The Southern Baptist Convention is going through a very rough time right now. The latest uproar is over words from Dr. Paige Patterson, the 75-year-old head of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and one of the most important conservative leaders in the denomination. Here, via Washington Post reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey, is what happened to spark the controversy:
A prominent Southern Baptist leader whose comments about spousal abuse set off a firestorm last week said in an interview Friday that he couldn’t “apologize for what I didn’t do wrong.”
Wearing a black cowboy hat as he led graduates down the aisle, Paige Patterson set off laughter at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s commencement when he joked about quarreling Baptists. Patterson’s advice to abused women not to divorce has set off a huge public backlash among evangelicals – but not at the conservative Texas seminary where the 75-year-old is president.
The seminary, which instructs women not to teach men and offers them classes in homemaking, this week fired a PhD seminary student from his $40,000-a-year job for simply tweeting about the Patterson debate, telling him that he was “indiscreet” and that his decision to speak publicly about the dispute “does not exhibit conduct becoming a follower of Jesus” and shows he was not properly deferring to “those placed in authority over you.”
Patterson’s comments about divorce, which were made in 2000 but weren’t widely circulated until last weekend, caused Southern Baptist leaders to scramble to denounce domestic abuse. The most surprising remarks in the recording came when Patterson tells the story of a woman who came to him about abuse, and how he counseled her to pray for God to intervene. The woman, he said, came to him later with two black eyes. “She said: ‘I hope you’re happy.’ And I said ‘Yes … I’m very happy,’ ” because her husband had heard her prayers and come to church for the first time the next day.
Patterson has also been accused in a lawsuit filed against retired Judge Paul Pressler, Patterson’s friend and the architect, along with Patterson, of the conservative takeover of the SBC. A man accuses Pressler of having sexually abused him for years, and alleges that Patterson helped cover up Pressler’s sexual misconduct. Pressler and Patterson have denied the charges. The lawsuit is headed to federal court.
Here’s more from Wheaton professor Ed Stetzer, an important leader in Southern Baptist life, calling on Patterson to retire. Excerpt:
Patterson has now become a challenge in an SBC that, if I may be painfully honest, doesn’t need much help shooting itself in the foot (we’ll save all the reasons for that for another day).
Let me be clear. Some want to cast this situation as another war between Patterson and people who have opposed him. They assume that leaders should choose to side with Patterson and defend him, or that if they don’t they are standing with some enemy. But this week, leaders like Thom Rainer didn’t choose a side in a war.
They simply chose to stand up for women.
In the age of #MeToo, do Southern Baptists really need their keynote speaker and hero to be the one seen in a video talking about a “built” 16-year old girl? As a father with a 16-year-old daughter, I think not.
Furthermore, his inarticulate comments about abuse have put the SBC in another difficult position. Unspoken policies have their limits. When people are actually asking where we stand on abuse, we have to look in the mirror and wonder how long we hold our tongues.
Amen to that! It was never right for Patterson to have counseled a woman to do this, but at the very least today he could have said that he erred, and no longer believes that? But he didn’t do that: he thinks he was right.
That is a shameful, shameful thing.
This two-minute video of him preaching in 2014 is creepy, and completely unbecoming of a pastor, much less the head of a seminary:
An open letter by Southern Baptist women to the trustees of the seminary Dr. Patterson leads calls on them to remove Patterson. It reads, in part:
This pattern of discourse is unbefitting the sober, wise, and sound character required of an elder, pastor, and leader. It fails in the call to protect the helpless, the call of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves, and the biblical standard of sexual purity. These comments are damaging, sinful, and necessitate a decisive response. It seems inevitable, for instance, that a youth pastor in any of our churches would be removed from his position if he made the comments that Dr. Patterson made at the Awaken Conference in 2014.
The world is watching us all, brothers. They wonder how we could possibly be part of a denomination that counts Dr. Patterson as a leader. They wonder if all Southern Baptist men believe that the biblical view of a sixteen-year-old girl is that she is “built” and “fine” —an object to be viewed sexually. They wonder if all Southern Baptist pastors believe it is acceptable to counsel an abused woman in the way that Dr. Patterson has done in the past. They wonder if the Jesus of the Bible is like such men. We declare that Jesus is nothing like this and that our first duty as Southern Baptists is to present a true picture of Jesus to the world.
We cannot defend or support Dr. Patterson’s past remarks. No one should. The fact that he has not fully repudiated his earlier counsel or apologized for his inappropriate words indicates that he continues to maintain positions that are at odds with Southern Baptists and, more importantly, the Bible’s elevated view of womanhood. The Southern Baptist Convention cannot allow the biblical view of leadership to be misused in such a way that a leader with an unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality be allowed to continue in leadership.
This is a somber time. This is an important time. We are praying for you to have wisdom, discernment, and courage.
As of this writing, it has over 600 signatures.
It was announced on Sunday night that the seminary’s trustees are having a special meeting to discuss this situation on May 22.
Meanwhile, tweets on this theme are going around today:
Franklin Graham on Bill Clinton’s affairs in 1998:
“The God of the Bible says that what one does in private does matter… If he will lie to or mislead his wife and daughter, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?”
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) May 6, 2018
Evangelicals have a hard enough time these days defending what they (and the rest of us Christians) ought to be defending. None of us have the moral capital to waste defending the indefensible.