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Why Paige Patterson’s apology may not be enough

Paige Patterson speaks at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix on June 14, 2017. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

(RNS) — In just two weeks, Paige Patterson has done what none could have predicted: He’s given America’s largest Protestant denomination two black eyes.

The first injury was inflicted when his comments about spousal abuse and women went viral. The statements, which span decades, include objectifying a 16-year-old girl in a sermon, saying “everyone should own at least one” woman, and advising abused women to return home and “be submissive in every way.”

The second injury came when Patterson responded to the controversy by standing stalwart and claiming he had nothing for which to apologize. For 13 days, he folded his arms while Southern Baptists were thrown into chaos. For 13 days, he dismissed reporters’ questions and shrugged off his critics. For 13 days, he ignored a cavalcade of women — including 3,000 from his own denomination — who practically begged him to make amends for his dangerous comments.

On Thursday (May 10), however, Patterson released a three-paragraph statement apologizing that his comments “lacked clarity” and “wounded” some women. While I do not doubt the sincerity of his statement, I’m troubled by its substance. After all, the statement was part-apology and part-excuse. Patterson claimed the matter could be attributed to a “failure to be as thoughtful and careful in my extemporaneous expression as I should have been.”

In theological terms, Patterson sees his comments as a snafu rather than a sin. But the advice he offered to victims of domestic abuse and the ways in which he has spoken about women in general is neither a mere mistake nor the result of carelessness. It is wrong and contradicts the Bible’s unambiguous teachings on violence and marriage.

While any apology is arguably better than none, it’s doubtful that such a statement will placate his fiercest critics, who will likely see this as far too little, far too late. It will take more than a tepid apology to ease the pain caused by these types of statements, which have emboldened men for decades to mistreat countless women. You cannot untangle that legacy in just three paragraphs.

We have seen this movie before. From Hollywood actors to prominent pastors, the pattern is all too familiar. The film opens with a scene in which a celebrated leader is accused of misbehavior. Rather than apologize, the leader circles the wagons. The community is scandalized at mounting accusations, but rather than attempt to heal the harm, the leader responds with denials, silence and conspiracy theories. But then reporters begin sniffing and more evidence inevitably surfaces. When it becomes clear that he’s been caught red-handed and the neighbors know, the leader offers a forced apology in hopes that the rest of us will forget the matter.

Move along, folks, there’s nothing to see here.

But Southern Baptists cannot move on. Because their denomination has been unexpectedly thrust into a larger cultural conversation about the mistreatment of women and institutions’ failures to protect them from powerful men who misbehave. Their commitment to the safety and dignity of women has now been called into question.

After such a failure of leadership and failure of judgment, it’s up to Patterson to right the ship. Will he withdraw from delivering the coveted keynote at the Southern Baptist Convention in June, knowing that his speaking will be a distraction and make matters worse? And what of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary? The school’s enrollment has declined dramatically under Patterson’s leadership, and he has now become so toxic that his presence will make it even more difficult for them to attract incoming students.

In either case, it will take a much heavier dose of humility for Patterson to step aside in service to the institutions and people he claims to love.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

36 Comments

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  • I think you made an error, mr. Merritt, though it unintentionally underlined the problem.

    It is not about an institutions FAILURE to protect powerful men who misbehave, but quitevthe opposite.

    And for my own curiosity, has anyone pointed out any failure to repent on the part of a man who looked at a woman with lust in his heart? Someone had something to say about that, but not the SBC.

  • Jonathan is just funny here. Patterson’s apology will never be enough for him. I suspect his obvious, glaring hatred of Patterson is rooted in his treatment of homosexual’s.

  • His apology will more than likely suffice. Compared to other groups, the SBC has barely enough #metoo energy among its female ranks to bring down Patterson’s little finger. These are women, after all, who wholeheartedly supported Roy Moore’s candidacy, and among Southern Baptists Alabama is less anomaly and more the norm. It wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up getting a raise before this is over. After all, from the fundamentalist point of view he was simply upholding “biblical values.”

  • If a woman is being abused by Hubby, if she’s getting slapped around (like what that Schneiderman guy from New York was doing to women), is it a sin if she gets outta there & leaves her husband?

    No. It’s not. But it helps if Christians can explain to everybody WHY it’s not a sin.

    Fortunately, Southern Baptist theologian Denny Burk has provided a brief, reasonable, scriptural explanation. Read it, and when the opportunity arises, share it.

    http://www.dennyburk.com/what-about-divorce-and-abuse/#more-35078

  • You are advocating for women’s empowerment by denigrating women? You are part of the problem.

  • When certain groups of (mostly white) women support a crotch-groping man over another woman or when they support a child molester over a Democrat I am not the one causing that particular problem – those women are. And if you support them then YOU are part of the problem, not I.

  • Don’t confuse folks with commonsense and facts.

    They don’t know what to make of either.

  • And for my own curiosity, what about same sex individuals who look at another with lust in his or her heart?

  • “I’m sorry you were offended” is not an apology. Because he’s not actually acknowledging that the substance of his statements are the problem, not the offense someone else might take.

    And the “inarticulate, ambiguous, extemporaneous” nonsense is patently false. He was quite articulate, his meaning was explicitly clear, and multiple witnesses attest that he told the anecdote of the beaten woman on multiple occassions. It was one of his go to illustrations and presumably quite rehearsed.

    And let’s not get started on how he treated women who reported the predations of Darrell Gillyard, whomwas ultimately convicted of serial sexual predation.

    Patterson hasn’t repented of his misogyny. He hasn’t even acknowledged it.

  • Don’t hold your breath waiting for his explanation. He’s never offered any explanation, evidential support, examples, etc. for anything he posts.

  • That statement seems to apply more to you than the rest of the people on this blog.

  • Actually that statement appears to apply directly to you, now that you brought the issue up.

  • I am concerned that Patterson withdrawing from giving the keynote speech at the convention in June will cause the subject to be dropped. How women’s roles are seen, talked about, how they are “advised” on being Christian women – is something that needs talking about in light of what we know today and how we live today. And it needs to be talked about by men and women talking together and by women’s groups and men’s groups.

    Patterson could (maybe wouldn’t, but could) invite people to give a lot of thought to the issue of how women were treated by Jesus, in the Bible, and within our own culture. He could examine how his own words were insensitive to the position in which he placed a woman or all women. He could urge the issue to be discussed in Baptist churches, among Baptist theologians, at seminaries everywhere.

    I think Baptists need to do a lot of work on this issue, just as most religions do. Women are not the objects men seem to think they are.

  • If he did all that, he’d be a member of the United Church of Christ or the Episcopal Church of the USA.

    And we can see how that worked out for them.

  • Patterson’s comments about divorce are not the problem. The problem is his advice to “submit in every way that you can,” and his “joy” at seeing her with two black eyes after she returned to him — because her husband had come to church.

  • Perhaps the SBC could put some perspective on this by having a woman with two newly received black eyes deliver a keynote speech celebrating the SBC’s place as an instrument of God’s mercy and justice.

  • It would be much better to invite a woman to give that talk rather than centering Patterson who has incentive to make himself look good on the issue to cover his past comments and actions. Patterson might be learning some things but he might also be in self-preservation/avoid consequences mode.

  • A better question is, Will this be enough to wake up women who still call themselves Southern Baptists? Your church regards you as slaves and property; are you broken and weak enough that you agree?

  • Does Ben’s therapist know that he is curious about heterosexual lust?

    Does YOUR therapist know that you’re interested in other people’s interest in other people’s lust?

