Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, made the apology in a letter to SBC President Bryant Wright, an Atlanta-area pastor, on April 16.
In response, a prominent African American pastor, Fred Luter Jr. of New Orleans, issued a statement to BP accepting Land's apology. Luter is the SBC's first vice president who will be nominated for SBC president during the convention's June 19-20 annual meeting in New Orleans.
"I am writing to express my deep regret for any hurt or misunderstanding my comments about the Trayvon Martin case have generated," Land wrote in his letter to Wright. "It grieves me to hear that any comments of mine have to any degree set back the cause of racial reconciliation in Southern Baptist or American life."
Land, who voiced the comments during his call-in radio broadcast March 31, wrote that he has been committed "to the cause of racial reconciliation my entire ministry. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister has been a personal hero of mine since I surrendered to the ministry in 1962."
Land's apology is printed in full at the end of this article.
Luter, in his statement to Baptist Press, said, "I commend Dr. Richard Land for his letter of apology pertaining to his comments about the Trayvon Martin case. His comments certainly were a concern for many of us across the Southern Baptist Convention.
"Our convention has made a lot of progress in the area of racial reconciliation and we want to continue this effort," Luter continued. "Dr. Land's letter of apology will hopefully keep us on track. I accept his apology and will look forward to working with him and others within this convention to tear down the walls of racism in our great country."
Wright also issued a statement to Baptist Press.
"Racial reconciliation is very important to Southern Baptist Christians," Wright said. "Richard Land has often led the way in this effort and yet his recent remarks have offended many. It has grieved him that this has occurred and he has apologized.
"Fred Luter is one of our leading pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention who is serving as our 1st Vice President and happens to be African American. His spirit of forgiveness is what we would hope of everyone in situations like this when one person says something hurtful and offensive to others and acknowledges it and asks forgiveness.
"I pray that Dr. Land's apology to all who have been hurt or offended by his recent remarks will be another important step towards our full reconciliation with one another," Wright said. "This is a noble goal to which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ calls us to have with our fellow man."
Land, on his "Richard Land Live!" radio show March 31, said, in part, that black leaders such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson should not have been so quick to jump into the Trayvon Martin case in which the 17-year-old African American was shot and killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, a Hispanic, in Florida in February.
"The rule of law is being assaulted by racial demagogues," Land said, "and it's disgusting, and it should stop."
Land's comments were reported nationally by Religion News Service, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times and other media. An Associated Press article in mid-April repeated Land's comments.
Baptist Press' April 10 report on Land's comments can be accessed at www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=37567.
Land's apology followed conversations between Wright and Land in which they discussed how offended many African Americans and many fellow Christians were over his comments. "In talking with Richard, I found a receptivity to apologize for the comments he had made," Wright said.
Land then sent the open letter of apology to Wright, asking that it be shared with Luter and then with the broader Southern Baptist family.
Land, who has led the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission since 1988, played a key role in the Southern Baptist Convention's 1995 racial reconciliation resolution in which Southern Baptists denounced racism, apologized to African Americans for "individual and systemic racism in our lifetime" and repented of racism "of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously."
The full text of Land's April 16 apology for his Trayvon Martin comments follows:
Dr. Bryant Wright
President, Southern Baptist Convention
955 Johnson Ferry Road
Marietta, GA 30068
I am writing to express my deep regret for any hurt or misunderstanding my comments about the Trayvon Martin case have generated. It grieves me to hear that any comments of mine have to any degree set back the cause of racial reconciliation in Southern Baptist or American life. I have been committed to the cause of racial reconciliation my entire ministry. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister has been a personal hero of mine since I surrendered to the ministry in 1962.
When I was elected president of the then Christian Life Commission in 1988, I made it clear to the search committee and board of trustees that I was going to make racial reconciliation a top priority. I assumed office in October of 1988 and the first conference held under my administration was a racial reconciliation conference in January of 1989. As you know I was one of the progenitors of the racial reconciliation resolution our convention passed at our sesquicentennial in 1995.
"I have rejoiced in the tremendous progress that has been made in racial reconciliation both in our convention and in American life. I rejoice in the prospect that one of our most admired leaders and pastors, Dr. Fred Luter, will in all likelihood be elected president of our convention in June.
I look forward to the day when our convention membership reflects the ethnic and demographic diversity of the general population, with no difference between Southern Baptists and the nation.
Clearly, I overestimated the progress that has been made in slaying the ugly racist ghosts of the past in our history. I also clearly underestimated the extent to which we must go out of our way not to be misunderstood when we speak to issues where race is a factor.
Please know that I apologize to any and all who were hurt or offended by my comments. I will certainly recommit myself to seeking to address controversial issues with even more sensitivity in the future.
Yours in his service,
Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.
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