In the wake of a plagiarism scandal, controversy over racially inflammatory remarks, and an internal investigation, Richard Land announced Tuesday that he would step down next year as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Land will formally retire in October, 2013 – 25 years to the day he assumed the presidency.
At best, he was offered a relatively graceful exit after four tumultuous months. At worst, he was forced out by critics who demanded an expiration date to the shame he brought the SBC. Either way, he clearly angered influential segments of the SBC and came to be seen as more liability than asset.
Criticism continued to mount, including from within the SBC, and Land then issued a non-apology apology
, saying that he had “underestimated the extent to which we must go out of our way not to be misunderstood when we speak to issues where race is a factor.” This only inflamed his critics
, including Dwight McKissic, a prominent African-American pastor in the SBC, who said
that “Land’s racial remarks against the backdrop of the Trayvon Martin tragedy are the most damaging, alienating, and offensive words about race that I’ve read or heard, rendered by a SBC personality.” McKissic also said he would introduce a resolution
at the upcoming convention asking the SBC to repudiate Land.
Land’s troubles ballooned when a Baptist blogger revealed that Land had plagiarized
part of his remarks on Martin from a Washington Times
column and had previously plagiarized columns
from other conservative publications. Land responded by downplaying his plagiarism
, saying that “on occasion I have failed to provide appropriate verbal attributions on my radio broadcast.” He also added
, “I regret if anyone feels they were deceived or misled.”
Just over two weeks after Land’s radio commentary on Martin, the ERLC’s executive committee issued a statement saying that Land had “angered many and opened wounds from the past” and that a committee had been designated to “investigate the allegations of plagiarism and recommend appropriate action.” The statement also said the committee was “very saddened that this controversy has erupted, and is very concerned about how these events may damage the work of the ERLC.” Land, seeing the writing on the wall, met with a number of prominent black SBC leaders and issued a “genuine and heartfelt apology
On June 1st
, the executive committee announced two reprimands
of Land for “his hurtful, irresponsible, insensitive, and racially charged words on March 31, 2012 regarding the Trayvon Martin tragedy” and “for quoting material without giving attribution.” The committee also determined
that the “content and purpose” of Land’s radio show were “not congruent with the mission of the ERLC,” and that the “controversy that erupted as a result…requires the termination of that program.” Additionally, the committee members expressed
their “sorrow, regret, and apologies” for Land's remarks and acknowledged
that “instances of plagiarism occurred because of his carelessness and poor judgment.”
You can reach your own conclusions about whether Land was shown the door or found his own way there, but there’s no question that he’s exiting under a cloud of scandal. We also haven’t heard the last of him. He vowed in his letter
to keep fighting in the culture war, which he described as a “titanic struggle for our nation's soul.” But without the ERLC, Land will be a significantly diminished presence on the Religious Right, and that’s something we can all be thankful for.