Amy Sullivan covers the "retirement" of Richard Land from his post as head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (which, despite its title, has spoken out recently on issues such as global warming -- clearly not happening, ya'll -- and why tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% are biblical).
Land apparently felt that his outspoken positions on "culture war" issues have been hampered by his need to be diplomatic as a denominational servant. This is ironic, as Sullivan points out, because:
If Land has felt limited in his ability to express opinions on culture war issues, I cannot imagine what an unplugged Richard Land will sound like. In the past three years, he has described Democratic health-care reform as "precisely what the Nazis did," compared Zeke Emmanuel to Josef Mengele, . . . reported debunked conservative email rumors about Michelle Obama, warned that ending the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy would "provide further impetus for God's judgment on this nation," and accused gay rights activists of "recruiting people for homosexual clubs" and seeking the "outright sexual paganization of society."
Sullivan describes him, aptly I think, as a "happy warrior," one happy to cause controversy and mix it up with adversaries. No problem there. But the election of Fred Luter to be president of the convention and the retirement of Land from denominational politics gives some hope, to me anyway, that Southern Baptists may be moving away from their most reactionary extreme and towards a more constructive engagement in contemporary discussions -- one that will remain decidedly conservative, but (I hope) minus the animus and vitriol. Or not, we'll see.
Along these lines, Bill Leonard, a dean of Baptist historians and observers, has a thoughtful and gracious piece here reflecting on past Southern Baptist race troubles and present transitions. He very nicely opens the piece with a few paragraphs on my work Moses, Jesus, and the Trickster in the Evangelical South, and then remembers an event from the late 1960s which still haunts him, and parallels Land's recent comments on the Trayvon Martin case. Give it a read; a little excerpt here: