By Alan Bean
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has issued a thorough and sincere apology after referring to Black pastors like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson as “race hustlers” and implying that racial profiling is justified. Land also says he regrets plagiarizing a Washington Times columnist in the course of his tirade.
Lands comments were sparked by media coverage of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida.
After issuing a half-hearted and unconvincing apology in April, the Southern Baptist opinion leader sat down with a number of prominent Black pastors, including Arlington’s Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church. That meeting appears to have made a deep impression.
How do we explain this about-face? Is Land merely fighting to save his job or attempting to placate angry Black pastors?
I don’t think so. This apology sounds and smells like the real deal.
The real question is why the Baptist ethicist was so upset by the tidal wave of concern unleashed by the Trayvon Martin story, and that one’s a no-brainer. Land was living in the bubble of Southern white conservatism. Inside that segregated world of moral discourse, any reference to racism or racial profiling feels like an assault on the American way of life.
Land’s thinking was transformed by a close encounter with the world of Black evangelical moral discourse. Suddenly the issues were humanized and Land felt the pain his remarks had caused.
This is a testimony to the power of integrated moral conversation. We are a story-telling species. We don’t reason our way to a moral position; our ethical conclusions emerge from the value-laden stories we hear.
Richard Land’s Trayvon Martin rant shows how ugly things get when we are walled off from moral narratives shared by people who don’t look like us, sound like us, or live like us.
If you remain convinced that Land is just another Baptist bureaucrat fighting for his job, I urge you to read the full text of his apology:
“I am here today to offer my genuine and heartfelt apology for the harm my words of March 31, 2012, have caused to specific individuals, the cause of racial reconciliation, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the ministry of The Reverend James Dixon, Jr. the president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a group of brethren who met with me earlier this month, I have come to understand in sharper relief how damaging my words were.
“I admit that my comments were expressed in anger at what I thought was one injustice — the tragic death of Trayvon Martin — being followed by another injustice — the media trial of George Zimmerman, without appeal to due judicial process and vigilante justice promulgated by the New Black Panthers. Like my brothers in the Lord, I want true justice to prevail and must await the revelation of the facts of the case in a court of law. Nevertheless, I was guilty of making injudicious comments.
“First, I want to confess my insensitivity to the Trayvon Martin family for my imbalanced characterization of their son which was based on news reports, not personal knowledge. My heart truly goes out to a family whose lives have been turned upside down by the shocking death of a beloved child. I can only imagine their sense of loss and deeply regret any way in which my language may have contributed to their pain.
“Second, I am here to confess that I impugned the motives of President Obama and the reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. It was unchristian and unwise for me to have done so. God alone is the searcher of men’s hearts. I cannot know what motivated them in their comments in this case. I have sent personal letters of apology to each of them asking for them to forgive me. I continue to pray for them regularly, and for our president daily.
“Third, I do not believe that crime statistics should in any way justify viewing a person of another race as a threat. I own my earlier words about statistics; and I regret that they may suggest that racial profiling is justifiable. I have been an outspoken opponent of profiling and was grief-stricken to learn that comments I had made were taken as a defense of what I believe is both unchristian and unconstitutional. I share the dream of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that all men, women, boys, and girls would be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. Racial profiling is a heinous injustice. I should have been more careful in my choice of words.
“Fourth, I must clarify another poor choice of words. I most assuredly do not believe American racism is a ‘myth’ in the sense that it is imaginary or fictitious. It is all too real and all too insidious. My reference to myth in this case was to a story used to push a political agenda. Because I believe racism is such a grievous sin, I stand firmly against its politicization. Racial justice is a non-partisan ideal and should be embraced by both sides of the political aisle.
“Finally, I want to express my deep gratitude to Reverend Dixon and the other men who met with me recently for their Christ-like witness, brotherly kindness, and undaunting courage. We are brethren who have been knit together by the love of Jesus Christ and the passion to reach the world with the message of that love. I pledge to them — and to all who are within the sound of my voice — that I will continue to my dying breath to seek racial justice and that I will work harder than ever to be self-disciplined in my speech. I am grateful to them for holding me accountable.
“I am also delighted to announce that as a result of our meeting, the ERLC, in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, will initiate regular meetings to discuss our common calling to heal our nation’s racial brokenness, work for meaningful reconciliation, and strategize for racial justice.”
Did Dr. Land say everything I might have wanted him to say? No, he didn’t. But he said everything he could say without receiving a personality transplant. His strong repudiation of racial profiling warms the cockles of my Baptist heart.
Thanks to the Black Southern Baptist pastors who cared enough to speak the painful truth.