WASHINGTON (RNS)—Southern Baptist leaders will investigate whether their top ethicist and public policy director plagiarized racially charged remarks about the Trayvon Martin case that many say set back the denomination's efforts on racial reconciliation.
Richard Land, who leads the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, was accused of lifting remarks for his radio show that accused Democrats and civil rights leaders of exploiting the case of the unarmed Florida teenager who was shot and killed by a volunteer neighborhood watchman.
Even though Land has apologized for both the remarks and not attributing their source, the commission's executive committee said it was obligated "to ensure no stone is left unturned." An investigatory committee will "recommend appropriate action" to church leaders.
"They need the Travyon Martins to continue perpetuating their central myth: America is a racist and an evil nation. For them it's always Selma Alabama circa 1965," Land said on his radio program, speaking of civil rights activists.
Those comments, included in a partial transcript published by Baptist blogger and Baylor University Ph.D. student Aaron Weaver, were previously written by Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner.
While conceding that talk radio has different attribution policies than traditional journalism or academic scholarship, "we nevertheless agree with Dr. Land that he could, and should, do a better job in this area," the Executive Committee stated.
In a statement, Land said he serves "at the will of the trustees," and "I look forward to continuing to work with and under the oversight of my trustees." A commission spokeswoman said Land was not commenting beyond his statement.
The commission trustees, along with other Southern Baptist leaders, noted Land's role in the passage of the 1995 resolution in which Southern Baptists apologized for their past defense of slavery. They also credited him for "engaging the culture and our political leaders on matters of religious conviction."
Yet others have criticized Land, including Fred Luter, the New Orleans pastor who's expected to become the SBC's first African-American president, who called the remarks "unhelpful."
Ed Stetzer, a Southern Baptist researcher who blogged about Land's comments without mentioning him by name, said the firestorm threatens to undo progress made by the overwhelmingly white denomination.
"The Southern Baptist Convention still must earn a better reputation for racial inclusion and justice," Stetzer wrote. "As such, perhaps SBC denominational leaders are not the best persons to speak into racially charged situations, critiquing the actions of African Americans or African American leaders."