Retirement Land

August 16, 2012

Richard Land, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, recently announced his plan to retire next year (the photo is one I took of him last year as he spoke at Ralph Reed's Faith & Freedom Coalition conference). Land, the top politico for Southern Baptists, has been in a number of controversies over the years--as I have frequently reported for Ethics Daily--but none as harmful on his reputation as one earlier this year. After making insensitive, racist, and plagiarized comments about the Trayvon Martin case (see posts here and here), Land offered multiple apologies as he fought to keep his job. At the time, I predicted he would work to ride out the storm with the promise of retiring next year. Although he says the announcement has nothing to do with the controversy, the timing is interesting. As Land announced his retirement, he promised to keep fighting. Although the term "culture wars" is often used disparagingly, Land instead embraces the moniker:
Let me be clear, I am retiring from the ERLC, not from the ministry, or from what is popularly called the "culture war." ... When God called me into the ministry a half century ago, the burden He placed on my heart was for America. That call and that burning burden are still there. I believe the "culture war" is a titanic spiritual struggle for our nation's soul and as a minister of Christ's Gospel, I have no right to retire from that struggle.
This should concern Southern Baptists. Although Land will not officially represent Southern Baptists, his long affiliation with the SBC will be noted each time he makes controversial and hateful remarks. And to make matters worse, now there will not be any trustees to tone him down when he goes too far.

As Land enters a long lame-duck term--not retiring until October 23, 2013--it will be interesting to see what impact that has on his already damaged influence and how focused he will be on SBC interests. Already there are signs that he is working on his future career as a one-man culture warrior instead of just representing the interests of the SBC. As he noted in his retirement announcement:
I am already doing some media and public policy consulting in Washington and recently I have been made aware of other future possibilities in these areas.
How Land reconciles this moonlighting with his SBC role is left unstated. Last month, news came out that the Christian Post (which is run by a secretive, controversial cultish group) pays Land for his advising role with the site. Additionally, Land's new website--a launching pad for his new career as an independent culture warrior for hire--indicates that an employee of the SBC's ERLC is doing the same job for Land's independent effort. All of this should concern Southern Baptists. Land seems to only be getting more strident and partisan over time, and soon he will no longer feel held back by his SBC position. The so-called "culture wars" willy likely include even more lightening flashes.

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