Land of Questionable Ethics

One of the familiar figures near the top of the pyramid of the Christian Right is Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (basically the SBC’s guy in national politics). He played his usual big-dog role in the GOP presidential nomination process, becoming the designated conservative evangelical leader to publicly ask that constituency’s favorite presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, to drop out of the race when it became obvious he wasn’t going to win.

He also got himself into hot water recently by engaging in highly partisan incendiary language over the Trayvon Martin case, offending the SBC’s small but highly valued cadre of African-American ministers. But just as he was bringing himself to apologize for the content of his comments, a new trap door opened when a Baptist blogger who is studying at Baylor University, Aaron Weaver, discovered that Land was liberally plagiarizing from right-wing gabbers during his syndicated radio show–including the edition where he went off on the Martin case. And the more he looked into Land’s commentary, the more plagiarism Weaver found.

Now, Land is being investigated by his very own Ethics and Religious Liberty commission.

I’m always astonished when public figures commit plagiarism, particularly in this day and age when a Google search is about the only investigative tool needed to unearth the practice. How hard is it to attribute quotes instead of just lifting them? And assuming it’s a deliberate practice, how arrogant must you be to engage in it while serving in an ethics post for a religious denomination?

I don’t know if the SBC or some related institution has a rehab program for fallen ethicists. But unless he has some novel excuse, his career as a poohbah may be coming to a close. After all, the only constituency more offended by plagiarism than religious folk may be journalists. And as another Baptist critic of Land, Brian Kaylor, told Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches:

Land is much more influential among journalists as a ‘evangelical leader’ than he is with the average Southern Baptist in the pews. He has more say in newsrooms than sanctuaries.

Maybe not so much now.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.