Richard Land's recent comments regarding the killing of Trayvon Martin have given the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) a PR headache months before likely electing its first African American president. Now the denomination's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has formed an ad hoc committee to investigate accusations that Land plagiarized his controversial comments.
"Instead of letting the legal process take its independent course, race mongers are anointing themselves judge, jury, and executioners," Land said. "The rule of law is being assaulted by racial demagogues, and it's disgusting, and it should stop."
Land also stated a black man is "statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man."
The comments raised concerns that the SBC's efforts to improve its diversity would suffer setbacks. Maxie Miller, a church-planting expert in the Florida Baptist Convention, told The Tennessean he was "incredulous" after hearing about the comments.
"I think the [SBC] is doing a great job with diversity … but Land's comments definitely will make my work harder—encouraging African Americans to be a part of Southern Baptist Convention life," he told The Tennessean.
Land stood by his comments for more than two weeks before issuing an open letter to SBC president Bryant Wright apologizing for his comments on April 16.
"I am writing to express my deep regret for any hurt or misunderstanding my comments about the Trayvon Martin case have generated," Land wrote. "It grieves me to hear that any comments of mine have to any degree set back the cause of racial reconciliation in Southern Baptist or American life. I have been committed to the cause of racial reconciliation my entire ministry."
Fred Luter Jr., a prominent African American pastor expected to become the SBC's first black president, told Baptist Press in a statement that he had accepted Land's apology.
"[Land's] comments certainly were a concern for many of us across the Southern Baptist Convention," Luter said. "I accept his apology and will look forward to working with him and others within this convention to tear down the walls of racism in our great country."
Land's apology came after Aaron Weaver, a doctoral candidate at Baylor University, accused Land on April 14 of lifting large sections of his comments from a story previously published by Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner. Weaver posted a transcript of Land's March 31 show and bolded the sections that were also included in Kuhner's column published March 29.
Land also apologized in a statement to Baptist Press on April 16 for failing to attribute his comments to Kuhner.
"On occasion I have failed to provide appropriate verbal attributions on my radio broadcast, Richard Land Live!, and for that I sincerely apologize," Land told Baptist Press. "I regret if anyone feels they were deceived or misled. That was not my intent nor has it ever been."
In its statement announcing the investigation into Land's alleged plagiarizing, the ERLC wrote that Land himself initiated the process by contacting the ERLC board and informing them of the situation.
"Dr. Land has been very candid and forthcoming with us, and he has apologized to us and to the entire Board of Trustees for creating this controversy," the ERLC wrote. "We are reverently mindful of our obligations to the ERLC, Southern Baptists, and, most importantly, to our Lord Jesus Christ, to ensure no stone is left unturned in addressing this controversy. … We, of course, expect full cooperation with this investigation from all of our staff and we pledge to take all necessary action to address any wrongdoing that may be discovered."
The ERLC also noted Land's work on the SBC's 1995 apology for "condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism" throughout U.S. history.
Despite Land's apologies, some are calling for his removal from the ERLC. Dwight McKissic, pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, wrote on his blog that Land should be repudiated or removed, adding that Land's apology was not for his words but for the misunderstanding those words caused.
"I feel compelled to ask the SBC by way of resolution to repudiate and renounce the racially offensive, biblically unjustifiable and factually incorrect words of Dr. Richard Land," McKissic wrote. "He spoke these words as an official of the SBC; therefore, the SBC must take ownership and responsibility for Dr. Land's words."
On Thursday, The Tennesseanlaunched a poll asking readers to vote whether Land should lose his job over his comments and his plagiarism. As of Friday afternoon, 108 of the 173 votes cast said yes.