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Southern Baptists see ‘judgment of God’ in #MeToo reckoning

Paige Patterson speaks at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on Feb. 16, 2017, in Fort Worth, Tx. Photo courtesy of SWBTS

(RNS) — One day after the removal of a prominent seminary president following a series of contentious remarks about women, Southern Baptists have begun a public reckoning.

The forced retirement of Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, has broken a dam of anger, resentment and recrimination both for his comments about abused women as well as apparent efforts by the seminary’s trustees to protect his reputation even as they eased him out.

While not discussing Patterson by name, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., sounded an alarm.

“I have to see it as the judgment of God upon a denomination and the larger evangelical movement for decades of failure in dealing rightly with questions of sexual abuse and misbehavior,” Mohler said in an interview with RNS.

Mohler warned that the impact of the #MeToo movement on the denomination was just beginning and that “we’re going to discover this problem is far more widespread.”

He was referring to comments by Patterson in a 2000 interview and a 2014 sermon in which he boasted that he once advised a woman to stay with her abusive husband and objectified the body of a 16-year-old girl as “built.” Both resurfaced in the past few weeks in the media. On Tuesday (May 22), The Washington Post reported that in 2003 Patterson asked a female student not to report an alleged rape to the police and to forgive her assailant.

Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, speaks with the press on Oct. 5, 2015. Photo by Emil Handke, courtesy of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Patterson, the architect of the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention in the early 1980s, is also known for using his position to push back against feminism and the women’s movement. He helped reinstate a biblical literalism when it comes to marriage, family and the role of women and helped push an amendment to the denomination’s statement of faith that says “a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”

READ: The ’Splainer: Paige Patterson and the SBC’s stance on wifely submission

Around 3 a.m. Wednesday, after 13 hours of deliberation, Southwestern’s board of trustees issued a statement thanking Patterson for his contributions and service to the school over the past 15 years and announcing that it wanted new leadership.

The trustees named Patterson president emeritus, a new post that comes with undisclosed compensation. They allowed him to remain on campus as a theologian-in-residence in a house now under construction.

For some Southern Baptists, that kid-glove treatment for Patterson rankled — especially among a younger generation of pastors who are trying to evangelize to a modern setting.

“I believe a mockery was made, to be honest,” said Dean Inserra, 37, pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Fla. “This was basically an accelerated retirement plan that was already in place before. It’s very frustrating. It sends a very poor message, not only to the women of the SBC and of the congregation I pastor and our staff here, but also all other Baptists.”

Paige Patterson preaches at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on Feb. 28, 2017, in Fort Worth, Tx. Photo courtesy of SWBTS

Patterson sounded unapologetic in a letter emailed Wednesday to seminary students and staff, published by the Post. “We are, of course, hurt. But we did not compromise and we still have our voice to witness,” he and his wife, Dorothy, wrote in the email, which the seminary did not release publicly.

Patterson is scheduled to give a keynote sermon to pastors during next month’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, though many pastors said that is now unlikely. They say Kie Bowman, pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church and The Quarries Church in Austin, Texas, will likely give the sermon instead.

Southern Baptists have no formal hierarchy. Each church is independent, as are its members. Some expressed fierce loyalty to Patterson.

“To retroactively punish him for remarks he made years ago is unfair,” said Chris Thompson, a pastor and former chief of staff for Patterson during his 10 years as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

“I don’t know any pastor, or public speaker for that matter, who would ever want to be subject to someone pulling an audiotape from some archive and having to answer for those words 18 years later. Who’s next, is really what my question would be.”

Thompson said Patterson’s comments to the abused woman reflect a desire — however imperfectly stated — to communicate that the Bible hates divorce.

Southern Baptists do not appear ready to reject the theology of “complementarianism,” the idea that, though men and women are equal in worth, men alone should hold leadership roles in the home and in the church.

But many pastors said they thought Patterson’s long pattern of belittling or disrespecting women was a mistaken application of biblical teaching.

