Thursday, September 11, 2008

Richard Land

Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention spoke in my Pastoral Ministry class this morning (pictured above on mobile phone as he spoke to the class). The commission, he said, speaks to the SBC about moral issues and speaks for a consensus of the SBC's values to the federal government.

He was a little late, having just finished an interview with NPR, in which the reporter tried to get him to explain how Southern Baptists could support Palin for VP but disallow her to be pastor of a church. Land said, "This has nothing to do with whether a woman has equality under the law. The Bible nowhere says that a woman cannot hold government office." His point was that we are talking about democracy, not theocracy.

Dr. Land had several points to make:

1- Every Christian's responsibility is to vote, to vote her or his convictions, and not personal self-interest. Romans 13:1-7. He said being involved in government in paying taxes infers active voting in our context.

2- Pastors nor churches should ever endorse a political candidate, though it is every pastor's right as a citizen to do so. Government likewise should not bar the right to religious groups to endorse candidates, but pastors and churches should refrain from doing so. Why? Because political endorsement is mixing the sacred with the profane.

3- Churches and pastors should instead be looking for candidates who endorse us, our values, our views, and our convictions. He told about the time Ronald Reagan came and spoke to a large group of Christian leaders in the meeting that supposedly birthed the Religious Right. Reagan said, "I know you cannot endorse me. But I have come today to endorse you."

4- We should preach from our pulpits what the Bible says about moral, cultural, and social issues. The Bible is pro-life, pro-family, anti-theft, anti-homosexuality, he said. He referenced Paul in Acts 20 as he left the Ephesian elders saying, "I have preached the whole counsel of God." We have an obligation to feed our flocks not just the sweet food easy to digest but also the food that is good for them that may not taste as good. And in choosing for whom we will vote, we must teach our people to choose on a priority of values. For example, a pro-life candidate who wants to raise taxes is preferable to a pro-abortion candidate who wants to cut taxes. Political parties, he said, are no better than they have to be. They will manipulate and use anyone in order to be in control of political power. The church is above that and must operate according to the principles of the Word of God.

5- We must engage culture. But what about being controversial? A non-controversial gospel, Land said, is no gospel. We are called to be salt and light by our Lord. In Romans 13:1-7, Land says, government is named as one of only three divinely ordained institutions along with the church and marriage.


He strongly encouraged the students in chapel and in our class to participate in the 40/40 Prayer focus in partnership with the North American Mission Board. Forty days of prayer beginning September 24 to the election and 40 hours of prayer before the election.

Some accuse Land of using this prayer initiative as a guise to push the Religious Right's agenda, but I heard none of that. In fact, he has encouraged the media to look at the material and see if they can find any fault with it, and response has been mute.

There are also FAQs on issues available at the ERLC website which he says college students use frequently to establish a coherent position on moral and cultural issues.

Contrary to what I had heard about Dr. Land in the past, I found him to be quite likeable and friendly, honestly and genuinely answering questions of the students, though some of them were a bit strong. A strong personality to be sure, but a necessary characteristic in the hard world of media and government in which he operates.

I found someone to respect and appreciate in his intelligent, common sense approach to moral and cultural issues. And his heart is for revival. In chapel, he made the point clear. In order for our nation to turn around, God must begin with us in personal revival. There must then be revival in the church. That can lead to genuine spiritual awakening in the land, and that will lead in reformation of our nation.

He warned us not to look to government for change (which both parties are now trumpeting I might add). Government, he said, is a reflection of society, not a leader. The society must change, then the government will change. In order for society to change, the hearts of our citizens must change. Government, he said, is the caboose, not the engine. The Church in Revival is the engine.

Until we get the sin out of our lives and of the church, our nation has no hope. We must seek 2 Chronicles 7:14 repentance among ourselves so that many may be won to Christ so that society will see reform. The government will only reflect the moral values of the people it represents. Focus on getting sin out of the church, and our nation will change.