Richard Land on Religion and Society


BOB ABERNETHY, host: We have a profile today of one of the most prominent leaders of the evangelical Christian right. He is Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Land plans to retire next October after 25 years as a leader of the culture wars.

Many observers have seen in recent polls and in last month’s election returns evidence of a decline in the influence of evangelical conservatives, a setback for the causes Land has led. But he concedes no such thing.

RICHARD LAND (President, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission): I think it’s not a fair reading. For instance, on the pro-life issue a majority of Americans now say that they are pro-life.

ABERNETHY: I thought that legal abortion in almost all cases is favored.

LAND: The question about whether it should be legal in most cases is a different question, and the percentage who would make it illegal in most cases is actually going up. And when you begin to peel the onion, you discover that the reason that a majority now say that it is pro-life is that for the last 39 years pro-life people have been having their babies, and pro-choice people have not been having their babies with near as much frequency, and so there’s a huge shift. The younger you are, the more likely you are to be pro-life.

post01-richard-landABERNETHY: But what about the votes in support of gay marriage, which Land opposes vigorously? Was that a setback for him?

LAND: These four state elections where the same-sex marriage folks won are four of the most liberal states in the country. They won with a high of 52 percent of the vote, having outspent their opposition 9-to-1. We still have won 33 elections, they’ve won four now, and I think the country is still deeply divided on the issue of same-sex marriage.

ABERNETHY: I asked Land whether he was concerned about poll data such as we’ve reported on this program that show almost 20 percent of the country say they have no religious affiliation at all.

LAND: That implies they don’t have any religion, and most of them do. What you’ve got is a disaffection with organized faith, and I can understand reasons for that. I’ve had reasons for being tempted to be disillusioned with organized faith myself.

ABERNETHY: Land has called the culture wars “a titanic struggle for the nation’s soul.”

LAND: It’s still a titanic struggle, and…

ABERNETHY: But who’s winning?

LAND: Oh, I don’t think either side is winning. I think both sides are winning in different places. We have a gigantic rift running through our culture, and it’s a rift that doesn’t run between denominations and between institutions. It runs through them. It makes less difference whether you are a Catholic or a Baptist than whether you believe in traditional values and traditional morality or whether you are a post-modernist. If you had the same America that you had in 1972, when 75 percent of Americans lived in homes where they were married, Romney would have won in a landslide. But we live in 2012 America, where only 48 percent of Americans are married and living in homes. When 53 percent of our babies that are now born to women under 30 are born out of wedlock, we’re in deep trouble.

ABERNETHY: For Land, the antidote to social problems is a return to religion.

LAND: Spiritual revival. I do not see us, the traditional values folks, winning this struggle without a spiritual revival that ripens into an awakening and culminates in a reformation. The single greatest advantage, Bob, that an American can have today, and it trumps all others, is to be born into a home with a mother and a father who stay married to each other. If you are born into such a home, it trumps religion, it trumps ethnicity, it trumps economic rank, it trumps IQ, it trumps everything, and yet over half of our children have lost that home by the time they are seven. As far as I am concerned, that is collective societal child abuse.

ABERNETHY: Land was very close to President George W. Bush, and he publicly endorsed Mitt Romney. He is scathing about President Obama, as he indicated when I asked him whether he thinks Republicans and Democrats can find a compromise to avoid going over the “fiscal cliff.”

LAND: It’s there, but the president has to want it. I don’t think he wants it. I don’t think the Democratic leadership wants it. I think they’ve come to the conclusion that it’s to their political advantage to let us go over the cliff.

ABERNETHY: You really think that the president of the United States wants to do damage to the country?

LAND: No, I don’t think he thinks it will. I think he’s wrong, but I don’t think he thinks it will. For all of his brilliance, this man has never mastered Economics 101.

ABERNETHY: Before we finished, I wanted to ask Land about Christian evangelizing—trying to convert people of other faiths.

Do Christians have an obligation to try to evangelize Muslims?

