National Edition

Q&A: Evangelical leader Richard Land shares views on LDS Church, threats to religious liberty, other issues

Published: Friday, Sept. 6 2013 3:50 p.m. MDT

Dr. Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and past president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, meets with the Deseret News editorial board in Salt Lake City on Sept. 5. Land is the Southern Baptist Convention's official entity assigned to address social, moral and ethical concerns, with particular attention to their impact on American families and their faith.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Faith has been a constant in a life of contrasts for Southern Baptist and evangelical leader Richard Land.

His father was a fifth generation Texan and "yellow dog" Democrat; his mother a "rock-ribbed Republican" from Boston. He was called to the ministry at 16 years old preaching at youth revivals; two years later he entered Princeton University on a full scholarship during the tumultuous 1960s. He pastored in the wild and racy French Quarter of New Orleans; he moved to England to earn his doctorate at Oxford where he pastored a congregation in the staid, blue-collar town of South Oxford. He is a conservative culture warrior and staunch pro-lifer, and last year was accused of making racist remarks on a radio show; he spearheaded racial reconciliation within the Southern Baptist Convention when he was named head of its Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and he backs immigration reform.

The Southern Baptist church has been the center of Land's life and he now serves as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary. But he also reaches out to other faiths with common concerns, such as protecting religious liberty. At the invitation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Land was in Salt Lake City to meet with LDS Church leaders and attend Saturday's BYU-Texas football game in Provo, where he will cheer for the Longhorns. He met with the Deseret News on Thursday to share his views on faith, the family, religious freedom and relations between evangelicals and Mormons.

Deseret News: How would you characterize Mormon/evangelical relations today?

Land: Better than they used to be and, I think, still developing. To some degree (members of the) LDS Church have to get used to the fact that the majority of evangelicals are not going to accept them within the framework of orthodox, Apostles' Creed Christianity. And I think that evangelicals have got to accept the fact that the LDS Church is a tremendous ally and fellow combatant against the things that are the most threatening to us in America. People of all faiths had better stand together, because the secularists are after us. .... When it comes to religious freedom, we all hang together or we all hang separately. We are common targets in this. The secularists are out to circumscribe our constitutional rights.

DN: You have been a key player in the evangelical community in trying to remove the "cult" label from the LDS Church. Why did you take that on?

Land: I am a communicator and I use language to communicate. ... And "cult" does not communicate. "Cult" means people who act crazy. LDS folks are your children’s soccer coach, your insurance salesman, and the term "cult" just doesn’t fit. ... I was asked at a religious diversity conference at Princeton if it’s not a cult, what is it? And I said I would describe it as a fourth Abrahamic religion ... a religion based upon the Old and New Testaments, like Islam, but with an additional revelation — in the case of the LDS Church, the Book of Mormon, and in the case of Islam, the Quran. (That) seems to communicate what I think evangelicals want to communicate.

I thought Mitt Romney did a wonderful job of accepting that (distinction) in his (2008) speech at Texas A&M. … I am going to have to paraphrase, but he said, "I believe Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and I understand there are others who do understand him differently than I do." He was giving room for evangelicals to disagree with him about the nature of the person of Christ.

DN: How have threats to religious liberty changed from when you first took over as president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in 1988?

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