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Paige Patterson has resigned. Imagine if he were Tim Cook.

Paige Patterson speaks on March 25, 2015, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Patterson worked as the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for more than a decade and served as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1998 and 1999. Photo courtesy of SWBTS

(RNS) — In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s embattled president, Paige Patterson, was relieved of his duties following more than 13 hours of deliberation by the school’s board of trustees.

This may sound like a victory for those who criticized Patterson in recent weeks for his dangerous practices dealing with domestic abuse, sexist remarks about women and mismanagement of a rape allegation on his campus. And, in some ways, it is. The thousands of women who called for his resignation have been heard, and he has been forced to leave his post in shame.

When you think about it, Patterson’s departure was the ultimate irony. The man who spent his career making full-throated arguments for the submission of women was, in the end, taken down by women who decided they would tolerate his leadership no longer.

But after weeks of inaction, the board’s decision feels more like a celebrated send-off than a stiff censure. While they dismissed Patterson to save face under overwhelming pressure, he was also offered a pile of consolation prizes. Patterson will be honored with the title of president emeritus of Southwestern, for example. Both he and his wife, Dorothy, have been named theologian-in-residence. The couple will receive compensation from the school, and they will be allowed to live in the luxurious and spacious retirement residence they were building for themselves on campus.

Paige Patterson speaks at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Spring 2016 Convocation in Fort Worth, Texas. Photo courtesy of SWBTS

Talk about a soft landing.

To understand the implications of this whole ordeal and what it means for the Southern Baptist Convention, it may be helpful to engage in a little thought experiment.

Imagine for a moment that Paige Patterson were Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple. Instead of being president of a conservative Christian seminary with the mission of training church ministers and missionaries, Cook runs a for-profit secular business with the mission of selling products to consumers. He and his employees are not required to sign a statement of faith and they do not claim to live by a strict moral code found in an ancient sacred text like the Bible.

Imagine if it were discovered that in 1997 Tim Cook joked to a reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that when it comes to women, “Everybody should own at least one.”

Imagine that at public Apple events, he argued that if women were abused, they should avoid divorce and “submit to their husbands in every way.”

Imagine that audiotapes emerged of Cook telling stories of advising a woman under his authority to return to her abusive husband and when she received two black eyes, Cook commented that he was “very happy.”

Imagine that The Washington Post reported that a female Apple employee had come to Cook in 2003 to report being raped on the corporate campus. Cook responded by making the woman recount the details of the rape to a room of male colleagues, instructed her to keep quiet and not report the details to the police, and then the victimized woman was reprimanded by human resources.

Imagine that, in response, 3,500 female Apple employees called on the board to remove Tim Cook from his position, and that all of these events were reported in major news outlets such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate and The Washington Post.

It is incontrovertible that Apple’s board would have responded more swiftly and harshly than did the Southwestern board in this situation.

Cook would not have been allowed to stay in his position for nearly a month, and he certainly would not have been able to preside over the annual Apple expo as Patterson did at the Southwestern graduation.

Cook would not have been able to claim he had nothing to apologize for and issue a statement saying the whistleblowers had been fueled by “hatred.”

Cook would have been terminated immediately. He would not have received compensation or honorary titles or a plush retirement residence in Silicon Valley. Let this sink in: America’s most prominent tech company has a stronger ethical compass when it comes to the dignity of women than America’s largest Protestant denomination.

But this is, of course, not a statement on the moral fortitude of the tech industry. The same would be true for an advertising executive on Madison Avenue, a hedge fund manager on Wall Street, a prominent actor in Hollywood or a politician inside the Beltway of Washington, D.C.

Which is to say that many of the secular communities in America that Southern Baptists have painted as evil possess more moral courage than they do. Consider that for a moment and it will tell you all you need to know about the current state of America’s largest Protestant denomination.

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.

33 Comments

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  • The fact that it has taken so long for any sort of action to be taken, coupled with the extremely “soft landing” provided, leaves me with the impression that this is simply about damage control – an attempt to stop the outcry of anger and disgust – rather than an admission that Paige’s attitudes and actions themselves are abhorrent.

  • I have followed this story in the press and on Twitter. Patterson’s legendary pride and arrogance was on full display in his every stated defense. I was outraged and felt he needed to resign or be removed from his position. Yes, The corporate world would have responded more decisively and swiftly – however, there’s the issue of grace. Corporations need not respond with grace. They are not responsible to be salt and light. They are not called to reconciliation. I don’t know if grace, salt, light, or reconciliation were the reasons for the delay or for the “soft landing” but I am prayerful that they were.

  • The result is a good one, if imperfect. The continued, overbroad disdain for a huge swath of believers, however, is troubling. I also remain concerned about the very apparent goal of modifying Christianity to exist within the confines of the secular. Of course, Christians can and should engage in self-evaluation and criticize their leadership where it fails to act in the manner our faith requires. Many have done that with regard to Patterson, and they deserve our support. I would only urge others to guard against those who may exploit situations like this to subversively seek not to bolster the righteousness of the church, but rather to dilute it.

  • It’s hard to imagine Tim Cook in any kind of analogous situation. For one thing, he’s a gay man from Alabama who knows a thing or two about oppression, so it’s highly unlikely that he would ever engage in the kind of paternalistic behavior of the sort that Paige Patterson did with women he counseled. Aside from that, the comparison is apt. Apple’s board would indeed have acted swiftly to remove him, knowing full well the economic liability he would pose to the company if he were kept on as CEO amid standing charges of inappropriate behavior. The SBC board dragged their heels kicking and screaming before taking action, which was no doubt prompted only by the national outcry. Without that, Patterson would still be carrying on as usual. The same thing will happen the next time a member of the Baptist hoi polloi is caught with his pants down engaging in appropriate behavior. Of that there can be no doubt. It’s only a matter of time.

  • Good comment, interesting thoughts. As for grace, reconciliation, salt and light, being the reasons for the delay and soft landing, the public comments that come later will probably put that out there. If that becomes the case my question will be, during the conservative take over of the SBC was reconciliation, grace, salt and light modeled during those times for the people who were removed?
    It will be interesting to see what we hear.

  • I don’t think Tim Cook is the point. You could put in any CEO of a major company: Bob Iger, Bill Gates, Larry Page. Cook was probably mentioned just to use Apple as a comparison.

  • It will be interesting to see the fallout among those in the pews, including those not in the pews who just want to claim Patterson is a victim of #metoo-ism. It’s very hard not to see his supporters not sharing his views and attitude toward women.

  • I was present at the SBC convention in 1994 when Dr. Dilday, then President of Southwestern was removed from office. From my vantage point, and from my perspective, no grace was offered, no reconciliation was sought. It was a political hack job. Patterson’s comments were without grace and his actions were without mercy. May he receive that which he was unable to give.

  • yes, it is sad when the world responds better than the church to those who have been harmed… that the church continues to protect those in power at the expense of those harmed is the exact opposite of what we are called to do… the pushback, resistance and silence from the church to the #metoo has been appalling.

  • “May he receive that which he was unable to give.”

    I abosultly agree. For the sake of those in a position to give that I hope they extend that offer. In the mean time I wish this board would have acted in the interest of those people a long time ago and not the interest of themselves and Patterson.

  • It is despicable that those who claim moral superiority are so lacking in morality. That said, I am glad that the man was forced to resign. Given the culture of the organization, i would say that the woman scored a biggie.

  • Before we get too caught up in the rhetoric, can we take a moment to think about just what is before us? What has Paige Patterson done that that deserves severe punishment? Did he abuse women? Slap or beat them? Did he give them black eyes? He expressed unpopular opinions and gave bad advice to people. I’m not sad he’ll no longer be advocating those opinions as a Southern Baptist leader. But I also appreciate people have a right to believe and say things I disagree with.
    Would he have been run out of town on a rail from Silicon Valley? Probably, but I’m not sure that’s really something worth celebrating. People like Brandon Eich and James Damore can testify to how fast and hard the big tech companies clamp down on heterodox opinions. People who support diversity and tolerance should be worried by that rather than lifting it up as an example to emulate.
    And there is something a tad unfair about comparing the real world actions of an SBC seminary with hypothetical predictions about what an imagined virtuous secular group might do. In real life, people do tend to protect their friends and stand with their allies in the cause. Consider how people defended and protected New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a man whose treatment of women was far worse than anything Paige Patterson has been accused of doing. That’s not liberal or conservative — it’s human. It’s something we share, not something those who hold the high ground observe in others.

  • BRENDAN Eich managed to piss off a whole bunch of people, gay and straight, not the company. It was those people who informed the company that he was not acceptable.

    Freedom of speech protects you from the government coming down on you for what you say. It does not protect you from people being pissed off at the foolish things you say and do.

  • AGREED. But I mean it more:

    Based upon 1 Corinthians 5:5, “America’s largest Protestant denomination” SHOULD “HAVE decided to deliver [my born-again Christian brother, Paige Patterson] to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus”!

  • Nothing in religion fundamentalism makes sense, including the SBC. I mean, can anyone explain the SBC’s unwavering support for Donald Trump? Paige Patterson is a piker compared to the things Trump has said and done. Inconsistency and hypocrisy are fundamental elements in religious fundamentalism.

  • After reading all of your comments I present you with a question. Then if his advice was so wrong what do we say to those women who stayed with their abusive husbands, prayed for him, and saw him converted to Jesus and now are happily married?

  • We could say, “I’m so glad you got lucky and your husband doesn’t beat you anymore.” The fact that you can give people objectively horrible advice, and actually have things turn out okay some small percentage of the time, isn’t surprising. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then, as they say. But most people who stay with abusers – even when they pray and pray – will continue to get abused.

  • Saying everybody should own at least one woman is absolutely perpetuating damaging ideas against women, and his attitude could have very well led to further abuse and even murder of women. He did not protect his flock. He’s the reason I left the church in 2000 after receiving advice from a Baptist counselor modeled on his advice. That changed my whole life, and I later had children whose lives are different because of it. Don’t fool yourself. His actions had dire and far reaching negative consequences in the world.

  • Any woman (or man) in an abusive relationship would do well to remove themselves ASAP. Removing themselves does not necessarily mean divorce. It means they set healthy boundaries until they see/experience the fruit of repentance in the abuser. Also, we would do well to remember that while God hates divorce, He hates the things that cause divorce just as much.

  • I concur with gcaruso’s comment. The church’s responsibility is first to ensure the well-being and safety of the woman and family. And in fact, there is evidence suggesting this . https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/december-web-only/evangelicals-domestic-violence-christian-men-domestic-abuse.html It is the pastor’s job to bring the spouse to Jesus, not the abused person’s. Otherwise, I think there is a greater risk that the woman will fell abandoned by both her church and faith.

    In a way, I find it odd that there are specific shelters for Muslim women which in addition to normal counselling services, also address religious beliefs that have placed them at physical harm in their marriage.

  • I agree with you to this extent: the ideas he taught about submission to the point of submitting to abuse are reprehensible. They are not unique to traditionalist Southern Baptists; I once knew a woman married to a psychologist who was quite skilled at keeping his abuse just this side of actionable. Even so, I am glad the seminary and conference are moving to distance themselves from Patterson’s beliefs. Though I’m not a Southern Baptist myself, I think the church as a whole is better off as Patterson’s generation gives way to people Russell Moore.
    But I still submit there’s a distinction between people like Patterson who *say* bad things and people like Schneiderman and Weinstein who *do* bad things.
    I spent too many years in journalism school learning about the importance of free and open discussion. They are clichés, but they are also good summaries of an important and valuable tradition: I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it. The solution to bad speech is good speech, not banning speech. These values protect society from an orthodoxy imposed by inquisition. Inquisitions never end well…

  • Did the Board act in the best interests of those directly affected? Seems to me that reconciliation is an active process and also requires the direct involvement of those harmed or hurt. I think this ideally is an opportunity that should have been provided far all.

  • “Seems to me that reconciliation is an active process and also requires the direct involvement of those harmed or hurt.”

    Yes I agree. This would be my hope for those who have been harmed or hurt by Paige Patterson, or by what he possibly represents. That they haven’t been hurt or harmed to the degree that they would become unforgiving. I’m more interested in how those people are impacted by the board’s decision, which I think is what you’re saying.

  • While I agree with the importance of free speech, we strongly disagree on at least 3 points. First, the article isn’t suggesting that Patterson go to jail as a result of the speech – just that he shouldn’t be treated with kid gloves by his employer and given an EXTREMELY generous and face-saving exit package. This package is a slap in the face to all women and families who have had their lives changed by his horrendous views.

    Second, there is a significant difference between personal speech and speech made from a position of formal and moral authority. Patterson is not just the average man on the street, and he expressed these beliefs in his official capacity representing the seminary specifically and the SBC generally. Firing an employee for inappropriate speech is not a violation of the letter or spirit of the 1st Amendment.

    Finally, it’s a complete cop out to say that just because he didn’t assault or rape someone there shouldn’t be consequences for his bad actions. Of course it’s not the same thing, but that doesn’t mean his actions (including making statements) should get a free pass. Diabetes isn’t the same thing as a heart attack, but that doesn’t mean you ignore the diabetes and binge on cupcakes.

    I’d like to express my sympathy for Rachel and her experience. I hope that you and your family have found a church home where you are loved and respected as a Child of God, which is all of our birthrights. I promise they exist.

  • While Patterson’s words and actions were often ill advised, he ought to be credited at least for a passionate understanding that God hates divorce. Clearly, his understanding of the servant role of the husband is lacking even as he emphasized the traditional biblical hierarchy of the family as plainly delineated in scripture. With no hint of personal moral failure, he may be rightly faulted for being tone deaf, and for missing the point of his role as a pastoral advisor. However, comparisons to others outside his realm of putative expertise is not to the point. While those the author cites would presumably have not survived comments similar to those of Patterson, at least not today, their primary responsibilities largely do not reflect any emphasis on eternal spiritual values or realities. Given a choice between the world’s primarily temporal aims and the eternal spiritual goals of the Body of Christ, I prefer one who stumbles towards the proper end, than those that race sleekly towards a bleakly leaden trophy, which clangs dully and emptily when struck.