“Any statement that would seem to affirm a woman remaining in an abusive situation or that would demean or devalue the apparent worth of women is theologically problematic,” said Micah Fries, pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Paige Patterson performs, while in costume with dramatic lighting, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on Dec. 6, 2017, in Fort Worth, Tx. Photo by Kathleen Murray/SWBTS

These Southern Baptists say Patterson’s understanding of women’s roles is culturally anachronistic. Former employees of Southwestern say that one of the first things he did when he arrived on campus in 2003 was to mandate that women wear modest skirts or dresses (except for casual Fridays and in summer).

Patterson also pushed out Hebrew professor Sheri Klouda and church historian Karen Bullock because he does not believe a woman should teach men or interpret Scripture.

Debra Smith, a onetime student at Southwestern who now attends a Southern Baptist church in Georgia, said she has long thought Patterson and other SBC leaders have a warped view of women’s roles.

“If church leadership is using the Bible as an excuse to subjugate women and keep them in their place, I think they need to go back and do a reread of Scripture,” she said. “Jesus valued women. Jesus protected women. He celebrated women.”

Smith said she was grateful that some people are “beginning to speak out.”

But, she added, “there are still so many people who don’t want to rock the boat and who want to focus on whatever accomplishments they think Patterson and his ilk might have achieved for the convention and his church. They’re protecting their own people.”

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

57 Comments

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  • I don’t know any pastor, or public speaker for that matter, who would ever want to be subject to someone pulling an audiotape from some archive and having to answer for those words 18 years later.

    People have nothing to fear if they have nothing to hide. End of story.

  • God’s will, always no clear, except when it isn’t.
    God’s word, always so clear, except when it isn’t.
    God’s judgment, always so clear when it id directed at the people we don’t approve of.

  • Well, at least he’s not a Calvinist.

    A Southern Baptist seminary president said Nov. 29 that Baptists who adopt Calvinistic theology and practice ought to consider joining another denomination.

    “I know there are a fair number of you who think you are a Calvinist, but understand there is a denomination which represents that view,” Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said at the close of Tuesday’s chapel service. “It’s called Presbyterian.”

    https://baptistnews.com/article/chapel-speaker-terms-calvinism-trojan-horse/#.WwbvEYopChA

  • Another testament to humanity’s brokenness: “if you don’t believe exactly the way I do about every last little minute thing then I’m going to pout, take my marbles, go home, and start a new religion,” totally forgetting Jesus’ last prayer on earth: that they all may be one. Sad.

  • Well, to be fair to Patterson, he later clarified his remarks:

    In my reported statements, let it be clear that I asked no one to leave the SBC! Let me go further and say that I am fully aware that Baptists have historically been divided into two camps (at least)—namely, Calvinist and non-Calvinist….
    What I did say was about myself. I said that if I held Presbyterian beliefs, I would be a Presbyterian. If I held charismatic beliefs, I would probably affiliate with the Assemblies of God.

    https://theologicalmatters.com/2016/12/02/concerning-remarks-on-calvinism-in-chapel-at-southwestern/

  • Judgment of God?

    Love how God’s plan was no change a few days ago, just maybe an apology by Patterson…and now suddenly God’s plan is judgment for the SBC and evangelicals, also God has decided Patterson gets dumped overboard.

    God’s judgment is always on hold until it isn’t !!

  • That’s the problem with the theological corner Southern Baptists have painted themselves into. When you see all events as a reflection of God’s pleasure or displeasure, you have to find a way to rationalize every consequence. That’s why they’re now in the absurd position of claiming that a moral train wreck like Donald Trump is really a devout Christian.

    Sometimes it isn’t about the judgment of God. Sometimes it’s about the judgment of society, which is just fine.

  • In America at least, “evangelical” is coming to be seen as the same thing as “immoral,” if not outright evil. Their allegiance to a lying, bigoted, vulgar and unfaithful bully (solely to gain political power) is costing them dearly.

  • Funny how RNS keeps on invoking the #MeToo mantra on Patterson, even though Patterson’s removal (and he fully deserved it!), did not involve any physical actions, adulteries, or even the euphemistic “inappropriate choices” that you hear about sometimes.

    (By the way, I strongly suspect the famous actor and liberal Democrat, Morgan Freeman, is getting rather tired of the #MeToo mantra as well. Or he will be soon, by the time CNN gets done sizzling his bacon!)

