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Southern Baptist flaps: First, Trayvon Martin, now plagiarism?

April 19, 2012|Richard Fausset
  • Richard Land, an official with the Southern Baptist Convention, had called the response by black leaders to the Trayvon Martin case "shameful."
Richard Land, an official with the Southern Baptist Convention, had called… (Alex Brandon / Associated…)

ATLANTA — Richard Land, the Southern Baptist leader who offended some blacks with his comments about the Trayvon Martin shooting case, is now facing plagiarism allegations that will be the focus of an investigation launched by the church ethics commission that he heads.

Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, apologized for the remarks about the shooting in an April 16 letter to the convention’s president, Bryant Wright.

Land, on a recent episode of his radio show, called some black religious leaders “race hustlers” for stirring up interest in the case, in which an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Land also accused President Obama of pouring “gasoline on the racialist fires” when the president said that if he had a son, he would look like Martin.

Land's comments about the Martin case made waves nationally, in part because Southern Baptists, including Land, have been working diligently to reach out to minorities in recent years to broaden their appeal and make up for past sins. The group, the largest Protestant body in the nation, with 16 million members, has even considered taking “Southern” out of its name to distance itself from its former support of slavery and segregation.

The executive committee of the ethics commission's board of trustees noted in a statement this week that Land's comments had “angered many and opened wounds from the past.”

The plagiarism allegation originated with Aaron Douglas Weaver, a 29-year-old doctoral candidate at Baylor University in Texas, who heard about the controversy and went online to review audio recordings of Land's statements.

Weaver noticed some phrases that didn't exactly sound like off-the-cuff talk-radio language, so he checked a few phrases on Google, and found that portions of Land’s commentaries were taken word for word from columns in the Washington Times and Washington Examiner. He posted his findings on his Baptist-themed blog, thebigdaddyweave.com.

Weaver noted that Land included links to the columns in the “show notes” portion of the radio show website, but never mentioned on-air that the words were not his.
“I think it's deceptive,” Weaver, a member of the more liberal Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said in an interview Thursday.

The statement released by the church Wednesday said Land had admitted to the committee that he quoted some articles on his radio show “without giving clear and proper credit to the authors of those articles.”

“We understand that additional instances of this kind ... may come to light,” the statement said.

Elizabeth Wood, a communications specialist with the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said that Land was unavailable to comment Thursday.

In his April 16 apology to the denomination’s president, Land wrote: “It grieves me to hear that any comments of mind have to any degree set back the cause of racial reconciliation in Southern Baptist or American life.” He also said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a “personal hero.”

The executive committee announced that it had appointed an ad hoc panel to look into the plagiarism allegation and “recommend appropriate action.”

“We expect Dr. Land and the ERLC to embody the highest moral and ethical standards, as befitting a group of people devoted to following Jesus Christ,” the statement said. “Though the source citation standards prevailing among talk radio shows are different from those applicable to journalistic work or to scholarly work in the academic setting, we nevertheless agree with Dr. Land that he could, and should, do a better job in this area.”

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