SBC Defends Husband-Wife Relationship Values on 'Meet the Press'

Southern Baptist values and beliefs were emphasized during the NBC News’ “Meet the Press” program on Nov. 28, 2004. The hour long program, which focused on religion, politics and moral values, had Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) executive Richard Land, Jerry Falell, Al Sharpton and Jim Wallis as special guests.

The program began a screen that showed a section of the SBC’s “Articles on the Family” from the Baptist Faith and Message, which stated: “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.... She ... has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household....”

Tim Russert, the show’s host, asked Land if his vision for America was where wives would have to receive her husband’s permission to work outside the home.

Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, answered briefly that the vision in the statement applies to Christian families, not every American family.

“It’s my vision for Christian families. I don’t think that the law has anything to do with it,” said Land.

Following the show, Land explained further the position of the SBC during an interview with SBC’s Baptist Press.

Russert seemed to be implying that because the SBC’s statement, “we were going to try to impose our understanding of the family and our understanding of the biblical teachings about husbands’ and wives’ relationships on the culture,” said Land. “This is a theological statement about our understanding of the biblical ideal for the family and for marriage”

According to Land, Russert took out most of the parts on the message that emphasized the servitude of the husband.

“They left out all the parts about servant leadership of the husband. The ellipsis managed to take away most of the obligations of the husband, which are the dominant force of the article in the confessional statement,” he said.

Land also said Russert focused on a statement Land made in a press conference in response to a question about women working outside the home.

“My response to that questioner, who was opposed to parts on the article of the family was, ‘No, she can work outside the home unless her husband does not wish her to because that would be outside the headship of her husband.’ Then I said, ‘This is a husband who loves his wife in the same manner that Christ loved the Church and is always going to put his wife’s needs before his own,’” said Land.

While explaining that his own wife, who has a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy, worked outside the homes since his family’s youngest daughter began kindergarten, Land said the choice of whether women should work outside the home is up to individual households.

“That is an individual decision that should be made within families,” Land said. “That was our mutual choice.”

He added that the “statement came straight from Ephesians chapter 5,” so those who have problems with the message have a beef with the Apostle Paul, according to BP.

Going further, Land said the article was adopted in 1998 because “the family is in crisis.”

“It was time for Baptists to remind themselves and tell the world what we believe the Bible says about the family,” he continued. “That’s what we did.”

The second part of the program focused on racial equality. Sharpton, a well-known civil rights activist who sought the 2004 Democratic nomination for president, took note that Martin Luther King Jr. had to “fight your convention” for the passage of the civil rights laws, as he began the debate.

Land responded by agreeing that too many Southern Baptists opposed the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s. However, he noted that many Southern Baptists, including the leadership of the Christian Life Commission, did support integration and civil rights legislation.

He also took note that the messengers to the SBC meeting in June 1995 adopted a resolution apologizing “for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime.”

During his interview with the BP after the show, Land added that he wished to say that there are “three-quarters of a million African American Southern Baptists now.”

Land also said he was taught at home that racism was not only wrong but also sinful.

“I supported the civil rights movement,” Land told BP, as he added that Martin Luther King Jr is a personal hero.

King “took Christian morality into the marketplace,” Land said, explaining he learned from King’s speech that to “philosophically say racism is wrong and sinful is not enough; I have to be proactive in resisting the evil that is segregation.”

“I have no excuse but to take action” on this and other moral issues, he said, saying he keeps a copy of King’s famous letter written while he was confined to the Birmingham jail in his study.

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest non-catholic religious group in the nation, with over 16 million members. Issues on family values, as discussed during the program, have been debated within the denomination for decades. In the early 90s, a group of more moderate Southern Baptists broke off from the convention to form their own alliance called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The SBC does not mandate each church to adopt the Baptist Faith and Message statement, which also implies women should not be the head of the church. However, for churches that choose to have a female head, the SBC imposes several sanctions to place them at a loss, such as preventing their members from taking part in International Mission Board and North American Mission Board trips.