  • “I do not know any pastor, or public speaker … who would want … to answer” for words spoken eighteen years earlier.

    This world is full of people who can live with and answer for what they said eighteen years ago. The fact that Mr. Thompson and the people he knows do not fall into that category reflects very, very poorly on Mr. Thompson and his circle.

  • Of course Pastor Kie Borman is a homophobe in the condescending way of your better class of bigot, so someone with his sense of heterosexual white male Protestant entitlement is a perfect replacement speaker for Pres. Patterson.

  • If’s almost as if there is a price to be paid when we’ve thrown all our moral and religious preachments of years — directed against others, of course, but never at ourselves — to the winds and have now decided to bow before the emperor and his empty idols.

    Who knew that those preachments might come home and reveal our own moral and religious emptiness, as we bow and scrape before the throne of the idol?

    It’s almost biblical.

  • #MeToo is about the treatment of women in society as a whole, not just physical actions. Why is it, by the way, that the conservative commentariat here cannot make comments on the facts without trying to escape into whataboutism?

  • I remember Dr MLK Jr sure had a lotta “moral & religious preachments” that he directed at “others” — those involved in racism, Jim Crow, economic injustice, even Vietnam War supporters.

    Yet MLK was messing around with other women, which Paine Patterson never did. Telling bawdy jokes, which the FBI caught on wiretap. Yet God used him (despite some “moral and religious emptiness”, your phrase), to dramatically change and improve an entire nation. Liberals invoke him non-stop.

    And thus likewise Patterson. He said some wrong unbiblical stuff that derailed lives, and yet he clings to that mess. So he had to go. Period.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that God used Patterson to help save the entire SBC from dropping into the same moral Hell that is now burning up the Methodist Church. Nobody gets to remove that accomplishment from Paterson’s portfolio.

  • I’m seeing some one-sidedness and even some sloppy bigotry in this thread, Arb. So I get to attack it. It’s a hobby.

  • It’s starting to get very cloudy in judgment around here. What a sick joke to call that the “judgment of God”!

    (1) On the one hand, “Southern Baptists have begun a public reckoning” for “Patterson’s … desire … to communicate that the Bible hates divorce.”

    (2) On the other hand, “Southern Baptists have begun a public reckoning” for “Patterson’s … mistaken application of biblical teaching … to subjugate women and keep them in their place”.

    (3) At the same time, “Southern Baptists have begun a public reckoning” for “Patterson’s understanding of women’s roles [being] culturally anachronistic.”

  • We thought this was a Roman Catholic problem. The unbiblical requirement of priestly celibacy and the organized conspiracy of silence within the hierarchy helped to explain the cesspool of child sex abuse that has robbed the Roman Catholic Church of so much of its moral authority. When people said that Evangelicals had a similar crisis coming, it didn’t seem plausible — even to me. I have been president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twenty-five years. I did not see this coming.

    I was wrong. The judgment of God has come.

    Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention. The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance. There can be no doubt that this story is not over.

    ~ Albert Mohler, “The Wrath of God Poured Out — The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention” https://albertmohler.com/2018/05/23/wrath-god-poured-humiliation-southern-baptist-convention/

    I can boldface, too.

  • The church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ. The government’s role is to serve the common good by protecting justice and peace, rewarding good behavior while restraining bad behavior (Romans 13). When that role is undermined by political leadership, faith leaders must stand up and speak out. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”

    It is often the duty of Christian leaders, especially elders, to speak the truth in love to our churches and to name and warn against temptations, racial and cultural captivities, false doctrines, and political idolatries—and even our complicity in them. We do so here with humility, prayer, and a deep dependency on the grace and Holy Spirit of God.

    “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis”

    http://www.reclaimingjesus.org

  • Could some one please explain to me why an admonition, which should apply equally to both men and women, emphasizing modest apparel and behavior is unsound advice? There are clear scriptural directives to that end. This apart from any defense of Mr. Patterson for cultural tone deafness.

  • Calvinism yet remains. I take no position on it, though I think it often misunderstood.

  • I think that cuts both ways in most instances. Anyone defending a position is going to be tempted to identify the apparent hypocrisies of their philosophical opponents, sometimes that results in the collateral damage which ensues when one calls incoming fire on their own position.

