Richard Land has been at work for nearly a month as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews. But he’s still moving in.
He’s shipped 36,000 books here. And there are still 4,000 on the way from Nashville – his home base for nearly 25 years as point man on public policy issues for the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination.
Land’s office is still a work in progress, but features a few artifacts that testify to his years as a battle-tested general in the culture wars. And that’s the kind of experience the conservative Christian school was looking for.
The large shofar, a ram’s horn, is a 2013 award from the Family Research Council, which has fought alongside Land for decades against abortion and same-sex marriage – or for the sanctity of life and biblical marriage, as social conservatives prefer to describe their stands.
And that black chair near Land’s cluttered desk was a present from Mitt Romney. In 2007, the then-Massachusetts governor shipped it after sitting down with Land, Franklin Graham, Ralph Reed and others from the Christian Right to see what they thought about a Mormon for president.
A plaque on the back of the chair includes Romney’s signature and this message: “Dr. Richard Land. There is always a place for you at the table.”
Land has battle scars, too: Though he was instrumental in getting the Southern Baptist Convention to apologize, in 1995, for its support of slavery during the Civil War era, Land angered civil rights leaders last year. He apologized to them after charging on his radio show – “Richard Land Live!” – that they and the Obama administration were using the Trayvon Martin case to “gin up the black vote.” Those remarks, plus a related plagiarism accusation, led the executive committee overseeing Land to reprimand him.
“You should never speak into a microphone when you’re angry. I was angry,” Land said in an interview with the Observer this week. “I felt that the case was being exploited. (But) I don’t have the right to question people’s motives.”
Land said he retired from his leadership post – president of the convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission – and pointed out that he got a standing ovation at the last convention meeting.
‘Engaging the culture’
Now forging ahead with an academic agenda, Land, 66, has stepped out of the national limelight – at least for now.
Since starting his new job, he’s been meeting with faculty and staff and readying a new home in Waxhaw, where he and Rebekah, his wife of 42 years, will live.
Land has also been gearing up for a live online course he’ll teach in August – “Christian Ethics, the Bible and Moral Issues” – that he hopes will signal his commitment to greatly expand the school’s reach beyond its current 360 students.
On Oct. 10, he’ll deliver his inaugural address at the 21-year-old school, which in past years has hosted speeches by Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza and other die-hard conservatives.
Also in October, Land will preside over the school’s annual conference on Christian apologetics – an intellectual calling that Land, who has degrees from Princeton and Oxford universities, describes as “engaging the culture, defending the faith and seeking to answer the honest questions (about Christianity) that people have.”
A longtime talker on national TV and radio, Land also said he’s still game to press his case for Christ and conservative views on the air – depending on the program. He’s refused three invitations to appear on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” a comic who routinely savages both conservatives and religion.
“My East Texas grandmother said, ‘You can’t lie down with dogs without getting fleas,’ ” he said.
In describing the challenge before conservative Christians, Land has long been partial to martial metaphors. When his hiring was announced in April, he told one reporter that he hoped to produce “an ever-increasing number of graduates who will be the Green Berets and paratroopers in God’s army.”
‘A Christian brain’
But during that recent interview in his office, Land said he preferred a less war-like label.
“I’m an apologist in the culture for the Christian world view,” he said. “I’m thinking Christianly about things – (with) not just a Christian heart, but also a Christian brain.”
And he said he hopes his seminary graduates will go on to win “hearts and minds” for Christ and argue against abortion and same-sex marriage.
“There’s certainly a struggle going on in America between clashing world views for the high ground,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d call it a war. But there are going to be winners and losers – and winning and losing have consequences for everybody concerned.”
In an America that Land calls a “post-Christian culture,” he said conservative Christians are winning the battle against abortion, but may be losing – at least so far – the one against same-sex marriage.
“We’ve done a better job at explaining our position on life than we have on marriage,” he said. “We’ve lived it better. … Most evangelical Christians are not having abortions. Many of them are getting divorced. That has drowned out our message on marriage.”
Land said victory on same-sex marriage may have to wait until young people – big supporters now of letting gays marry – grow older, get married, have kids and come to see “that God intends every child to have a father and a mother.”
But Land argued that polls show many young people are more opposed to abortion than their elders.
“They’ve grown up with pictures of their siblings in utero on the refrigerator door,” Land said. “It just doesn’t wash that it isn’t a human being.”