[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

#33.  Richard Land. Lobbyist  b.1946 

 Conservative evangelicals are inclined to oppose East coast elite, Washington insider, Princeton-Oxford educated, career lobbyists. That is unless he’s their lobbyist.

Enter Richard Land, the chief Washington lobbyist of the Southern Baptist Convention and a key part of the fixed conservative set in the culture wars.  Land has presented what he sees as Southern Baptist interests to policymakers and media for more than 20 years. Land is clear where the bulk of Southern Baptists will come down on most issues. But except for the convention resolution process once a year, there is really no mechanism for Land and the SBC agency he heads, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC)—the official policy voice of the SBC—to derive the SBC position. Land often develops his own position and builds support from key players in the denomination. He knows well what will sell in the SBC, which helps him steer clear of positions that would attract the ire of Baptists across the country.

Land is a formidable public spokesman and culture warrior. “People think they’re going to be dealing with some bootstrap preacher,” said Larry Eskridge, a the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College. “But he can match pedigree and training with the best of them.”[1]

He helped stop the 16-million-member SBC’s  slide to the left in 1979, and he has a hand in most of its key policies, from its 1995 apology for having supported slavery, to its 1998 statement that wives should submit to the leadership of their devout husbands.

While most ERLC positions are predictable—most recently its stubborn opposition to even nuanced climate change legislation—Land does occasionally surprise.

In 1994, he was a signer of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document,  not a popular expression of ecumenism in the SBC.

 In 2010, Land announced the denomination’s support for establishing a path to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants. Land said that after borders are secure, there needs to be a way for them to pay back taxes, take a civics course and get in line with others seeking legal status. Similar to many ERLC positions, the reasoning on immigration is both spiritual and political.

The spiritual: “It is love your neighbor, do unto others. This is a kingdom issue. They are disproportionately suffering because they are forced to remain in the shadows because of their illegal status.”

The political: “Hispanics are hard-wired to be social conservatives unless we drive them away. They are family oriented, religiously oriented and pro-marriage, pro-life … tailor-made to be social conservatives.”[2]

 Land’s positions are not always the winning ones within the convention. In 2010, he took a hard line on responses to the Gulf oil spill; one writer called him the “drummer in the right-wing parade of blame” of the the environmental movement and the Obama administration, while treating British Petroleum gently.[3] A more balanced resolution for SBC action passed overwhelmingly at the 2010 convention and although Land later expressed his support, he privately sought to undermine it at the committee level.

 Land, who Time magazine called “God’s Lobbyist,” exercises great power because of his intellect and persuasive skills, but also because of his ability to choose his tactics as a SBC powerhouse—either leading (in times when he has deep personal convictions) or following (when he can claim to be only a spokesman for the denomination).

 He’s done both with great effectiveness in a generation of public evangelical engagement in the halls of power.

[1] Time magazine, January 30, 2005,


[2] Tennessean.com, June 8, 2010

[3] http://baptistplanet.wordpress.com/2010/06/12/richard-lands-misanalysis-of-the-deepwater-horizon-catastrophe/

Filed under: ChristianityConservativeJimPolitics

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