Posted by: baptistthinker | April 15, 2012

Richard Land, Race, and Southern Baptists

If you haven’t heard(like me), Richard Land, an SBC ethicist and radio talk show host, recently made some comments on the Trayvon Martin case and race. Now, before getting into the comments themselves, let me say that I really don’t have any dog in this hunt. I’ve read all the public facts on the Trayvon Martin case, and I don’t really know what to say about it. Was it cold-blooded murder? Probably not. Was it an avoidable killing? Absolutely. Was Zimmerman right to eventually use his gun? That remains to be seen, but my own guess is no. Do I listen to Richard Land? No. If I want to listen to political talk radio, there’s always Hannity, Limbaugh, and Beck, all of whom are way more entertaining than Land. I do have a dislike for Land, but that is because he and guys like Beck(and the preachers I grew up around) are constantly trying to wrap Jesus up in the American flag, and are far more concerned with politics than they are with Jesus Christ and His mission. Or at least that is how he seems to be. But I always try to give all parties a fair hearing. And I read Richard Land’s post carefully, to see what problems there are with it, if any.

To start with, much of what Richard Land has had to say on the Trayvon Martin case has been plagarized. This is an odd thing for an ethicist to do, especially a Christian ethicist. Land’s comments primarily focused on what he titled “race-baiting” in the case, accusing men like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson of fanning the fires of racial hatred. Now, whether or not that is true, that is not the point of my blog post. Richard Land is more of a political commentator, than a commentator on religious issues. Rather than being a servant of Christ and attempting to promote peace and unity in this situation, Land chose to go for the easy shot against those he perceives as political enemies.

Now, as a white man, I think that many white people tend to view accusations of racism and hate crimes quite differently than minorities. Why? Because most of us have never really experienced racism. And most of us don’t particularly think of ourselves as being “racist”, or “prejudiced”. Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have prejudices. We do. Just like most people. Think about it, if you drive by “the ghetto”, how do you view most people living in that neighborhood? If you drive by a trailer park, how do you view the people there? What if you drive by an upper-class neighborhood? Or in a neighborhood like Spanish Harlem? Many of us look at people who are different than us, either ethnically, economically, religiously, or whatever, and our initial reaction is to pigeonhole those people and class them together with our general attitude about those people.

It’s a sinful attitude, when we look at a class of people and view them in a light based on our preconceived notions about that class. If we are suspicious of somebody we encounter who appears or is Arabic, and suspect them of being a terrorist, that’s sinful. If we walk through the store, see an African-American youth walking in our direction, and clutch our purse tighter or put our hands on our wallet, that’s sinful. If we see a white man wearing a NASCAR t-shirt and suspect them of being a racist redneck, that’s sinful. If we see an Hispanic family at Wal-Mart and suspect them of being illegals and think “let’s send them back to Mexico”, that’s sinful. If we see a rich man and think “he got his money through dishonest means”, that’s sinful. If we see a person buying groceries with food stamps and think “they’re milking the system and are lazy”, that’s sinful. Making a judgment about a person based on where they are ethnically, economically, religiously, or however else, is sinful. Absolutely sinful.

So now we’ve got that out of the way. And this is important, because Richard Land later made comments that justified the idea that being worried about a black man over a white man is an unfortunate, but legitimate concern.

Land says he stands by his assertion that President Barack Obama “poured gasoline on the racialist fires” when he addressed Martin’s slaying and that Obama, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton have used the case “to try to gin up the black vote for an African American president who is in deep, deep, deep trouble for re-election.”

Land, who is white, said in an interview he has no regrets about his remarks. He said he understands why the case has touched a nerve among black leaders, but he also defended the idea that people are justified in seeing young black men as threatening: A black man is “statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man.”

“Is it tragic that people react that way? Yes. Is it unfair? Yes? But it is understandable,” he said.

Now, regardless of the accuracy of Land’s statement above, it’s still a bad statement to make. Suppose that Land’s statement that a black man is “statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man” is actually true. What’s the point of making the statement? Isn’t Land here, essentially doing the same thing that he is accusing Sharpton and Jackson of doing? Trying to make out “that other ethnic group” as being somehow the enemy. But are Land’s statements true? I’m sure his statement could be argued. I’m sure that one could use statistics either way. Personally, I don’t care which way the statistics go. Crime is a problem, because sin is a problem. Some crimes are found more often among one ethnicity than in another. Statistically, you’re more likely to be murdered by a serial killer who is a white male than who is a black male. Statistically, if you are reading this and you’re white, you’re more likely to be killed by a white person than by a black person. It’s sin that is the issue, not race or ethnicity.

So really, let’s not pull out endless statistics about race and crime in the United States. It’s not important. What is important is that Richard Land made horrible comments, that really need to be addressed. Notice that Land said that this is simply a case of black leaders trying to “gin up the vote for Obama” among black people. Was it a necessary comment? Was it helpful? Did it add meaningful insight to the issue of Trayvon Martin’s killing? Or did it simply add fuel to the fire of those who see what is going on and say “this is all race-baiting without all the facts of what happened”? This was simply a case of another political commentator being ignorant in what he had to say. Like Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher, Land simply said something indefensible. But then Land decided to defend what he said, and piled more fuel on the fire by making the statement that a “black man is more likely to do you harm than a white man”. How on earth does that help? If you’re wanting to genuinely talk about racial issues, making statements like this doesn’t help.

Now, I know that Richard Land helped to push the SBC towards making an official apology to African-Americans some years ago. So what? Does that somehow exempt him from making dumb, stupid, sinful statements later on in his career?

One of the biggest problems with this, has been the noticable silence from other SBC voices on this. Richard Land is not exactly small potatoes in the SBC. He’s a major player, and has been for some time. For this reason, I would argue that major SBC voices need to publicly repudiate Land’s statements, and call him to repentance. Richard Land wasn’t engaging in conversation about race issues, he was taking a political position. He wasn’t discussing the case, he was taking a stand on how he viewed it, and firing at anybody who disagreed. In doing what he did, Richard Land has embarrassed many Southern Baptists, including myself. Richard Land really needs to step back and think about what he said and why he said it. I don’t believe this was something Jesus would have said. And I’m not perfect, I don’t always say what Jesus would say. But what I see here, is a proud man refusing to back down from comments that were wrong to make. I really hope that Richard Land is not representative of most Southern Baptists, because he’s certainly not representing me. But the problem is, as I said before, Richard Land is a major voice in the SBC. And for that reason, other major voices in the Convention need to come out and speak on this. Somebody like Al Mohler, Russell Moore, Bryan White, or even Fred Luter(the man thought to become the next president of the SBC-and the first African-American president).

Richard Land isn’t representative of the Southern Baptists I know. He isn’t representative of me. I hope, quite honestly, that somebody other than African-American pastors I haven’t heard of decides to step up to the plate and take on Land’s comments. They are a disgrace not only to the convention, but they also represent the Lord Jesus Christ very, very poorly. In fact, they don’t represent Christ at all. Land is speaking from his own heart, from his own prejudices. Not from Scripture, not from Christ, and not from God.

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