More on Land and On Statistical Relevancy

Yesterday I posted up a piece entitled, “Land Wars” which linked to a number of important pieces on the of Dr. Richard Land and his unhelpful comments from Southern Baptist leaders. Today, I just need to add a little more to it.

First, regarding the Reverends Jackson and Sharpton. They are race baiters, their techniques are questionable at best and detrimental to race relations at worst. That said, if the Martin family requested their presence and these Pastors obliged, I can’t really begrudge them for doing so. I can not say if their motivations were based on the request of the Martin family or for their own edification, but being asked by a grieving family makes their presence, to me, less of an issue. Also, this became national news because national news media like controversy and want to make things more controversial. See the scandal at MSNBC manipulating the 911 calls for more.

Second, Dr. Land used statistics to try to defend his support of racial profiling. He spouted statistics specifically stating that black men are “…statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man.” The problem? Correlation does not imply causality – one of the first things you are taught when you take any course on statistics. Ed Stetzer reminds us of the classic example from Bob Spunt’s piece in Psychology in Action:

It is known that throughout the year, murder rates and ice cream sales are highly correlated. That is, as murder rates rise so does the sale of ice cream. There are three possible explanations:

Possibility #1: Murders cause people to purchase ice cream…

Possibility #2: Purchasing ice cream causes people to murder or get murdered…

Possibility #3: There is a third variable– a confounding variable– which causes the increase in BOTH ice cream sales AND murder rates. For instance, the weather… When it’s hot in the Summer, people spend more time outside interacting with each other, and hence are more likely to get into the kinds of situations that lead to murder. They are also probably buying ice cream.

There are so many variables at play especially when comparing things like crime rates to race that statistics like the one Land may use are irrelevant at best and misleading / harmful at worst. More multi-time sex offenders are white males – does that mean that we need to assume white males could sexually assault you? Of course not – there is a correlation, but it does not imply a cause. Cause is never implied by statistics and Land seemed to imply a cause with his statistical use specifically regarding the Martin case.

Third, Land appears to have plagiarized some of his commentary on the Trayvon Martin case. The SBC is investigating that now and, frankly, the head of our Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission shouldn’t be doing something unethical. I do not feel I need to say more on that specific topic.

Fourth, was making commentary on this topic and claiming to speak for the bulk of Southern Baptists really his role? The role of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is “…to awaken, inform, energize, equip, and mobilize Christians to be the catalysts for the Biblically-based transformation of their families, churches, communities, and the nation.” Meaning? The organization is to inform the public on religious liberty and moral values based public policy issues, and to lobby on behalf of the faithful for those issues of religious liberty and moral values. In which of these roles does providing commentary about race and the Trayvon Martin case fall? None of them. He could speak on his own behalf, but frankly in a high profile role of leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention he has held since 1988 he should have known that his comments still will be considered the views of the Convention. It displayed a lack of discernment on his part. It’s not that leaders of the convention can not hold opinions or even speak on racial relations, but we need discernment before speaking on the topic. Why? Both because of the past of the organization and because of perception in the modern media. I am tired of seeing the media label my chosen denomination racist because of the inartful comments of one person.

Finally, honestly – we have no idea what happened between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. We don’t know what went on in either of their minds or hearts. Let the justice system sort it out just like it is designed.

I will try not to talk much further on the topic of Dr. Land. Land has done a great deal of good for the Convention in the past and for reconciliation for race relations in the church. He should be commended for that. That said, if the plagiarism charges are true and with his recent commentary, it may be wise to find a new voice for the ERLC and ask Land to retire from this role.

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