HOUSTON -- Richard Land, a prominent Southern Baptist leader, saw his weekly radio show canceled Friday after he used it to criticize President Obama and black pastors’ response to the Trayvon Martin shooting.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee also issued Land two reprimands -- for the “racially charged” comments and for using material from the Washington Times without properly crediting the newspaper. Land had served as president of the ethics committee since 1988.
The move comes as the convention, which split from northern Baptists in 1845 in defense of slavery, prepares to elect a black preacher from New Orleans as its president. The Rev. Fred Luter Jr. will become the first African American to head the convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
Many Baptists view Luter’s election as a sign that the church is moving beyond its racially tinged past. To some Baptists, this made Land’s comments all the more unfortunate.
During a March 31 broadcast of “Richard Land Live!” Land had accused Obama, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton of attempting to capitalize on the fatal shooting of the Florida teenager. He also appeared to justify racial profiling.
Members of the committee called the comments “hurtful, irresponsible” and “insensitive.”
Land initially defended his remarks, then backpedaled, meeting with a group of African American pastors May 2, and issuing written apologies a week later to the convention president, Luter and the public.
But Baptist officials who investigated the incident said that was not enough.
“We are particularly disappointed in Dr. Land’s words because they do not accurately reflect the body of his work over a long career at the ERLC toward racial reconciliation in the Southern Baptist Convention and American life,” officials wrote Friday. “We must now redouble our efforts to regain lost ground, to heal re-opened wounds, and to realize the dream of a Southern Baptist Convention that is just as diverse as the population of our great Nation.”
Officials said the show “will end as soon as possible within the bounds of our contracts with the Salem Radio Network.”
Land appeared to accept officials’ decision Friday.
“I have said on numerous occasions that I believe in trustee oversight and governance. I am under the authority of the trustees elected by the Southern Baptist Convention. This whole process was conducted in a Christian manner by Christian gentlemen,” he said in a statement.
African American Southern Baptist leaders applauded the decision, and said they were willing to forgive Land.
“We accept his apology and covenant not only to hold him accountable in the future but to work arm-in-arm in the cause of racial healing,” said the Rev James Dixon Jr., president of the convention’s National African American Fellowship in a statement.
Dixon, pastor of El-Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md., added, “Racial reconciliation is not a political issue for us. It is a gospel issue.”
The Rev. Dwight McKissic, an African American pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, was among those initially outraged by Land’s comments. McKissic attended the May 9 meeting with Land, and was prepared to forgive him, but was pleased the convention took the added step of issuing what he called a “serious reprimand.”
“Twenty-five years ago, there would have been little resistance to his remarks,” McKissic said, adding that the decision shows “racial progress was made, that he was held accountable for his remarks.”
On the eve of the convention’s annual meeting June 19 in New Orleans, McKissic said he hopes church members of all races see what happened to Land as a positive step, “as opposed to just looking at this as a bad day in the life of Southern Baptists.”