Southern Baptist commission leader lands at Red Bank

Southern Baptist commission leader lands at Red Bank

May 14th, 2011 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

Dr. Richard Land is the head of the public-policy entity of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, but on most Sundays he can be found in the pulpit at Red Bank Baptist Church.

"I solicit interims," said the president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. "I can preach every Sunday somewhere. I can speak 50 Sundays at 50 churches, but it's satisfying and gratifying to preach to the same people every week."

So how did the Nashville-based Land, who in recent weeks spoke on ABC's "This Week" and then commented for the denomination on the death of Osama bin Laden, wind up at Red Bank Baptist?

"They asked," he said.

The Red Bank post is actually Land's second interim pastorate in the Chattanooga area in the last three years. In 2008, he served as the interim pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church for 11 months.

Chattanooga, in fact, holds a rather important place in Land's heart. He married a Chattanooga-area native, Rebekah Van Hooser, at the former Kingwood Baptist Church in East Ridge 40 years ago this month.

His wife, the daughter of the longtime director of food services at the Chattanooga City Schools, is a graduate of the former Rossville High School and now is a psychologist in private practice in Nashville.

Land said it has been 22 years since he served a congregation in other than an interim basis. At that time, he said, he spoke weekly to a 500-member Sunday school at First Baptist in Dallas, when he was vice president for academic affairs at Criswell College.

"I like to get feedback from the folks," he said. "I like to get to know the people, to eat in their homes. I can get to know them that way ... and they get to know me. That's important if you're preaching to folks - to know the people."

Land said he is fortunate in multistaff churches such as Brainerd Baptist and Red Bank Baptist that other people handle a variety of the day-to-day issues that come up. But he said he has handled such issues - preached funerals, for instance - during other interims.

A prolific author, host of two nationally syndicated radio shows and a member of the federal U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, he recently was asked on "This Week" with Christiane Amanpour what role Jesus should play in bringing about stability and discourse in America.

Land said he replied that the country needed "national revival," that "each of us needs to ask God how he can make us a better man, woman, husband, wife, parent, citizen and a better American."

As far as churches are concerned, he said today's American church "is too much at ease in Zion."

The phrase refers to words God spoke to the Israelite nation through the prophet Amos in the Old Testament.

"Too many people equate being Christian with being an American," Land said. "They're not always the same value systems. As grateful as I am to the providence of God to be born in America, our allegiance [for Christians] is to Jesus first. There is an element of American lifestyle the priorities of which are not consistent with Christian priorities."

He said many people say they believe in family values, but they're not proving it with their time and their resources.

"Let me look at your calendar and your credit cards and your bank account," Land said. "How you spend your time and your money tells you what you really believe in."

Contact Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress or 423-757-6497.