Richard Land's Apology Was Not an Apology


Richard Land has apologized for referring to Senator Charles Schumer as the "schmuck from New York."Well, maybe not.

During a visit to Criswell College at the end of January, Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, used an obscene Yiddish epithet that refers to male genitalia to describe the Democratic senator from New York.

In the same remarks, Land, a Baptist minister and prominent leader of the Religious Right, speculated that if John Kerry had won the 2004 presidential election, Kerry would have appointed Hillary Clinton as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. "Clinton would be parking her broom at the Supreme Court for the next twenty-five years," Land said.

Apparently, anti-Semitism wasn't sufficient for Land. He had to engage in a little misogyny as well-- and all in the space of several minutes. Still later, he gleefully cited Rush Limbaugh's characterization of NOW, the National Organization of Women, as the "National Association of Gals," or "Nags."

A report in EthicsDaily.com alerted me to Land's offensive comments--which, by the way, are even more chilling when you listen to the audio version. Because of Land's long history of bullying and bald partisanship, I called on Land to do the honorable thing: apologize and tender his resignation. Others agreed.

Land, apparently feeling the pressure, has issued what he characterized as an apology. "In reviewing these criticisms I have learned some consider the word crude, if not obscene," he wrote. "I apologize for my ignorance of that fact."

But he's not done. In Land's twisted logic, it is he who is owed an apology: "I am deeply offended that anyone would interpret my remarks as anti-Semitic."

Huh? Let's see if I got this straight. Land directs a slur at an elected official who is a Jew, and when called on it, he apologizes--not for the remark itself--but for his own ignorance. Then he declares himself "deeply offended" that anyone would interpret his comments as anti-Semitic!

You can't make this up.

And, notice something else. Land's "apology" was for his own ignorance, not for his comment. Nor was the "apology" addressed to Senator Schumer, the target of his insult.

Land has been in Washington far too long. This is the kind of stunt that politicians pull with some regularly. They will make an offensive statement and then, when the pressure builds, they will apologize "if anyone was offended by my remarks." Notice that, as with Land, this is only the illusion of an apology, because when you deconstruct it the politician is not apologizing for his remarks. Not at all. The apology is conditional and puts the onus on the offended individual: "I apologize if anyone was offended by my remarks."

Similarly, Land's "apology" was no apology at all. It was sleight-of-hand. If he were an honorable man, he would take responsibility for his crudeness and insensitivity and address his apology directly to Senator Schumer, the man he insulted. Instead, Land pretends that it is he, the person who made the obscene remarks, who is owed an apology.

Later in his lecture at Criswell College, Land had the chutzpah (to use another Yiddish term) to add the following comment: "If a person says that he or she is a person of faith, then we--it is perfectly kosher, it is perfectly legitimate to examine how that person's faith impacts [sic] their life, their character."

Yes, indeed. And on those very criteria, Land comes up wanting.

Finally, to my knowledge, Land has yet to apologize to Senator Hillary Clinton for suggesting that she is a witch: "parking her broom at the Supreme Court." The equation of women--or any particular woman--with witchcraft is also deeply and inherently offensive. Given the tragic history of clergy making witchcraft accusations, it is even more troubling when it comes from the mouth of a Baptist minister--someone who should know better but who has been spewing insults like these far too long.

Richard Land owes apologies--real apologies--to both Senator Schumer and Senator Clinton for his venomous comments. A letter of resignation should follow immediately.

Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest, is professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, and a visiting professor at Yale Divinity School. His most recent book is God in the White House: A History: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush (HarperOne).

Previous related articles:

SBC Leader Uses Obscene Slur to Describe Jewish Senator

Richard Land Must Go

Reaction Mixed to SBC Leader Calling Jewish Senator a 'Schmuck'

SBC Leader Pleads Ignorance in Use of Jewish Slur

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Tags: Church-State Separation, Politics, Randall Balmer, Religion