So. Baptist Leader Richard Land Reprimanded Over Trayvon Martin Comments

Richard Land, one of the most prominent leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention, received two reprimands today over "racially charged" comments he made on the Trayvon Martin shooting and over plagiarism charges regarding a recent program on his radio show Richard Land Live!, which has been canceled as a result.

The trustee executive committee of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, where Land serves as president, issued the reprimands today after conducting an investigation on comments made by Land during a March 31 broadcast.

In a press release published on the denomination's official media outlet, Baptist Press, the ERLC executive committee stated:

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"We reprimand Dr. Land for his hurtful, irresponsible, insensitive, and racially charged words on March 31, 2012 regarding the Trayvon Martin tragedy. It was appropriate for Dr. Land to issue the apology he made on May 9, 2012 and we are pleased he did so. We also convey our own deepest sympathies to the family of Trayvon Martin for the loss they have suffered. We, too, express our sorrow, regret, and apologies to them for Dr. Land's remarks."

"We are particularly disappointed in Dr. Land's words because they do not accurately reflect the body of his work over a long career at the ERLC toward racial reconciliation in the Southern Baptist Convention and American life. We must now redouble our efforts to regain lost ground, to heal re-opened wounds, and to realize the dream of a Southern Baptist Convention that is just as diverse as the population of our great Nation."

The executive committee also reprimanded Land for not attributing comments he made on his radio show, but said it found no cases of plagiarism in his written work.

"We further reprimand Dr. Land for quoting material without giving attribution on the Richard Land Live! (RLL) radio show, thereby unwisely accepting practices that occur in the radio industry, and we acknowledge that instances of plagiarism occurred because of his carelessness and poor judgment. We examined Dr. Land's written work during the investigation, and we found no instances of plagiarism in any of Dr. Land's written work. As a Christian, a minister of the Gospel of our Lord, and as President of the ERLC, Dr. Land should have conformed to a higher standard. We expect all future work of the ERLC to be above reproach in that regard."

The committee also announced the cancelation of Land's long-running radio show:

"[W]e have carefully considered the content and purpose of the Richard Land Live! broadcast. We find that they are not congruent with the mission of the ERLC. We also find that the controversy that erupted as a result of the March 31 broadcast, and related matters, requires the termination of that program," the committee stated.

Land, who has headed the ERLC since 1988, accepted the reprimands, stating to BP, "I have said on numerous occasions that I believe in trustee oversight and governance. I am under the authority of the trustees elected by the Southern Baptist Convention. This whole process was conducted in a Christian manner by Christian gentlemen.

"I look forward to working with them and their fellow trustees and the ERLC staff as we seek to continue to minister the Gospel of our Savior across our great land."

Land, who also serves as executive editor at The Christian Post, sparked controversy in March when he accused Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and President Obama of exploiting the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Martin, a 17-year-old African American, was shot dead on Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, 28. The teen was unarmed. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense.

Denouncing the public's "rush to judgment" before all the facts were clear, Land called the two well-known civil rights activists "race hustlers who've made their careers and made their fortunes exploiting racism" and argued that some were using the case "for their own political ends."

Land further stated that the civil rights activists were "perpetuating their central myth" that "America is a racist and an evil nation." He later also stated that a black man is "statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man."

The statements drew criticism from the public, including fellow Southern Baptist pastors who called on Land to repent.

Adding to the controversy were claims by blogger Aaron Douglas Weaver that Land had plagiarized much of his material in the March 31 broadcast from a Washington Times column written by Jeffrey Kuhner.

Since then, Land has issued two apologies. The latest one was a two-page apology issued on May 9. In it, he confessed to making "injudicious comments;" his insensitivity to the Martin family for his "imbalanced characterization of their son;" and impugning the motives of Obama, Jackson and Sharpton.

He further apologized for citing statistics that suggested racial profiling was justifiable and for stating that racism in America is a myth.

Fred Luter Jr., the New Orleans pastor who is expected to become the first African-American president of the SBC, accepted Land's apology in a statement released to BP:

"Our convention has made a lot of progress in the area of racial reconciliation and we want to continue this effort," stated Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. "Dr. Land's letter of apology will hopefully keep us on track. I accept his apology and will look forward to working with him and others within this convention to tear down the walls of racism in our great country."

The apology was also publicly accepted by prominent African-American pastor Dwight McKissic Sr., senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Va.

"I fully accept his apology – without hesitation, or reservation – and appeal to all Christians, regardless of color, who were offended by his remarks to accept his apology and forgive him," McKissic wrote in a May 10 post on the SBC Voices blog.

Many Southern Baptist leaders have acknowledged that Land played a key role in racial reconciliation efforts in the SBC. He helped craft an official SBC apology in 1995 where Southern Baptists repented of racism.

Katherine T. Phan contributed to this report.

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