South Florida residents and activists gather and pray in Miami's… (Angel Valentin / Getty Images )
Atlanta — The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, has been working to live down a complicated past, one entangled in the history of American racism.
In recent months, the group considered taking "Southern" out of its name, in part to distance itself from its former support of slavery and segregation (the group officially apologized in 1995 for these stances) and to ensure that its mission was to bring the souls of all people to Jesus, regardless of race. In the end, however, the change presented too many logistical problems.
But new problems may be on the horizon now that a top Southern Baptist policy guru has weighed in on the racial dimensions of the controversial Trayvon Martin shooting case in Florida.
According to Heidi Hall, a reporter at the Nashville Tennessean, Richard Land, the head of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, recently called black religious leaders "race hustlers" for their involvement in the case. Martin, an unarmed black teenager, was fatally shot in February by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla.
"This will be vetted in court, not in a mob mentality that's been juiced up by Al Sharpton, who is a provocateur and a racial ambulance chaser of the first order, and aided and abetted by Jesse Jackson," Land reportedly said on his radio show, "Richard Land Live!," according to the Tennessean.
Land also accused President Obama of pouring "gasoline on the racialist fires" by saying that if he had a son, he would look like Martin.
Hall interviewed two black preachers — one a black Southern Baptist and one a member of the National Baptist Convention, a majority black denomination. Both were critical of Land's comments.
"At no time have I been embarrassed of being a Southern Baptist or a black Southern Baptist," said the Rev. Maxie Miller, of Plant City, Fla. "But I'm embarrassed because of the words that man has stated."
Miller added: "I think the convention is doing a great job with diversity ... but Land's comments definitely make my work harder."
George Zimmerman, the man who admitted shooting Martin, said he was acting in self-defense. He has not been arrested.
Former New Orleans officers sentenced in Katrina shootings
Colorado fire victims were told smoke was from controlled burn
Mexican American studies: 'Daily Show' segment strikes a nerve