. Now the SBC must take ownership of Dr. Land’s words, because according to Dr. Land, his words reflect the views of his constituency. There are three reasons why I believe the SBC must repudiate Dr. Land’s remarks; or I, for one, will remove myself from SBC gatherings. (Bold highlights added.)

Every pastor should read Dwight’s post. Every white Southern Baptist pastor should consider what sort of action would comport to the Good News of Jesus radicalized by Paul who wrote,

27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment. 28 There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.(Holman Christian Standard Bible)


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.

3 comments on “The SBC Land Slide or, Why Dr. Land is Not the Issue

  1. Guy Rittger says:

    Todd – As always, you’re exceedingly generous and diplomatic in your characterization of and response to the controversy surrounding Land’s original remarks and recent “apology”.

    Given Land’s politics and track-record of endorsing a conservative social, cultural, theological, and political agenda, I don’t think it is going too far to suggest that he knew quite well that his remarks would be inflammatory among those who have quite reasonably concluded that the police handling of the Trayvon Martin killing was influenced by race – i.e., had George Zimmerman shot and killed the white son of an affluent resident of the same community, there is no question the case would have been handled much differently.

    Similarly, Land’s “cribbing” of his remarks from the Washington Times, a notoriously right-wing / reactionary newspaper, and then effectively concealing his source, suggest a failure to connect whatever it is he thinks he “knows” about the Gospel and Christian discipleship, and his own ethical behaviour.

    That is to say, to my mind, Land and his supporters have already taken sides in a secular political conflict – Republican vs. Democrat – and have adapted their theology and personal ethics to accommodate the demands of the ideological struggle. One would be much more inclined to accept Land’s “apology” as sincere if one could shake the belief that what he’s really sorry about is that he finally got called out for statements and attitudes that a man of his learning and experience should have known were incompatible with Christian virtue.

    Before I’m branded as an apologist, myself, for those of any political stripe who would attempt to gain advantage from the Trayvon Martin tragedy – left or right – let me say that in my opinion the only legitimate Christian response is compassion for the Trayvon Martin, his family, as well as for George Zimmerman, a clearly troubled / damaged individual whose life was somehow set on a trajectory that led this incident.

    The day that Mr. Land expresses his outrage at the U.S. government’s murder of the 16-year old son of Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is the day I will acknowledge that he is a man of true Christian virtue and ethics.

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