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OpinionSteve's Columns

Land to the Slaughter

Heaven knows, the last thing I want is to encourage the coarsening of our already grievously coarsened society. Public discourse too often degenerates into a polemical cage match — insult-swapping and name-calling replacing reasoned debate and persuasion.

Toss in charges of racism and my heart droops even more.

But what to make of the indignity lately perpetrated upon the Reverend Dr. Richard Land? And upon any prospect that, someday, we might actually be able to discuss important matters like grown-ups?

Long serving president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), Land found his recent tribulations bubbling up during his “Richard Land Live!” radio broadcast. Remarking on the Trayvon Martin shooting case, he lambasted as “race-hustlers” the “reverends” Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

A firestorm, of course, followed. Inevitable criticism of his “racist comments” erupted promptly and reflexively. A denominational investigation was convened, mea culpas demanded.

Land dutifully apologized — three times, including a five-part written statement deploring his “injudicious comments.” The ERLC trustees issued him a pair of reprimands. The Baptist leader’s radio program was nixed.

But Richard Land, racially insensitive bigot? All because he leveled a bit of mildly colorful, if plainly unvarnished, terminology at two prominent, African-American, so-called church leaders whom lots of other sensible folk also consider disreputable?

Pray tell, specifically what are honorable observers allowed to point out about Sharpton and Jackson? Taking into account the venomous bloviations these scoundrels have unspooled for decades, the sordid conduct in which they’ve trafficked, precisely which of Land’s reflections were out-of-bounds?

He’s chastised himself — needlessly, I’d suggest — for “impugn(ing) the motives of … Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.” “God alone,” Land insists, “is the searcher of men’s hearts.”

This accomplished man-of-the-cloth’s impressive self-effacement aside, I’d remind him that same God affirms we can reliably “know” others by what they say and how they live; that is, “by their fruit”. A peek at the available Jackson/Sharpton record yields worm-ridden bushels-full crying out for inspection.

Regarding the Chicago-shyster, the Wall Street Journal‘s James Taranto aptly concluded: “Jesse Jackson is not a racial healer but an ambulance chaser. He has made his career exploiting black insecurity and white guilt, seizing on racial disputes and misunderstandings to profit financially and enhance his own status.”

This Windy-City windbag has made his bones and bread shaking down corporations on concocted charges of “racist” practices and trading on group, skin-color resentments. And he shows small indication of curbing his more baneful propensities. On the Trayvon Martin tragedy, for instance, Jackson has lately boiled over, “Blacks are under attack … Targeting, arresting, convicting blacks and ultimately killing us is big business.”

More egregious — if that’s possible — is Reverend Al. Need I trot out his complicity in the Tawana Brawley hoax/Steve Pagones defamation, anti-semitic Crown Heights furor, Freddy’s Fashion Mart ugliness (fire, violence, and more anti-semitism)?

Deploying an apparently banished word-combo, conservative — and black (!) — radio-talker Larry Elder brands Sharpton “one of America’s pre-eminent race-hustlers … The word ‘shameless’ doesn’t do him justice.”

So, factoring in the above bill-of-particulars we’re to conclude, as presumably has the ERLC, the problem here is … Richard Land?

George W. Bush memorably lamented “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Opinion-makers’ undying absolution of Jackson/Sharpton (and their ilk) strikes me as a subset of that disorder: the soft bigotry of excuse-making. It turns up whenever decent citizens are barred from staring down civilization-corroding operators who happen to enjoy favored minority status.

Land’s denunciations had nothing to do with these two blackguards’ epidermal shade; everything to do with the demonstrable baseness of their character. Mob manipulators both, although Jackson/Sharpton major in the moralistic jargon of justice and equality, they are incontestably unscrupulous con-men. Each unrelentingly leverages America’s woeful segregationist past and current racial static to fatten his own celebrity and financial position — all the while shielding behind the man-of-God moniker.

Are authentic Christian leaders, or just plain sentient onlookers, banned from noticing this duo’s enormities? Merely because they lay claim to African-American DNA? During his now notorious radio monologue, along with the “race-hustler” incrimination, Land reportedly tagged Jackson/Sharpton “racial demagogues” and “race mongers.” Are these gibes forbidden, as well?

In a May piece, conservative — and black (!) — social analyst Thomas Sowell similarly chided “race hustlers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.” More recently on Bill O’Reilly’s show, Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh tapped the phrase to finger them. Will a reprimand of some kind be winging Sowell’s and Walsh’s way? Or are syndicated columnists and elected officials allowed to lay out the truth — just not prominent Bible-believing preachers?

That last point merits especial emphasis: is the church uniquely singled out for silencing when it comes to particularly contentious social issues? Perhaps even by some of its members? As Mark Tooley observes in a terrific American Spectator feature, a new breed of evangelicals is exhorting its brethren to “shun conflict … [and] step back from the culture wars.”

The New Testament crowns the church “the pillar and ground of truth.” Nowhere is it implied that mandate is revoked when prickly race issues, or other tricky or psychologically uncomfortable matters, are in view. When believers shy away from addressing real-life’s pressing concerns because of their incendiary nature, they’re shrugging off their raison d’être; sketching along the way an unflattering portrait of pusillanimity and irrelevance.

Why would anyone, let alone society overall, want to align with an institution that won’t bestir itself to confront current, pressing dilemmas? Pleading certain predicaments too risky or too thorny to hazard the church’s involvement sounds a mite lame when the national well-being is imperiled.

It’s no surprise today’s secularists want Richard Land (and his type) muzzled. It’s bitingly disconcerting, however, when it’s his peers in the “culture wars” who join in shutting him down; not because his observations are inaccurate or unbiblical, but because he opted for language they deemed impermissibly razor-edged.

Harshness for harshness’ sake? Name-calling out of sheer cussedness? Never desirable, never recommended. But piercing words whose necessity has glaringly arrived? That’s a different matter.

I’d respectfully appeal to Richard Land — and his rather short-sighted critics — to remember that.

Steve Pauwels

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.