  • “Barely enough #metoo energy…”-what are you basing this on? Your opinion? Nasty wording.
    “These are women who support Roy Moore…” Which women? How many? What percent of SBC women? I certainly wouldn’t support him and I’m a SBC woman.
    “Wouldn’t surprise me…raise…upholding biblical values” Pure conjecture. Lack of understanding of biblical values and how they are applied.
    “Supporting crotch grabber (Trump, I suppose) or child molester…” I support neither. Bias. Prejudice against white women. Prejuduce against Christians. Vitriol.
    In short this person makes gross generalizations based on stuff he/she reads. He/she has no problem being prejudice against certain KINDS of women, women he/she approves of I guess. Uses these points against women, all in an effort to support women.

  • Another man judging women he does not know. Patronizing. Part of the problem.

  • You mean, this apology will never be enough for Jonathan? I don’t doubt that. Because it wasn’t an apology.

    Patterson thinks the whole problem was with his presentation, or delivery style. That’s not so. He’s supposed to be teaching young men not to objectify women. When he defends a boy for describing a woman as “built”, and even insists that the term is biblical, he’s teaching the exact opposite of what he should. If the whole story is a joke, then it’s an extraordinarily bad one.

    Patterson’s statement doesn’t even touch on his obviously leering look and tone when talking about the 16-year-old girl. And this one sermon clip is just part of a larger pattern of public contempt for women and their sufferings.

  • No one needs to be too surprised by Paige Patterson’s recent remarks that degrade women, and that he’s unaware of the TRUTH of the matter: that God is NEITHER male nor female, and at the same time BOTH male and female–and more! God is an entity set apart, far above what the human mind can fathom. Patterson has NO IDEA that God’s calling and gifts to human beings have nothing to do with those exclusively “wearing” male genitalia!

    The Southern Baptists are in a time warp of at least a half-million years right now, and getting farther behind every year their “messengers” meet during the summer. They may claim to be “the largest Protestant denomination in the US,” but I don’t believe they ever purge their church rolls. I was one of them several decades ago until I left them to attend college. There I joined up with one of the Lutheran bodies, and that’s where I am still today.. I bet I’m still being counted among the seventeen-plus million members they boast of! I just wonder who’s voting my proxy this year!

  • Actually pretty good. They got rid of right-wing thugs without doing all that much.

  • Only a significant exodus from the ship will right it. And, sad to say, that is a similarity that churches share with sales people who sell big ticket items. The most powerful weapon a church member or potential customer has is their feet.

  • About 40 years ago the SBC was taken over by coup led by reactionaries who followed Calvin & Cromwell rather than The Christ. He is just another in a long line of heretics who turned the SBC into a cult and the KJV of the Bible into an idol. The SBC is now about 99.9% political and virtually nothing Christian in its make-up. The time is long past when the SBC should be recognized as an anti-Christian and anti-democratic organization and instead is promoting “Christian” Nationalism and a government styled on colonial Salem where anyone who does not follow the “company line” is burned at the stake or drowned. AKA Fascism.

  • But from the beginning, it was not like this. While Adam sleeps, God took a rib from his side to make a woman. So woman was not made from the crown of the head so she lord over man, nor from the sole of his foot so he step on her. She was taken from his side so she can be his helper. And it was good even though Adam never figure her out because she was formed when he was dreaming. When he woke up he saw someone nice, and no earthly smell. He call her wow man.

    But after the fall the world became darkened with the new ruler of the world – the thief, the animals kill, the jungle rule, the birth pain, the curse, the ground, the sorrow, the evil days, the thorns, the sweat, back to dust. So the devil want to tear up the photos and deface all images of the previous devotion – the man and woman.

    So Jesus, Son of God became the Son of Man to be the lamb of sacrifice to reverse all curses and save us from sin. So He came to find His own bride on the cross. He, the eternal LORD, received all these dust, sweat, thorns, evil day, sorrow, curses, strikes, plowing, pains, suffering, the curse so the church (His bride, not the organist) is blessed, loved, lifted, to wake up to marvel at the bridegroom,….
    He, my only true hero had “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” flower the church with the washing and cleansing of His beloved on His side in the eternal. Amen.

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