Careless language

March 06, 2008

A lot has happened in the past week since I critiqued Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, for using a crude and derogatory word to describe a U.S. Senator. During comments at Criswell College, Land called Senator Chuck Schumer the "the schm*** from New York." After Ethics Daily reported on the racial aspect of using a Yiddish insult against Schumer, who is Jewish, the story really picked up. Since then it has received coverage from the Dallas Morning News religion blog, Americans United, author Randall Balmer, and others.

Ethics Daily had a new article yesterday covering some of the various reactions to Land's crude insult. It quotes from my first post on the issue as well reactions from other Baptists. It also offers thoughts from some Jewish religious leaders. Here are a couple of those statements:

Rabbi Rami Shapiro of the One River Foundation in Murfreesboro, Tenn., said Land's remarks reveal "how wicked religion and religious dialogue have become in this country."

... Rabbi Fred Guttman of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C., said the word used by Land isn't one he "would ever use from the pulpit or in any thoughtful way in describing another person."

Guttman said Baptists might not understand how offensive such a slur would sound to a Jewish person, not only because of the word itself but also because choosing an eastern European Jewish epithet to apply to a senator who happens to be Jewish implies some sort of connection between Land's dislike of Schumer's positions and the senator's Jewish faith.
Now, Land has offered his own response to the controversy in a Baptist Press column yesterday entitled "Careless language." In it he writes:
I have learned some consider the word crude, if not obscene. I apologize for my ignorance of that fact. If I had known that, I would never have used the word. I always attempt to avoid crude and offensive language as a matter of conviction.
I am glad that he has apologized for this statement as that is what I called on him to do in my first post. I hope he has learned to be more careful with his word choice. However, I am concerned that he has not quite learned the full lesson here. He added:
As Jeffrey Weiss of The Dallas Morning News has pointed out, the idiom means "jerk," which was my intended usage. I truly apologize to anyone offended by my use of a word they perceived to be crude or obscene. I used the word "schmuck" in my reference to Senator Schumer solely in an attempt to employ a word that alliterated with Schumer's name and describe my perception of his behavior during the confirmation hearings for Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito -- nothing more!
Although it is good that he has acknowledged the inappropriateness of his comment, he still admitted something problematic. Even if he had used the word jerk," would that still be considered an appropriate way to describe a U.S. Senator? Although that would have been better, it does not sound like the way a religious leader should talk during a sermon. Calling a Senator a jerk and trying to make fun of his name is not a civil or appropriate way to address a disagreement. So although he has taken the first step, Land needs to go even further to clean up his communication.

Land also claimed he was "deeply offended" anyone thought his remark was anti-Semitic. Today, Parham critiqued Land's claim that he has spoken out against anti-Semitism. Ethics Daily's first piece had pointed out previous troubling remarks by Southern Baptist leaders. Parham argued, "Where's the beef for what he has done to combat anti-Jewish attitudes and actions in the SBC? ... It sounds like all hat and no cattle. Where is his criticism of Bailey Smith or Al Mohler or the targeting of Jews during the High Holy Days?"