By Tom Strode
HOUSTON (BP)–The current president, as well as former presidents, of the Southern Baptist Convention commended Richard Land for his courage and faithfulness as head of the denomination’s ethics entity for a quarter of a century in a dinner in his honor.
Current SBC President Fred Luter and the former presidents joined others — including seminary presidents, entity heads and state Baptist leaders — in celebrating June 8 Land’s 25 years of leadership of and retirement from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). The dinner, sponsored by the ERLC’s trustees, occurred as Southern Baptists began gathering in Houston for the convention’s 2013 meeting June 11-12.
Having announced last year his intention to retire from the ERLC, Land, 66, became the commission’s president emeritus June 1, when Russell Moore moved into the president’s role. The ERLC trustees elected Moore as president in late March. On July 1, Land will become president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C.
Elected as president in 1988, Land led the transformation of the ethics entity during the SBC’s conservative resurgence. He directed the commission as it became a stalwart advocate for the sanctity of human life and religious freedom while it maintained its biblical stances on such issues as racial reconciliation and marriage.
Jimmy Draper, the keynote speaker and a former SBC president, said, “No one in our lifetime has had a greater impact on the social and ethical attitudes and actions of Southern Baptists than Richard Land.”
Luter, the SBC’s first African American president and pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, thanked Land for being a personal blessing to him through the years. Luter also told Land his faithfulness meant he “will go down in history as one who stood up when other people did not, one who spoke up when other people did not. … There was no challenge you did not take on.”
Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Houston and a former SBC president, told the audience of about 100 people, “Richard Land has never lacked for courage. He’ll stand when all the rest of us are seated.”
Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee and another former convention president, commented on the “rapid decline in our culture,” adding he once told a non-Southern Baptist in seeking to describe the ERLC’s work, “I shudder to think what it would be like had it not been for the salt and light influence of Dr. Richard Land and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.”
In his keynote speech, Draper used 1 Timothy 6:11-12 to describe Land’s track record of “avoiding the traps that Satan has placed before him” while pursuing such traits as justice, love and persistence in fighting for the truth.
Draper, former president of LifeWay Christian Resources, cited the following as examples of Land’s enduring work:
— His decade of service on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
— His key role in the SBC’s 1995 resolution on racial reconciliation.
— His co-leadership with Draper of the SBC Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals.
In response, Land said it has been “the blessing of a lifetime” to serve Southern Baptists.
When people ask him what he did “to serve God, to defend the Gospel and defend soul freedom in the last part of the 20th and first part of the 21st century, I’ll tell them I served the people called Southern Baptists,” Land said. “That was my part.”
The dinner came not only in a year marking Land’s 25th anniversary as head of the SBC’s ethics entity but his 50th anniversary in vocational Christian ministry and the 60th anniversary of his conversion to Christ. It also took place in the city where he grew up and became a Christian.
During the dinner, the ERLC’s trustees presented a check for $250,000 to representatives of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to go toward the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement. The seminary is the center’s home.
Other honors for Land during the dinner included the reading of excerpts from letters by former President George W. Bush and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, video testimonies by pro-family and SBC leaders, and resolutions from the SBC Executive Committee, ERLC and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The ERLC trustees also presented gifts to Land and his wife, Rebekah.
Among family members attending the dinner were the Lands’ children — Jennifer, Richard Jr. and Rachel — and their spouses.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).