A church committee is scheduled to issue its report by Friday (June 1), and there’s a possibility that Land could lose his job as president of the Southern Baptists’ Nashville-based Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Land, 65, is a study in contradictions. The son of a Houston welder, he’s an Ivy League graduate with a doctorate from Oxford University. A proud Texan, he’s also a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan.
He believes wives should obey their husbands, but admires former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Land’s wife, Rebekah, has a doctorate in counseling and runs a private practice in Brentwood, Tenn., outside Nashville.
He opposes gay marriage and abortion. But he favors immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally, and criticized the Bush administration’s support of waterboarding.
During the controversy over the construction of a new Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., he spoke up in favor of the mosque. “It’s time for this nonsense to end,” he said in August 2010. “The First Amendment guarantees people the right to worship where they live.”
That’s a lesson he learned from his Baptist mother growing up in Houston. When he complained about Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons knocking on the door, she defended them.
If the government can restrict the rights of Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, she told him, then it also can come after Baptists. “That’s always stuck with me,” Land said.
Land knew he was going to be a preacher from the time he was 14. He hoped to attend the University of Texas before seminary, but a school counselor insisted that he apply to Princeton, too, lending him the money for the application.
At Princeton, Land learned to get along with people who held different beliefs. And that remains one of Land’s strengths, said Jim Wallis, a progressive Christian preacher and author who founded the Washington-based Sojourners social justice group.
Wallis and Land disagree on politics but often speak together at conferences, such as the Q gathering of evangelicals in Washington in April, where their talk was titled “What Can We Agree On?” After they speak, they often go out to dinner and talk late into the night.
Land is a close friend of Paige Patterson, one of the architects of the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and 1990s. The two met at New Orleans seminary and later taught together at Criswell College in Dallas.
The school was a haven for young conservatives who felt unwelcome at Southern Baptist seminaries. At Criswell, they learned conservative theology and fiery leadership from Land and Patterson.