Unreliable Source

February 13, 2008

Among the coverage of the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, it has been surprising and disappointing to see how many media outlets have depended upon the analysis by Richard Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Take, for instance, a story yesterday from the news arm of the American Family Association that featured Land claiming that the Celebration did not focus on evangelism. No other individual is quoted to support this claim and it is accepted as truth. Land claimed it was no surprise that the speakers and workshops ignored evangelism. Why would the media trust the opinion of a man who was not even at the Celebration? How can Land make this claim in good faith when he was not there?

As one who actually attended the Celebration, I can attest to the fact that there was a lot of discussion about evangelism and missions. There were even workshops focused entirely on evangelism and on helping youth get involved in missions (for example, see articles here and here). One of the sessions I attended was all about getting youth passionate about evangelism and missions. It was inspiring to hear about the amazing efforts being taken (and frankly I was kind of jealous of the missions experiences some of the youth are getting to have at such a young age). Perhaps if Land had actually attended the Celebration--instead of throwing stones from afar--he would have also heard the strong evangelism focus on the gathering.

Land continued his lies as he stated:

If they were strong on evangelism, then all of these groups would not have declining membership. ... And every one of the groups that was there either has declining membership or is stagnant in its membership growth.
I do not know about the other groups, but I know that his statement that all of the groups there are declining or stagnant is simply not true. The Baptist General Convention of Missouri, for instance, is growing. Others represented at the Celebration probably are as well. Additionally, it is inaccurate to claim that declining membership means a group is not strong on evangelism. The might makes right argument is very poor theology (as I detailed in an Ethics Daily column).

Finally, Land declared:
Some call it diversity and worship of diversity; I call it compromise with the culture. ... We're going to stand over against the culture and bear witness to the culture, not be seduced by the culture.
He does not explain his accusation (probably because he has no evidence to back it up), but it does not fit what I experienced at the Celebration. At the session on youth and missions, much of the discussion was about the relationship with culture and the speakers strongly pushed for engaging but not compromising with culture. So they were actually saying what Land wanted them to (but do not expect him to praise them for that).

I wish Land would quit lying about the Celebration and making claims that are so blatantly false. From his comments it is obvious that he did not attend or pay attention to the Celebration, but is just making stuff up as he goes. Thus, it is very upsetting to see media--especially Christian media--use Land as their primary or even sole source about the Celebration. They have a journalistic and Christian duty to be fair and accurate and should start by talking to people who were actually there and know what they are talking about.

Here are some new pieces over the last few days about the Celebration from people who were actually at the Celebration:

Robert Parham of Ethics Daily had a great column critiquing a horrible and error-filled Wall Street Journal piece. It is shocking that the WSJ would publish a piece that had so many inaccuracies and was in such poor taste.

Bob Allen of Ethics Daily had an article about the criticism of the Celebration that have focused on the prophetic call by Al Gore to address the climate crisis.

Charles Foster Johnson, visiting instructor of preaching at McAfee School of Theology, had a good column at Ethics Daily about Baptists finding their voice at the Celebration.

Robert Parham of Ethics Daily had a good column about the need for Christians to work together to address the important issues of racism and the environment (and the need to see the two issues as related).

And Albert Reyes, president of Buckner Children and Family Services, Inc., had a great column at Ethics Daily about where to go next with the movement.