Richard Land, chief lobbyist for the Southern Baptist Convention, recently sparked controversy for calling U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) a “schmuck” during a speech.
Speaking at the Criswell Theological Seminary in Dallas in late January, Land referred to Schumer as “that schmuck from New York.”
Land was recalling the confirmation battle over Chief Justice John G. Roberts, during which Schumer pressed the judicial nominee on important questions about individual rights. Land made light of Schumer for asking Roberts if he would vote for the “little guy.”
“The schmuck from New York, Chuck Schumer, was pontificating and saying, ‘I just want to know, Judge Roberts, are you going to be for the little guy?’” Land recalled. “And Judge Roberts said, ‘Senator, my client is the Constitution. If the Constitution says the little guy should win, then the little guy is going to win. If the Constitution says the big guy should win, the big guy is going to win.’”
In Yiddish, “schmuck” literally means a reference to “male genitalia.”
Controversy erupted in the blogosphere and elsewhere after EthicsDaily.com uncovered Land’s vulgar remarks in early March.
Evangelical scholar Randall Balmer wrote an op-ed calling on Land to resign as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Land’s use of the slur “confirm[ed] what Land and the Religious Right regard as ‘ethical’ behavior,” Balmer said.
Balmer noted that in the same speech, Land also insulted U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y). Land asserted that had John Kerry won the 2004 election, Clinton would have been appointed to the Supreme Court.
“Clinton would be parking her broom at the Supreme Court for the next 25 years,” Land told the audience.
Balmer said Land had simply gone too far. “These remarks – both of them – are outrageous and unworthy of anyone who numbers himself among the followers of Jesus,” Balmer wrote.
Continued Balmer, “Land should apologize and tender his resignation immediately. And if he doesn’t have the grace to do so, he should be dismissed as an embarrassment to the Southern Baptist Convention and an insult to the faith.”
Robert Parham, who heads the Baptist Center for Ethics, said Land’s remarks don’t just make the SBC look bad, they hurt the future of the faith.
“When a Baptist preacher slurs a senator of Jewish faith with such a degrading word in a lecture to theology students,” said Parham, “he discloses a hostility towards Jews and may communicate that using Yiddish insults against those of the Jewish faith is acceptable for ministers…. Anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in the soil of Christianity. We need to be about cutting those roots, not watering them as Land has done.”
On March 5, Land issued a four-paragraph statement explaining his actions. He stated that he was under the impression that “schmuck” means “jerk” and added, “In reviewing these criticisms I have learned some consider the word crude, if not obscene. I apologize for my ignorance of that fact. If I had known that, I would never have used the word. I always attempt to avoid crude and offensive language as a matter of conviction.”
Added Land, “I used the word ‘schmuck’ in my reference to Senator Schumer solely in an attempt to employ a word that alliterated with Schumer’s name and describe my perception of his behavior during the confirmation hearings for Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito – nothing more!”
Land also played the victim, asserting, “I am deeply offended that anyone would interpret my remarks as anti-Semitic.” Land’s statement did not address his quip about Clinton, in which he compared her to a witch.