  • I LOVE A GOOD FIGHT. Especially the infighting kind! But my money’s on the band, Patterson & The Old Guards. #MeToo can’t possibly win over and take over the Southern Baptist Convention. NO WAY.

    According to “Grady Arnold … pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cuero, Texas … [Paige] Patterson’s departure as seminary head is a larger part of a progressive movement within the SBC. ‘The real push behind it is a push against fundamentalists in the SBC and unfortunately it won’t stop with Dr. Patterson.’ The Texas pastor says he believes a coordinated effort got rid of Patterson, with the push being disguised as a fight against misogyny … ‘weaponiz[ed so as] to have somebody removed from their office … [That’s] probably going to fire up conservatives … It’s going to make … a really large convention … raucous … tumultuous [at the June 12-13 meeting]”.

    Source: Bill Bumpas, Church SBC pastor: Patterson’s exit prelude to a ‘raucous’ convention”, One News Now, May 24, 2018.

  • Nothing would be wrong with a modesty recommendation — if it was not continuously coming from people who have social and religious authority and aimed at people who do not have this power.

    It is like Jim Crow era white politicians telling black people to be polite and don’t cause trouble.

  • Good to see you quoting from Dr. Mohler. A reliable voice. I’ll have to quote more of him myself regarding various issues.

  • Oh no they aren’t. This is a really tough — unprecedented tough and grinding — situation they are in. This is far far worse than what the SBC’s are experiencing right now. I ain’t even Methodist and I’m feeling it.

    “Public Humiliation” in the media is embarrassing, it’s chastening, yes.
    But it ain’t the same thing as visibly dying from endless fire-ant bites in the middle of the street in front of everybody.

  • Sorry – I think that your response is a cop-out. Floyd’s real attack was on #meToo and how it has played out in the context of a SBC theologian. As noted in the article, I see this as sidestepping the issues noted with respect to teachings and views on women that exist within the SBC Bringing in Morgan Freeman as an equally bad guy simply ducks that bigger issue. I call it a diversion strategy. PS Whatabouotism never got me anywhere as a kid with my parents.

  • The SBC has been corrupt since its founding–and it was founded to continue slavery in the south.

    As well, and maybe most important of all, beating your wife is a FELONY. Clearly Patterson and the SBC have a peculiar view of “law and order”.

    Cultural baggage is very difficult to overcome, and once again, the SBC has shown that it’s not comfortable joining the 21st century–let alone the 20th century.

  • Patterson led the effort to turn the SBC into a cult. He is simply receiving his due and in all likely hood will be receiving much, much more.

  • Patterson did not “save” the SBC. He led the effort to turn it back into a Calvinist Cult.

  • Of course some baptists see the judgment of god in this. That is the nature of being that kind of religious person. But it’s always amazing how much the judgment of god seems to coincide exactly with the agenda of the person doing the pronouncement.

    It’s alsmost as if they see god as their personal sock puppet. Most is if there is an over identification with God.

    Megalomania much?

  • “Thompson said Patterson’s comments to the abused woman reflect a desire — however imperfectly stated — to communicate that the Bible hates divorce.”

    Southern Baptists tend to rail against sin more than they communicate the Love of God in their preaching. I know, because I grew up in that oppressive church, where I felt convicted of terrible sins as a youth because I was becoming aware of my sexuality. Their hellfire-and-damnation preaching made me feel guilty long after I was “saved,” and had gone through several cycles of “re-dedication of my life to the Lord.”

    One whose thinking hasn’t been tainted by such an overbearing focus on sin, doesn’t have to read very far in the Bible (New Testament) to learn of a loving God who hates the harm done to God’s children by the misinterpretation of Christ’s words more than any hatred this Loving Deity may have for divorce or any other sin. Christ spent time with publicans, prostitutes and sinners to show them that he cared for them and considered them worthy of His love. The religious authorities of that time chose to weigh them down with the burden of the judgment of them as sinners, which just condemned and rendered them worthless.

    Christ’s Love always triumphs every time, even among divorced people, whether they’ve been abused or not. And love is the remedy for the abusers as well! How could the Southern Baptists–particularly one of their prominent seminary presidents, have missed this?!