LAND: Absolutely. Just as they have an obligation to try to evangelize Jews and Mormons and anyone else who is outside the Christian faith. And Mormonism is at the very least another religion. It’s not the Christian faith.

ABERNETHY: What do you say to a Muslim or a Jew or anybody else who says, “Well, Christianity is okay for you, that’s fine, but for you to try to tell me I must convert is to disrespect my religion”?

LAND: Well, if the price of respecting your religion is to disrespect mine, the price is too high.

ABERNETHY: You would be comfortable telling Mitt Romney that you think that he’s not a Christian?

LAND: Sure. That would be my duty as a Christian.

ABERNETHY: Dr. Land says he is resigning his job next fall, not retiring. He says, of the social issues, I’ll probably continue to talk about them.”

  • John W. Morehead

    Thank you for raising this series of questions for Land. In my view Evangelicals are facing a serious challenge in politics and religion in recognizing the changing demographics. This is especially the case in terms of religious pluralism. I hope to introduce Land and the Southern Baptist Convention to the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy (, which specializes in preparing Evangelicals for interreligious relationships and engagement. It is gaining momentum, and has the right formula for civil disputation, recognizing our very real differences between religions, and yet interacting with each other in peaceful fashion.

  • H. E. Baber

    I realize Land is a person of good will, but when I read about his social vision, the vision of Evangelical Christians, my guts turn inside out.

    The world these people want is one that I would find pure hell. It’s a world where, because I’m a woman I would be expected, if not required, to devote more time and energy to child care and, more generally, “nurturing,” than my male counterparts. The issue isn’t subordination but simply la difference as such. “Caring” is not my thing.

    Their fundamental assumptions are contrary to mine, viz. that “nature” constrains us, that our goal should be to liberate ourselves from it, to maximize the scope of individual choice and, insofar as possible, to minimize the constraints imposed by unchosen characteristics like sex, race, ethnicity and such.

  • Dan

    I would disagree just a little with Dr. Land. . . . having been raised Lutheran (Missouri Synod) and taught Sunday School and was youth group leader. . . . and now as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes referred to as LDS, or Latter-day Saints, or saints, and most often nicknamed: “Mormons”) for some 40 years, I know that we believe in, and teach as doctrine that Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God. . . . that he was born in Bethlehem of a virgin, Mary. . . . that he suffered and died on the cross for all mankind. . . .that he overcame death, resurrected, and lives with a “glorified” and “incorruptible” body of flesh and bone. . . . that he stands on the right hand of God… that he is our Lord, Savior and Redeemer for all. . . .

  • Jerry

    You will know Christians by their love for God and for others……anything in this interview that does not reflect this is not the voice of a Christian speaking…i.e. When Land says it is his duty as a Christian to speak to Romney, he is speaking of following Christ’s command that we are to love God and others…..Since God loves everyone and wants to be in relationship with everyone, God’s love is to flow thru those who profess to love Him to love others by seeking to bring them into God’s family.

  • Dennis Maher

    I should not be amazed at such delusional thinking, but I still am. He can’t understand polls. He seems to think that because anti-abortion folks have more babies, they will become dominant over time. (Many Protestants used to fear that Catholics would take over because they had more babies.) He also thinks that past elections against gay marriage trumps more recent elections. He thinks that many of those without religious affiliation are in fact religious, while admitting his own recent dissatisfaction with organized religion. He should speak with some people in this category. He does understand that many have abandoned traditional morals, based on self-authenticating authorities, but still thinks “spiritual revival” will bring back the authority of specific moral teachings. Apparently, he thinks that a child raised by parents who don’t love each other, get along with each other, or who don’t love the child is better off that a child who has only one parent. I would like to see Mr. Land’s economic credentials. Finally, not to agree with Mr. Land’s version of Christianity is to disrespect him. It is difficult to live in a common society with people like him, who would be happiest withdrawing into his own enclave of belief and ideology, but who instead wants to impose his opinions on the rest of us.