richard_land_2_web.jpgNASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Southern Baptist leader has apologized to President Barack Obama and other black leaders for saying they were exploiting Trayvon Martin's death for political gain.

Richard Land said May 9 he impugned the motives of Obama and the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, all of whom have shown support and sympathy for Martin's family. Land said he sent personal letters of apology to each of the three men, asking for their forgiveness.

“God alone is the searcher of men's hearts,” Land wrote in an apology published by the Baptist Press. “I cannot know what motivated them and their comments in this case.”

Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. The apology is the second that Land has issued for inflammatory remarks about the case of the Miami Gardens teenager who was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman while he was visiting his father in Sanford.

Land initially said he had no regrets about his remarks made on March 31 during his weekly radio show. They included saying that Obama “poured gasoline on the racialist fires” when he addressed Trayvon's slaying and that Obama, Jackson and Sharpton had used the case “to try to gin up the black vote for an African-American president who is in deep, deep, deep trouble for re-election.”

Land also defended the idea that people are justified in seeing young black men as threatening, saying a black man was “statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man.”

In his May 9 apology, Land wrote that “I do not believe that crime statistics should in any way justify viewing a person of another race as a threat…. I share the dream of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that all men, women, boys, and girls would be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.”

He said his remarks were made in anger at what he saw as the media trial of Zimmerman, who has been charged with second-degree murder and is out of jail on bond.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission's trustees earlier expressed regret for any harm the remarks might have done to race relations within the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Nashville-based SBC is the nation's largest Protestant denomination but the controversy around Land's remarks comes at a time of declining membership and its efforts to broaden its appeal beyond its traditional white, Southern base.

The Ethics & Religious
Liberty Commission:

Photo: Richard Land