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Posted: 02/20/12

Bigoted and Un-American? Mitt Romney, Richard Land & Evangelical Politics

by Susan Stilley

Are Southern Baptists bigoted and un-American? On more than one occasion Richard Land, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has stated that raising questions about a presidential candidate's religion is both bigoted and un-American. Yet, most of the Southern Baptists whom I know are very concerned about this matter. It seems ungrateful at best for Land to take the contributions of these Southern Baptists who employ him and then turn around and belittle them.

This is the question that was running through my head when I recently attended a forum at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, entitled, 'The Grindstone: Sharp, Theological Discussions On Topics That Matter'. The topic for the evening was 'The Christian and Politics' and it featured special guest panelist Richard Land.

For several years I have been been perplexed by many of Richard Land's statements and activities, particularly with regard to Mormonism. Land joined with Glenn Beck in Wash. D.C. in a Mormon orchestrated rally billed as 'Spiritual Renewal'. He refers to Mormonism as 'the fourth Abrahamic Religion'. In 2008, he began advising presidential hopeful Mitt Romney as to how he could circumvent his Mormon image problem to secure the Republican nomination. One of these meetings was at the invitation of Romney and held at his Belmont home where Land attended, along with about a dozen other evangelical leaders. As quoted in The Boston Globe, Land said, "I told him I thought most Americans believed in fair play, and you have the opportunity to take the poison out of this issue the same way that Kennedy did."

First of all, I find the image of influential Christian leaders huddling around Mitt Romney's kitchen table and guiding him through the evangelical maze on his way to the White House, not only disturbing but downright creepy. As an American, I hold to the Constitution which states that there should be no religious litmus test for those seeking public office. Anyone should be allowed to run for president who has the means and support to do so. However, as a Southern Baptist, I was dismayed that Richard Land, who carries much influence in the SBC and beyond, would assist a man who falls into the category Paul describes in Galatians 1:8. "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed." How do we go from "be accursed", to support for the highest political office in the land? A man such as this should be witnessed to, not coached to the presidency. This felt like a betrayal, something akin to discovering your husband was invited to have milk and cookies with Angelina Jolie...and he went.

Secondly, what exactly does Land mean when he tells Romney, "you have the opportunity to take the poison out of this issue"? What is the poison? Obviously the poison isn't Romney's own heresy, for that implies the antidote would be a turning toward the real Jesus and a discarding of the sci-fi, polygamous, imaginary, Mormon Jesus. The only explanation is that the poison is in us! The poison is our so called 'religious bigotry' which keeps us from taking the pragmatist's path and supporting the candidate with the whitest smile and the slickest delivery, the one most electable.

I attended the Grindstone Forum with a copy of an article Land wrote for the Christian Post, dated Oct. 18, 2011, in which he continues to advise Romney that he should play the religious bigotry card, whenever pressure mounts. Titled, 'Mormons, Christianity and Presidential Elections', Land begins by casually scolding Dr. Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas for describing Mormonism as a "cult" to a secular reporter who Land claims did not understand the term in a theological sense, but only in the anti-social 'Jim Jones/Branch Davidian' sense.

Land suggests that Mormonism should be described as a new religion - the Fourth Abrahamic religion. Land wrote, "In this formulation, Mormonism would be analogous to Islam with Joseph Smith analogous to the prophet Mohammad and the Book of Mormon analogous to the Koran." There are several reasons why this reclassification of Mormonism doesn't work but the most troubling aspect of Land's editorial, which I hoped to question him personally at the forum, came next.

Land projects forward to a scenario in which Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee. Journalists will naturally begin to dig into Mormonism and air specials in which they go into great detail on Mormon beliefs. Land says that the media will claim they are doing it in the public interest but that their real reason will be to aid in the re-election of President Obama; they will seek to alarm enough Independent voters about the strangeness of Mormon doctrine that they will question Romney's judgement and conclude he should not be trusted with the presidency. Land's counsel to Romney when this occurs? "Under no circumstances should he allow himself or his campaign to be enticed into defending Mormonism. ......Romney should turn this against the press and portray them as the bigots who are trying to introduce religion into a presidential campaign. He should tell them unequivocally that it is un-American to raise such questions in a presidential campaign."

This is a jaw dropping statement. Since when does the press not have the liberty to question a political candidate on his religious worldview? The press is representative of the people, many of whom are interested in such matters when it comes to the judgement of the person seeking to occupy the oval office. Again, this is not a religious test as to whether a person is allowed to run for president. It is a determination on the part of the voters as to the fitness of the candidate when clarity is brought to bear on their religious commitments. And how are we to reach such clarity if we are not at liberty to question what a candidate believes? For Land to deny that liberty to journalists and the American public for whom they speak, is an odd position for a man who heads an organization called 'The Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission'. And to go even further and call such questioning, "bigoted" and "un-American"? That is going quite beyond the pale. It matters not, the personal bias of an individual journalist. If something is a fair question, it's a fair question. When Obama was asked if he was in agreement with the beliefs and statements of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, that was also a fair question. It didn't matter whether the question was asked by a journalist from MSNBC or Fox News.

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Land-sliding into darkness
Posted On: 02/21/12 08:20:59 PM Age 0, LA
Thank you so much for your article on Richard Land, as a Southern Baptist (for now) I have been watching him drift from the true gospel for several years. I am not at all surprised that he is supporting and assisting Romney. It does trouble me that we are paying his salary and for his promotion of false gospels. By the way, as a "former" Catholic, I know for a fact he is also very chummy with the heresies and apostasies of Rome. My prayer is that many more true bible believing Christians will step forward and speak up. Because of Christ, Addie K. Miller

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