All the heroes and legends I knew as a child have fallen to idols of clay
And I feel this empty place inside so afraid that I’ve lost my faith.
-Styx, “Show Me the Way”
I usually write about worship, liturgy, church music, and megachurch culture. So when I occasionally delve into something else, it comes as as bit of a surprise to my regular readers.
“Stick to worship, Jonathan,” is the way one faithful reader phrased his protest.
Duly noted, Don from Altoona.
But this post is about worship. Specifically, it’s about hero worship, and what happens when you find out that those heroes, in the words of that great American hymn-writer Dennis DeYoung,” were really just idols of clay.
Decades ago, Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler met at Cafe du Monde to do the two things Southern Baptists do best: stuff their faces and plan a takeover. And takeover they did. Using a countless number of pawns, Pressler and the less-cunning-but-prettier Patterson replaced SBC presidents and committee members with people of their own choosing. In doing so, they hijacked the entire convention, including its highly-prized publishing arm and seminaries.
In the ensuing years, the Southern Baptist Convention turned into an echo-chamber for their Good Ol’ Boy’s club. The two PPs plan married the SBC to the Religious Right, turned evangelism into a weird, dominionist space race, and booted out any dissenting viewpoint. They’ve been lauded as Baptist saviors, men of the highest personal integrity who fought the good fight against those nasty, heathen, non-fundamentalist pastors and professors. I remember growing up how my own Southern Baptist pastor would tell our megachurch about the Cafe du Monde legend, how without men like Patterson and Pressler we’d probably be singing majestic hymns and reading from the RSV in God’s house.
There were others involved, of course, like Adrian Rogers and W.A. Criswell, but Patterson and Pressler were the architects, the cheerleaders, the slick pitchmen that ultimately brought the hostile takeover to fruition.
See, these two men were never the stalwarts for the true, unadulterated Christian faith that they wanted Baptists to believe. They have outwardly proven themselves to be scheming, conniving, rule-bending, power-seeking individuals. In books, articles, sermons, speeches, and any other medium they could find, they’ve sung their own praises and continued to tell their Southern Baptist tall tales, their false narratives about how open-minded Baptists were going to come like thieves in the night and steal your churches and children away from you.
It’s a pathetic look, really. Two elderly men who will simply not go away, who continue in their advanced years to double down in defiance, even though their lies are growing clearer. For decades now, the Baptists have haughtily looked at the emptying mainline sanctuaries around them. But the same thing is beginning to happen to them now. Younger generations are coming along who have no patience for this kind of denominational posturing.
And it’s not pretty.
Paul Pressler is a month shy of 88. We now know about the lawsuits, the settlements, the allegations, the victims. We’ve seen the corroboration in the accounts. The grooming, the solicitations, the group showering, the naked hot tub parties. The way Pressler repeatedly hopped from church to church as if trying to outrun his demons.
And now, we find Paige Patterson defiantly defending his words. This is a man who has turned the subjugation of women into a spectator sport. He’s the impetus for seminary degree plans in biblical homemaking and prescriptions for women’s “gracious” submission. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, at the recent revelations that he’s counseled battered women to submit to domestic abuse, so that through their blackened eyes they might win their abusive husbands to Christ.
(Note: If have to say this. If there is anyone reading this who is living in a domestic abuse situation, please know that I believe God is for you, not against you. Paige Patterson is an evil man with a toxic theology. This advice is borne out of that toxicity. He and others that say women should stand by their abusers do not represent the view of God, the Bible, or most professing Christians. This is gross pastoral malpractice. Please do what you need to do to separate yourself from your abuser. Run from pastoral “counseling” that binds you to silent suffering. Seek help, get away, stay safe.)
The Southern Baptist battleship has been quietly taking on water for years now, faster than the good ol’ boys could bucket and pump it out. Could the atrocities done by these two men speed things up?
You bet they could.
I’m going to say it as plainly as I can:
Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler are evil. They have abused, cheated, and scammed their way to Southern Baptist sainthood. Their way of power and prestige is antithetical to the gospel, to the humble example of our servant-Savior.
But the sun is setting on their day, as it is on the Baptist culture they spawned.
The victims, long silenced and suppressed, are speaking up. The stories, long quashed and squelched, are rising into headlines. The Southern Baptist way of wagon-circling and intimidation just won’t do any longer.
An edifice built to exalt its architects will ultimately collapse upon itself.