  • Hi Edward. I don’t think most people are faulting Patterson for discouraging divorce as a theological matter (not that I think that’s what the verse means but I would not wish to tell you how you must interpret it). The issue is that he advised the wife not only to remain with the husband physically, but to submit in every way possible. As Floydlee has pointed out, there are 21st century evangelical voices out there that have held physical abuse to be constructive abandonment for New Testament purposes, thus allowing divorce within a Christian worldview. In any event, I am not understanding what prevented Patterson from saying, “Don’t get divorced, but call the police!”

  • They can’t admit that what he said was wrong because they would then be throwing into doubt EVERYTHING about their religious beliefs. Their religion is an all or nothing proposition.

  • A late reply, my browser has been giving me fits on this site. Patterson must in some measure be assessed as a product of his formative years, and new paradigms are often difficult to adjust to. I suspect that recent events will present an opportunity for growth in his case. In recently re-reading George Will’s “Men At Work,” his late 80’s tome examining baseball and explaining it to America, he quotes then Dodger’s pitcher, Orel Hershiser to the effect, that the past is done and gone, and can not be thus altered, the future is not yet, and therefore potentially perfect. In the present, Hershiser strove for the perfect until he erred, whereupon he reset the standard for perfection. For example: He planned a no hitter, upon the first hit, he reframed it as a one hitter, etc. He played the game moment by moment framing the best potential future with each passing event or change. While your scenario wherein Patterson advises, “don’t get divorced, but call the police!” is both sound and perfect, Patterson must work from the present reality and should be given the opportunity in a new mission to do so…that is the sum of my argument. Lacking perfection myself in any number of areas, including how to best judge other’s circumstances, I am attempting to train myself to forebear with regard to both my allies and my adversaries. This is small comfort to those nursing the wounds of abuse, but a spirit of forgiveness nourishes the spirit while feeding on pain and resentment brings bitterness to the soul. As frustrating as the past can be, practically speaking, we are in the now and should, I think, lead and love even our enemies in the hopes of their benefit. This is a windy, and probably unsatisfactory reply, but I don’t know how else to frame it.

  • Of course Patterson should be allowed redemption and repentance. None of us are as bad as our worst day. He didn’t kill anybody (although his advice to abused wives certainly could have led to death). True repentance should include more than passive mealy-mouthed apologies, and it definitely shouldn’t involve continued defiant statements and golden parachutes.

  • What is baffling in this alleged rape is that the rapist got off scot free. We don’t know the jokers name and he could be out there pastoring a church now.

  • 1. Sadly, Divorce is so prevalent in society and in SBC life that people feel if we make a commitment to marriage lifelong it’s too hard for people to achieve and we don’t want people to feel like failures. 2. We don’t understand that the Bible does not condone remarriage when one divorces. Society (and I’m afraid the Church) sees marriage like changing cars every few years. I believe separation is ok but God hates divorce and says if one remarries they are living in adultery. As far as the “black eyes” story Paige Patterson told. Up until that day at church Dr. Patterson communicated the lady had not been abused physically. My question to every Southern Baptist would be, “If your spouse or child was not a believer, how many black eyes would you be willing to take if you knew they would come to Christ? Two? Seven? Or seventy times seven? Let us not forget the beating Christ took for all of us.

  • That is true. We also need pastors to tell them to separate from the abuser, pray for them, and wait for God to work in their life. They are in a lifelong covenant with the person.

  • Yes, right on. However, we don’t want to make divorce an option because then we lead someone to living in adultery.

  • Many have said Patterson’s words were “ill advised.” Are these things documented or just hearsay? I agree that God hates divorce and I would add that remarriage is nowhere condoned in the Bible. I feel this is what people are upset about. I think we have many in SBC life that has watered down God’s Word on divorce. People either believe the truth or they become the truth. I rather believe it and base my life upon it.

  • People voted for Trump because the DNC couldn’t find anyone better than Hillary. The DNC should have been smart enough to see that Carson and Trump (two non-politician) leading the GOP poles early on. They should have been wise enough to find them a nonpolitical person to put in the race. Not just SBCers but many people are just sick of politicians in general. Now both Democrats and Republicans are seeing how the Democrats have become butt hurt babies about losing. Add Comey, Waters, and Strzok to the equation and it’s no wonder Democrats are beginning to #WalkAway.

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