NASHVILLE (BP) -- Southern Baptists' most prominent policy commentator, Richard Land, has endorsed Mitt Romney for president.

Land, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, made the endorsement -- marked with three qualifiers -- in a non-SBC role he also holds as executive editor of The Christian Post, an independent news website with a national and international audience.

"I have broken a 24-year, seven-election tradition of not endorsing a candidate as a private citizen," Land said in an interview with Baptist Press after making his Oct. 26 endorsement.

"In previous elections, as I prayed about it, I did not have the deep conviction that this was the most important election in my lifetime and perhaps the most important election since 1860.

"This election, I did. And I felt compelled to act upon it in my right as a private citizen," Land told Baptist Press.

Land's endorsement comes in the context of an Oct. 12 story in Baptist Press about the ERLC's party platform voter guide in which he was paraphrased as stating that the commission "does not affiliate with any political party and does not endorse candidates." The ERLC, Land was quoted as saying, "believes that the Lord alone is the Lord of the conscience and that voters should cast their ballot according to the dictates of their conscience."

Land's endorsement also comes in the context of LifeWay Research polling that found 52 percent of 1,000 Protestant pastors disagreeing with making personal political endorsements, while 44 percent agreed with the statement, "I personally endorsed candidates for public office this year, but only outside of my church role." The survey, carried by Baptist Press on Oct. 1, also found that 87 percent of pastors said pastors should not endorse candidates from the pulpit.

"I would agree if LifeWay had asked me, I would have said, No, I don't think pastors should be endorsing candidates from the pulpit," Land told BP. "Normally, I would agree with those who think we shouldn't even as private citizens."

But Land, in his endorsement of Romney in The Christian Post, asserted that the stakes in this year's presidential election "could not be higher morally, socially, or economically." Referencing the platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties in his column, Land noted the Democrats' embrace of abortion and same-sex marriage versus the Republicans' pro-life and pro-family stances.

"For Christians of traditional religious faith," Land wrote, "there cannot be more fundamental issues than the protection of the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death and the defense of marriage as a divinely-ordained institution between one man and one woman."

Land told Baptist Press that "once in a while, an election is important enough that one has to make an exception to the rule . And for me, this is such a time."

Land has led the ERLC since 1988 and has announced his retirement for October of next year.

Among the three qualifiers to his endorsement, Land wrote: "I'm doing this in my individual capacity as a citizen of the United States and this does not reflect or constitute an endorsement by any other institution or organization with which I am affiliated."

Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee, in a press statement Oct. 26, said the SBC "has entrusted the supervision of its entity leaders to their respective board of trustees."

Oldham also said, "... the so-called separation of church and state has never meant the separation of one's faith from public life. The Southern Baptist Convention has a longstanding practice of speaking to moral issues on the national stage, such as abortion, euthanasia, eugenics, traditional (biblical) marriage, pornography, homosexuality, racism, and corporate greed, just to name a few. While many of these have political implications, Southern Baptists in their formal statements have chosen to speak to the issues rather than endorse particular candidates. As he noted in his press release, Richard Land made this endorsement as a private citizen, not in his official role as president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty CommissionRichard Land made this endorsement as a private citizen, not in his official role as president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He apparently did so as a matter of conscience, apparently believing the issues are so pronounced and the stakes so high that he made the decision to break with his own past practice."

Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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