Baptist Leader Apologizes to Obama for Comments

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  • A Southern Baptist leader has apologized to President Barack Obama and other black leaders for saying they were exploiting Trayvon Martin’s death for political gain.

    Richard Land said Wednesday he impugned the motives of Obama and the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, all of whom have shown support and sympathy for Martin’s family. Land said he sent personal letters of apology to each of the three men, asking for their forgiveness.

    “God alone is the searcher of men’s hearts,” he wrote in an apology published by the Baptist Press. “I cannot know what motivated them and their comments in this case.”

    Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. The apology is the second that Land has issued for inflammatory remarks about the case of the black Florida teenager who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer who thought he looked suspicious.

    Land initially said he had no regrets about his remarks made on March 31 during his weekly radio show. They included saying that Obama “poured gasoline on the racialist fires” when he addressed Martin’s slaying and that Obama, Jackson and Sharpton had used the case “to try to gin up the black vote for an African-American president who is in deep, deep, deep trouble for re-election.”

    Land also defended the idea that people are justified in seeing young black men as threatening, saying a black man was “statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man.”

    In his Wednesday apology, Land wrote that “I do not believe that crime statistics should in any way justify viewing a person of another race as a threat…. I share the dream of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that all men, women, boys, and girls would be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.”

    He said his remarks were made in anger at what he saw as the media trial of George Zimmerman, the man who killed the 17-year-old Martin. Land declined to be interviewed for this story.

    The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s trustees earlier expressed regret for any harm the remarks might have done to race relations within the Southern Baptist Convention.

    The Nashville-based SBC is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination but the controversy around Land’s remarks comes at a time of declining membership and its efforts to broaden its appeal beyond its traditional white, Southern base.

    The trustees also said they would investigate claims that Land plagiarized many of the controversial comments. Land has called his failure to attribute the comments to a Washington Times editorial an oversight and vowed to do better in the future.

    He previously issued an apology for any “hurt or misunderstanding” his Trayvon Martin comments had caused while not apologizing for the substance of those remarks.

    Land’s new apology comes after a meeting earlier this month with black Southern Baptist leaders, including the Rev. Dwight McKissic, a Texas pastor who had previously called for Land’s resignation.

    On Wednesday, McKissic wrote on his blog that he accepted the apology. In a phone interview, he said, ‘I was overwhelmed with joy when I read it.”

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