Moving on from the Patterson Debacle

A couple of weeks ago I announced on this blog that I was returning to the religious tradition that was responsible for my discipling – the Southern Baptists. I went into some of my personal reasons for coming back as well as the circumstances that led me there. I also stated that I plan on being a voice in that denomination as I believe it needs to make a transition from an old guard to a modern expression of what the Southern Baptists have to offer.

At this time there is a controversial issue troubling this denomination. Of course I am talking about the comments and advice of Paige Patterson particularly as it pertains to women. For those unaware of this issue, Patterson made an inappropriate joke about the way a 16 year old girl is “built” and offered horrible advice to women in abusive relationships. He has also been accused of telling one of his students who had been raped not to report the crime to the police. He has since apologized about the joke, but I am not certain if he has apologized about the advice. At any rate he has been removed from his job at Southwestern Baptist Theology Seminary (SWBTS) and put into an emeritus position as theologian-in-residence.

Let me admit that I have written and rewritten this post more than any other post I have written to date. First, because I want to tread carefully as I reenter my Southern Baptist heritage. Second, the events connected to his controversy keep changing at a rapid rate. My original post was started before the accusation that Patterson told a student not to report a rape and his being forced out of his presidency at SWBTS. Hopefully by the time this entry is posted it will not be outdated by further developments.

I figured once the accusation about his not wanting a rape reported came out that his forced resignation was inevitable. We were entering Joe Paterno territory. Reversing the damage done to the Seminary and Southern Baptist denomination will not happen as long as Patterson heads up SWBTS. But I wish no ill will on him and I hope others don’t either. Engaging in vindictive thinking about his shortcomings does no one any good. I think we conservative Christians should acknowledge the good he has done through the years. But he is a leader not ready for this current time in our society and his treatment of women at times has been downright shameful. It is time for him to go (As such, I hope he does not deliver the sermon at the Southern Baptist Convention.).

There are those concerned that even in his new position he will be able to unduly influence SWBTS and by extension the rest of the Southern Baptists. If the trustees allow him to do that; then they are making a serious mistake. SWBTS needs a new president with complete authority to take the school in new directions. My hope is that in making the deal with Patterson to allow him to stay at the campus as a theologian-in-residence that they made it clear that his power at the school is over. Many of us will be watching, and if that is not the case, we will put pressure on the trustees to remove Patterson from any semblance of real power.

But this issue was never about Patterson alone. It is about a culture among some Southern Baptists that has been too dismissive of the concerns of women. Patterson was the one who was caught and in some ways he is being made an example for other men who have engaged in such base behavior. We Southern Baptists (am I allowed to say “we” yet?) have allowed male/female relationship to become corrupted in this denomination. We have allowed them to be compromised by worldly standards. This is an opportunity for us to reset our gender relationships and to take steps to move them in a Godly manner.

What do I mean when I say that we have allowed our gender relationships to move in a worldly manner? We know that many men have a tendency to see women as sexual objects. We know that men have had the power in our society to dismiss the concerns of women. Furthermore we also know that women are often treated as second class citizens. These are the tendencies one should expect when we allow our sin nature to take control of our lives and societies. Unfortunately Christians have not been immune to these tendencies and sometimes have acted worse then others on such issues. Now we have the opportunity to move forward to repent of these wrongs and to move forward in reconciliation with our sisters in Christ.

So how do we move forward? We in the Southern Baptist denomination need to have a serious conversation about women and how they are treated. I am not arguing for acceptance of radical feminist theology. And although I personally do not have problems with women pastors I am not arguing for that either. But you know what. As I listen to the sisters who have brought up these issues, I do not see them advocating radical egalitarianism or anything like that. I see them wanting us men to address many of the blind spots we have had over the years and to move our denomination closer to what God wants it to be. And along the way we will create a denomination that better uses the talents and strengths of our sisters.

We must bring some of the women who are critical of the denomination into this conversation. So many of the women, such as Beth Moore, have eloquently discussed their struggles and point to a deep gender problem within evangelicalism. And we have to make real changes in how we have approached male-female relationships. It does no good to merely talk about our problems. What are we going to do to fix them? It must be a conversation that has some “teeth” to it so that we can make the alterations we need as we move forward.

As sympathetic as I am to the women who have been offended by us men let me add that victimization does not confer righteousness. I am not looking for a situation where men merely take notes and obey women. Both men and women are fallen creatures, and we both have blind spots. We both can misuse power that is unrestrained. What I want is a dialog with the mostly male leaders and the women who have to deal with the sexism in our churches and organizations.

I am not sure what format we need for this conversation to take place. Perhaps soon after the national convention next week, the new President can convene a select committee that will not only hear out the complaints of women but also develop a plan to improve our gender relations. It may be possible to commission to develop the materials we need to inform us about the depths of this problem and help us develop better gender attitudes.

In the past I have asked for such a dialogue as it concerns racial issues. I will continue to beat that drum as I do not think we will deal with racial alienation until we have honest communication between racial groups. I believe that we can apply some of the lessons about this racial dialog to this situation as well. For example, in the past I have talked about active listening on race issues as a way to go far down that path towards establishing true racial harmony. And while sin abounds in both men and women, I fear that often it is we men who have not actively listened well enough.

Update: The trustees that fired Paige Patterson just released information for their decision. Clearly they made the right decision.


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10 responses to “Moving on from the Patterson Debacle”

  1. I read your previous post, and did not see anything about your being disciplined by the SBC. Is that a story you are not sharing for some reason, or can we find it elsewhere?
    Or, it just occurred to me, did you make a typo in the current post, so that the word in your first sentence should be “discipling” instead of “disciplining”?

    • Thanks for catching that. I made the change. Although I probably have needed disciplining from time to time too.

