A top official with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has dropped out of an interfaith coalition working to secure religious liberty rights for Muslims after complaints were raised about his involvement.
Richard Land, head of the SBCs Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, announced he would resign from the coalition, which was formed in part to support the right of Muslims to build mosques in America.
The coalition was pulled together by the Anti-Defamation League after some residents of Murfreesboro, Tenn., went to court in an effort to block construction of a mosque simply because they dislike Islam.
Land said he had to pull out of the coalition because some Southern Baptists got the wrong idea. They seemed to think he was promoting Islam.
“I don’t agree with that perception, but it’s widespread and I have to respect it,” Land told the Associated Press.
In a statement, Land said, “While many Southern Baptists share my deep commitment to religious freedom and the right of Muslims to have places of worship, they also feel that a Southern Baptist denominational leader filing suit to allow individual mosques to be built is ‘a bridge too far.’”
Land said some Southern Baptists had interpreted his involvement with the coalition, which consisted of Jewish, Protestant, Catholic and Muslim leaders, as “crossing the line from defense of religious freedom to advocacy of, or promotion of, Islam itself.”
Critics said Land failed to show leadership. On Americans United’s blog, “The Wall of Separation,” AU Senior Policy Analyst Rob Boston noted that Baptists were persecuted in colonial America and should be willing to stand up for those under assault today.
“Let me get this straight: A top Baptist official – whose spiritual ancestors were often persecuted (and even imprisoned) in colonial America because their views conflicted with state-established churches – can’t be bothered more than 200 years later to stick up for a persecuted minority?” wrote Boston. “How quickly some forget their own history!”
Boston also pointed out that Land had a spotty record on Muslim religious liberty rights. The Baptist official opposed the so-called “Ground Zero” mosque in Manhattan, arguing that construction of an Islamic center three blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks would offend the families of those who died. Land said he would support construction of the facility elsewhere in Manhattan.
Don Byrd at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, a moderate group, urged Land to challenge the misperceptions of his co-religionists.
“Where is the rule that says we have to respect widespread mis-perception?” wrote Byrd on the group’s blog. “How about shining a light on the truth instead? And reminding those you represent of core Baptist principles?”