  • If you really want to talk about one-sidedness, consider this: Weinstein is surrendering to the NYPD today. It’s been less than 24 since the Morgan Freeman news came out, and he’s already been declared persona non grata. Al Franken was forced to resign from the Senate. In contrast, Trump is still president, Roy Moore still is a conservative hero, and Paige Patterson has been emeritized with a golden parachute. Get back to me with your complaints about the Democrats (I had no clue about Freeman’s political affiliation btw) when Trump resigns.

  • Calling out hypocrisy is one thing, but when it’s just “look over there!” it’s a failed response.

  • #Metoo has done a lot of good, exposed a lot of wrongdoing (both attitudes and actions), and brought many abusers to account.

    On the other hand, #Metoo itself shouldn’t get a free pass. Gotta be accountable and politically neutral (hence the little reminder about Mr. Freeman). Nor should guys who totally kept their hands off women, be labeled exactly the same as guys who didn’t. Patterson got what he deserved, but he ain’t no Franken or Moore.

    And the lynched teenager Emmett Till serves as a perpetual reminder that Due Process and Fact-Checking can NOT be left out of #Metoo accusations. At all.

  • Of course for atheists anything that does not go well must be the fault of people who believe in deity.

    Emotional Deprivation Disorder much?

  • Says the Christian bigot who blames atheists and gay people for all his problems.

  • The discipline of priestly celibacy is not unbiblical, but Catholicism in any case is not sola scriptura.

    There is little or no evidence of an “organized conspiracy of silence within the hierarchy”, and of over 5,000 bishops only a handful have been implicated in not following Canon Law on abuse charges, primarily in place like Milwaukee where mental health “experts” ruled the roost and the in-charge archbishop was violating his own vows for years.

    Some dioceses had zero problems.

  • Nice of you to show your true colors by disparaging mental health professionals. You are clearly in need of some serious help for your tendency to excuse pedophilia.

  • Flpyd, I doubt very much that the women who engaged in the letter writing campaign to oust Pattterson would have identified as belonging to #metoo (which I don’t even think of as an organized movement in spite of being international and I definitely do not see it as politically biased)

    .

    But what concerns me is data suggesting abuse occurs at a higher rate within the US Evangelical community with the exception of those men who attend church several times a week. There may be other reasons – geography, police practices – but there is definitely a greater impact within this group.https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/december-web-only/evangelicals-domestic-violence-christian-men-domestic-abuse.html

    And not clear how Patterson and Till compare – at all. Pattersons’s due process gave him housing and a new job title.

  • I don’t dispute it, I simply argue that it’s not all confined to one side (which, I guess, is another way of saying, ‘Look over there!’). I’m not sure that a real solution is even possible in this present world. The best case might be to hold one another accountable in an amicable fashion. But not all of us are mature enough to accept accountability, or we lack the critical thinking skills to even perceive it.

  • None of us are perfect, and we can’t change the past…but the past can inform the future. Patterson has been disciplined with respect to previous personal limitations in his role as a pastoral advisor. I see no reason to suppose he won’t learn from his experience. We are living in a time where every legitimate or illegitimate “class” of people are touched with a spirit of grievance and retribution, absent fogiveness. This does not bode well…particularly for the Church. In a practical sense, we can only start from now, endeavoring to adhere to the clear teaching of scripture on both church government and pastoral care without letting cultural constructs hinder that effort.

  • But such admonitions when confined to people of faith by people of faith are not subject to outside review by unbelievers, which seems to be the case here.

  • Not when people are prepared to apply such admonitions equally, as I and many others within the faith are prepared to do. Every stricture and every scripture applied in the community of faith properly extends to everyone apart from gender. I will grant that such a viewpoint is probably not emphasized enough, however, I emphasize it here.

  • Thank you for your thoughtful response. I am not sure that one can approach scripture as clear teaching without understanding the cultural and theological constructs that we bring to reading it. If it was so straight-forward, there would only be a single church. But this has been the case since the beginnings of the church.

  • Of curse, they are not willing to apply such admonitions equally, which is precisely the point, so your attempt at alleged clarification only serves to excuse their behavior.

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