Dr. Richard Land, who was once named one of America's 25 most influential evangelicals and who has led the Southern Baptists Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission since 1988, announced on Tuesday that he would be stepping down from his current post next year.
"It has been the honor, privilege, and blessing of a lifetime to serve the Lord, the wonderful people of God called Southern Baptists, and other brothers and sisters in the faith through the ERLC for virtually half of my entire ministry," Land wrote in his resignation letter. "Now, I believe that God has led me to the place where He is releasing me to other places of service in His Kingdom."
He announced a retirement date of Oct. 23, 2013, which would mark his 25th anniversary with the ERLC.
Land, 65, has achieved national recognition as he has tackled almost every major public policy and cultural issue over the last quarter of a century and gained the respect of many in the public policy arena. Even those who sometimes disagree with him have come to respect his ability to communicate his positions in a biblical, yet loving manner.
Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners, could be described by some as the evangelical opposite of Richard Land. The two Christian men routinely appear on stages together to discuss – and at times debate – the issue of faith and public policy in America. But what they agree on more than makes up for the issues where they differ.
"When we disagree, we disagree respectfully," Wallis told The Christian Post. "Richard and I first met at a reception years ago and quickly became good friends. And since then, have become very close. I am proud to call him a friend."
The one central issue that brings the two men together is their agreement that faith needs to play a critical role in public life. When Wallis was asked what attribute he most admired in Land, he didn't have to ponder the issue for long.
"I believe him to be a man of integrity and honesty," said Wallis. "He is not ideologically minded as he is biblically minded and it comes through when you talk with him. Sometimes politicians don't understand that Christians are not as polarized as they think we are. And I'm glad to see that Richard is going to still be in the fight. We need men like him."
The announcement, which was announced in Baptist Press on Tuesday, said that Land "led the transformation of the Southern Baptist Convention's ethics entity during the denomination's conservative resurgence." Land served on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom for most of the past decade, and is considered one, if not the leading authority on Christian ethics and public policy.
"Dr. Land has been a stalwart leader of conservative and Christian causes and has been at the forefront of protecting our liberty in America," Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel and dean of the Liberty University Law School, told Baptist Press.
"He will certainly be missed in the role that he has played for many years by those of us who have worked closely with him and those of us who have followed his work. I have a high respect for Dr. Land and believe his legacy will continue to be felt throughout the country."
The list of issues Land has advocated for or defended include the sanctity of life, race related issues, immigration, traditional marriage and religious freedom. He has traveled the world and spent a great deal of his time in Washington, D.C., talking with elected officials and other movers and shakers on the national public policy stage.
Talking about how he came to his current position in his retirement announcement, Land wrote, "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 struggle for our nation's soul and as a minister of Christ's Gospel, I have no right to retire from that struggle."
"I have no intention of retiring from the issues that are of importance to our society," Land told The Christian Post. "I feel called to fight for the biblical principles important to our nation and our world."
Land also said he decided to announce his retirement early so that the ERLC and its board would have ample time to find a replacement in order for there to be an "orderly transition." He also confirmed that his retirement was voluntary and that he was not asked to step down.
In addressing his future, Land said he is excited about working with the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement and spending some time in his home state of Texas. In addition to his duties at ERLC, Land serves as executive editor for The Christian Post.
"Until now, I have not felt freedom to consider such opportunities," said Land. "I prayed long and hard about this decision and feel God has now given me the freedom to pursue some other opportunities."