NASHVILLE (AP) — The head of a group investigating the comments of Southern Baptist Convention ethics leader Richard Land has resigned.
Arkansas pastor Richard Piles said he has taken over as Trustee Board chairman for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission after Steve Faith left in order to commit more time to his local church in Indiana, which is currently without a pastor.
The resignation comes just days before the group is supposed to release the findings of an investigation into the commission’s president for controversial statements about the case of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager who was shot to death in Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer.
Land recently issued two separate apologies for the comments he made March 31 on his weekly radio show. He also apologized for reading commentary from the Washington Times without attributing it to the newspaper.
On Wednesday, Piles said that Faith’s resignation was not the result of a disagreement about the investigation.
“Dr. Faith has spent a considerable amount of time and energy in meetings and on phone calls for our committee to this point and he knew that this week and next week were going to require more of him,” Piles said. “He felt the needs at his local church were more important at this point.”
Faith did not return a call requesting comment.
Piles said the report of the investigation will be made public by June 1. He would not discuss what could be in the report but did say that he wants to see Land continue in his ministry at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
Land has been in that position for 23 years.
“He has made the ERLC what it is today,” Piles said.
Land upset a number of Southern Baptists with his comments on the show. They included accusing President Barack Obama and other black leaders of exploiting Martin’s death for political gain and saying that racial profiling was understandable given the crime statistics for black men.
One black Southern Baptist pastor had called for Land’s resignation but retracted that call after Land apologized.
Faced with declining membership, the Southern Baptists have been making efforts to expand their appeal beyond their traditional white, Southern base. At their annual meeting in New Orleans next month they are expected to elect the Rev. Fred Luter Jr. as their first black president.