Land: Abortion issue still key for evangelicals

Richard Land, named one of the country's 25 most influential evangelicals by Time magazine, was in town this week to preach at First Baptist Church of Charlotte.

As president of the Ethics & Liberty Commission, Land – a Rhodes Scholar – is a big wheel in the Southern Baptist Convention and a leader of the Religious Right. He hosts two radio programs and has authored six books. His latest: “The Divided States of America? What Liberals AND Conservatives are missing in the God-and-country shouting match! (Thomas Nelson, $22.99).

Land spoke to the Observer on presidential politics, Baptists and more. A sampling:

On Sen. Barack Obama's efforts to reach out to evangelicals: “He's making some (headway) . . . You're always going to get a better response from people when you're respectful and when you don't denigrate them and don't mock them and don't attack them the way Howard Dean and John Kerry did. But it's going to be difficult for Obama to do anything but nibble at the margins as long as he has the radically pro-abortion position that he does.”

On Mormonism, which the Southern Baptist Convention has labeled a cult: “I could vote for a Mormon. I argue that it's another religion. I've made the proposal that the best way to understand Mormonism is that it's the fourth Abrahamic religion – Judaism being the first, Christianity being the second and Islam being the third. Mormonism accepts the Old Testament and the New Testament, but it then has an ultimate (book). If you were going to use that analogy, the Book of Mormon becomes the Koran of Mormonism and Joseph Smith becomes the Muhammad figure.”

On Sen. John McCain's prospects with Southern Baptist voters: “Most Southern Baptists have been voting for the Republican since Ronald Reagan. Yet most of them don't consider themselves Republicans. Most grew up in homes where their parents were Democrats. They vote pro-life . . . If (McCain) picks a pro-choice running mate, I don't think he can recover from that. Southern Baptists' participation in the election would drop significantly.”

On Jimmy Carter's efforts to start a moderate Baptist alternative to the Southern Baptist Convention: “Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has come to the conclusion that they don't have enough life or energy to become a denomination. And so they decided to form this covenant group to appeal to all the other plateauing or declining Baptist groups in America, to come together in a desperate search for significance . . (But) it's hard to bring life out of dried bones. That was a collection of who-WAS-who in Southern Baptist life. It was bald heads and blue hairs . . . Do I look worried?”

On President Bush's legacy: “I think he has been a superb president. On our issues and on everybody else's issues. I am absolutely convinced that, if I live long enough, I will live to see George W. Bush perceived as the Harry Truman of this generation. When Harry Truman left office, he had a 24 percent approval rating. He's now considered widely to be the third most consequential president of the 20th century. I think George W. Bush has done exactly what Truman did: He's put into place the machinery and the strategy to help us (win) a long twilight war against radical Islam in same way that President Truman put into place the strategy and machinery that helped us to win the long twilight struggle against Soviet Communism.”