  2. Right…treating women like equals is too radical to consider. Got it.

    Here’s a hint…if you aren’t willing to move an inch regarding treating women as equals, no one else will either. It just won’t happen.

    But thanks for being a great example of Christian bravery. I bet you sing in church every week about how with God’s help you have no fear, and can do anything. But stand up for women? Way too hard, obviously. I bet you sing about how you expect God to make the world new…but you seem absolutely sure that can’t possibly involve treating half the species as equals.

    • “move an inch” See hyperbole like this is why I cannot take people like you seriously. Have a good day.

  3. I had the same reaction as swbarnes2.
    “Engaging in vindictive thinking about his shortcomings does no one any good. I think we conservative Christians should acknowledge the good he has done through the years. ”
    He apologized that “the women misunderstood him.” He has not made a statement of repentance. It’s premature to go back to looking at his “good deeds.” This is what happens: the anxiousness to move on to forgiveness supercedes repentance and the guilty are not punished.
    “I am not arguing for acceptance of radical feminist theology. And although I personally do not have problems with women pastors I am not arguing for that either.” Here you give away what your willing to do, and what you are not willing to do. It is mildly insulting that you imply women are after something “radical” and then dismiss that notion (why bring it up?). And obviously you aren’t willing to make women pastors. Yes, that disappoints.
    “And along the way we will create a denomination that better uses the talents and strengths of our sisters.” …unless that talent is for pastoring. Do you see how this reads as insincere?
    “As sympathetic as I am to the women who have been offended by us men let me add that victimization does not confer righteousness.” Women have been offended, yes. Women have also been beaten and raped. Don’t soft sell it. No, victimization does not confer righteousness, but did women ask for that? Another insult to women through your assumption.
    Not having seen the microagressions in your own writing, please keep searching your heart for how you need to drop your assumptions and really SEE women.

    • If the women of SBC are not pushing for pastor positions then I am not going to do it. You ask for me to listen to those women yet you seem more eager to push your own agenda. Perhaps less time looking for “microaggressions” and more time understanding that human depravity can strike us all would help you to understand more of my balanced approach. Nonetheless I am less interested in supporting agendas from those who do not have the best interest of the SBC at heart.

  4. Okay George, here goes nuthin’. I am a born and raised rural, Southern Kentucky Baptist, joined an SBC church in 1978……. and I am a female.
    “Christians should acknowledge the good he has done through the years. ”
    Eeee, no. I have experienced the change in attitudes towards and ever increasing limitations placed on women during all the “good” that PP has done over the years……. Maybe good for men (especially the egos), but not so much for women. I now feel farther from God at church I do than anywhere. I stopped attending in Feb. 2016. I’m sick of being treated as a quasi-human with a quasi-soul. (Well, more angry than sick.)

    Lots and lots of “men’s meeting”, but no women allowed in the “holy of holies”…… No talking at business meetings ….. No talking in mixed-gender adult classes …. Can’t pray out loud in mixed company …….No teaching mixed gender classes above 5 th grade (And I was a 7-12 math teacher!) ……. Top position allowed for a woman (besides the pastor’s wife): Kitchen Committee Leader!

    My prediction for the aftermath of the PP fallout: the young, restless and reformed males will gain 99.5% control of the SBC. Nothing will else will change.

  5. Hi George. I’m a southern woman who lives in the heart of Georgia. I want to say I appreciate your perspective and attitude. I can tell by your comments you truly want understanding, peace and resolutions to the problems plaguing Southern Baptist. I understand the frustration that swbarnes2, Pepper Mullins and others are feeling. I believe you do too Me. Yancey. I believe God in any manifestation of the Holy Trinity would want us to act in Christian love toward Paige Patterson. That love would include acknowledging his good works and lifting him up in prayer while condemning his inappropriate works and words. Making sure he isn’t in a position to lead or influence others is right. As stated, he is not ready. We MUST NOT let our very human emotions come before Gods’ way and will. We must strive to follow our Spiritual nature, which mimics the compassionate nature of Jesus. May God bless us all with the wisdom to understand the knowledge He has provided through Scripture, then also the courage and strength to use it. Even more so to the leaders of the church as they make decisions. Thank you.

  6. As long as you deny women certain roles and powers based solely on their gender, you deny a fundamental concept in your religion. Namely, that women are created in the image of God. They also are, according to your religion, baptized by the Holy Spirit. They can also prophesy. They are part of that priesthood of believers. They are uniquely honored even in the text because they didn’t run away at the end. They went back. They were the ones who were told of the Resurrection. Why didn’t your God reveal himself to men at the beginning?

    And let’s face it, we aren’t stupid. We can tell what a prestigious position is and what a prestigious position is not. Pastor is a prestigious position. Being on the council is a prestigious position. Running the Church is a prestigious position. Handing out coffee is not a prestigious position. Cleaning is not a prestigious position. If we are going to pretend that Jesus ‘ nonsense is valid, these power structures need to be completely upended. The last shall be first. The first shall be last. Who traditionally is “of the first”? If you think “men”, you nailed it. If you look at Jesus’ ministry, you see a man who didn’t think that cleaning feet was beneath him. He did a “woman’s job” but how many men do this? Oh wait… on Mother’s Day? But then, afterwards, they go back on their throne and say “Woman, bring me my sandwich”. “Serve”.

    I think that christianity wouldn’t be so toxic if it allowed people who weren’t men, weren’t straight, were different. If, your bible is true, your god is complex. To pretend that having a certain type of genitals will allow you to speak for your god is absurd. That creature would be so beyond the limits of that male, or female, or white, or black, or child, or elder that any one group could not perceive the entirety of it. (I’m being generous. Based on the death count, I consider your God to be Human Enemy number 1. He’s worse than any alien species depicted or that Thanos character in Infinity Wars. )