Baptist leader endorses Catholic campaign

Just back from a Washington gathering of like-minded Christians from various denominations concerned about potential losses of religious liberty, the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land termed an emerging coalition of conservative Catholics and evangelicals "the liberal's nightmare."

By Bob Allen

Southern Baptists’ top spokesman for religious-liberty concerns voiced support May 26 for Catholics across the country gearing up for a “Fortnight for Freedom,” a two-week national campaign of special liturgies, prayer services and other events leading up to the Fourth of July.

During his weekly “Richard Land Live” radio broadcast, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said opposition to things like the Obama administration’s contraception mandate and support for same-sex marriage is uniting Catholics and conservative evangelicals across their theological divide.

Land was part of a May 24 gathering in Washington of conservative Catholics, Baptists, Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Christians, Mormons and others concerned about what they view as erosions of religious liberty.

“We must all be willing to stand up and tell the government no," Land said, according to a Religion News Service report of the day-long summit sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center's American Religious Freedom Program. "Secularists don't like people of faith because the ultimate authority for us is not the state. The ultimate authority is God."

After the meeting, Land said he visited in Baltimore with Archbishop William Lori, another conference participant and chairman of an Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty appointed recently by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

On April 12 the committee released a statement titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” which calls on bishops around the country to observe the 14 days from June 21 -- the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More -- to July 4, Independence Day, as a "fortnight for freedom" for prayer and education about perceived threats to religious liberty.

Southern Baptists don’t follow the Catholics’ liturgical calendar, but Land said they stand with them against a “secular theocracy driven by a full-blown pagan understanding of human sexuality.”

“There’s going to be a fortnight of religious freedom that’s being sponsored by the Catholic bishops, and we’re going to be -- Southern Baptists are going to be -- walking hand-in-hand and shoulder-to-shoulder with them in this fortnight of celebrating religious freedom,” Land said. “We’ve got to celebrate it and exercise it or we are going to lose it.”

During his interview with Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute, a program of the National Organization for Marriage, Land explained his description of today’s culture as “pagan.”

“I mean totally focused on self, anything that feels good do it,” he said, “just like the Greco-Roman orgies of the first century and second century AD; [the] same thing that our early Christian forefathers faced.”

Asked by his guest if that included the notion of “sex taking on a kind of sacramental role,” Land expounded: “As you know, many of the Roman religions, the idolatrous religions, were sexual, and the priests were homosexuals and they worshiped in Corinth -- they had homosexual priests and these temples that were pre-Christian paganism.”

Land termed a Catholic/evangelical alliance “the liberal’s nightmare.” With pundits wondering whether Land’s own future with Southern Baptists hinges on this week’s outcome of a plagiarism investigation by ERLC trustees, and first-time public statements by moderate bishops concerned that the conference is getting too cozy with the Republican Party, others are skeptical the movement will gain much steam.

In 1994 Land was one of a handful of Southern Baptists to sign a statement titled Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium that sought Christian unity to address social ills like abortion and moral decline. He later withdrew his endorsement under pressure from Southern Baptists who viewed it as theological compromise.