WASHINGTON (RNS)—Breaking a longstanding personal pledge, Southern Baptist agency leader Richard Land endorsed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, saying the upcoming election is the most important since Abraham Lincoln's win in 1860.
“America is at a fork in the road and must choose between a President Barack Obama who wants to remake America in the model of a European welfare state and a Governor Mitt Romney who wants to restore a more economically vibrant and traditionally moral America,” Land wrote in a column in the Christian Post.
Land, executive editor of the independent Christian Post and the top public policy spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, said the “stark and revealing” differences between the Republicans and Democrats on abortion rights and same-sex marriage guided his decision.
“For Christians of traditional religious faith, there cannot be more fundamental issues than the protection of the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death and the defense of marriage as a divinely ordained institution between one man and one woman,” he wrote.
While Land has been deeply involved in Republican politics for years, he always vowed never to endorse a particular candidate. In July 2011, when it was reported that he was actively backing Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s primary bid for the GOP nomination, Land issued a statement declaring, “I do not endorse candidates, and I have not and will not endorse Gov. Perry or any other candidate for that matter.”
Later in 2011, as Land increasingly was linked to Romney’s candidacy, the Southern Baptist leader reiterated, “As a matter of policy, I have not endorsed, do not endorse and will not endorse candidates.”
Land’s reversal comes as conservative Christians are making a strong last-minute push on Romney’s behalf. But his endorsement—which he said he was making as a private citizen—also comes with significant baggage.
This summer Land announced that he would retire in 2013 as head of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission—an influential public policy post he has held for 25 years —following a series of controversies and ethical missteps.
They included racially-charged comments that Land made on his radio show about the Trayvon Martin shooting case, as well as evidence that he was lifting some of his program scripts from other sources without attribution. The controversies resulted in an official reprimand and the loss of his radio talk show, and they led to the announcement of his retirement.
But Land also pledged he would not retire from the culture war, which he called “a titanic spiritual struggle for our nation’s soul.”